So Mike Arrington says in a post over at TechCrunch that Flickr is going to be adding video soon — really. This rumour has been around for awhile, as Mike himself acknowledges, and in fact Flickr co-founder Stewart Butterfield has been talking about adding video for at least a year. One obvious question is why it has taken so long (likely answer: Yahoo red tape), but a related question is: Why bother?
This could all be part of Yahoo consolidating services, I suppose, and until we see exactly what the company has in mind, I guess it’s unfair to completely pan the idea. But I still don’t see what adding video brings to Flickr. If you’re a die-hard Flickr devotee, maybe you want to have all of your photos and video together on one site. But there are already plenty of sites that will host your video, including a big one named YouTube. What will Flickr be bringing to the party?
Let me make this clear right off the bat: I think the idea of Flickr and the U.S. Library of Congress collaborating on a project to display historical photos is a fantastic idea. As described by Read/Write Web and by the Library itself (and by Flickr), it involves thousands of old pictures that are free from copyright being made available through Flickr. Great idea. The more people who get to see images from their cultural history, the better.
The other aspect of the project — the part where the Library of Congress asks people to add tags to the photos to help classify them — I’m not so crazy about. Don’t get me wrong, I think “crowdsourcing” of information can be a very powerful thing, since it lets companies make use of expertise that may be located in hard-to-reach or undiscovered places. And if the Library and Flickr were specifically asking old people or photographers to tag the photos, I would be a lot more interested.
The problem with letting anyone tag a photo is that their ability to do so properly is completely unknown. To take one example from the Flickr page, there’s a shot of a guy wearing old automobile goggles, behind the wheel of an old car — and people have tagged it “goggles,” “wheel” and “man.” So far, so good. However, the photo is identified as “Burman,” and someone has tagged it “burnam.” That’s not only unhelpful, it’s wrong. Is someone going to go through and check all the tags?
It’s possible that only people with a real interest in old photos will be bothered to cruise the Library collections and tag them, in which case this might be a self-regulating problem. I hope so. As you can see if you read the comments here — some from people whose opinions I respect — they seem to think I’m off-base, and that the data collected from those user-submitted tags will be worthwhile from a number of perspectives. But it seems I’m not the only one wondering about its utility.
I don’t want to turn this into a Dave Winer *thing,* (and I don’t want to contribute to a “bitchmeme”) but I have to say that the release of his newest software tool — a Mac-only screensaver/RSS widget called FlickrFan — fills me with, well… a sense of underwhelmingness. I mean, Marshall Kirkpatrick tries hard to make it sound like the best thing since bread came sliced, and so does Robert Scoble, but still fails to stir much interest (at least in me). And not just because this software is just for Apples, either.
When you get right down to it (which doesn’t take long) it’s a screensaver for Macs that lets you subscribe to people’s photo feeds from Flickr. Is that really a huge development? I find that hard to believe. I’ve been using a Windows screensaver called Slickr for some time now that does pretty much the same thing, and my friend Rob points out that he’s been using his computer as a photo and media server for years.
I’m not saying that Dave’s software is useless, or that showing Flickr photos on your computer isn’t a worthwhile thing to do. Far from it. In fact, just the opposite — I think it’s a great idea. But I don’t really think it’s anything revolutionary. Mark “Rizzn” Hopkins over at Mashable doesn’t think it’s much to write home about either, apparently, and says Yahoo Go does pretty much the same thing, but better. Michael Gartenberg at Forrester says that it “totally changes the game,” but that’s a pretty hype-ish thing to say, as Ian Betteridge notes at Technovia.
A couple of months ago, Flickr announced that it would be integrating Picnik’s online photo-editing tools into the site, and now it has happened — and I have to say it is pretty cool. I’m not a professional photographer by any means, and not even semi-pro, but I do like to take pictures and I like to edit them to try and make them look as good as possible. And I’m a big user of Flickr (my photostream is here).
I’ve used Photoshop and Photoshop Elements, and I’ve used The Gimp on Linux and a bunch of other programs, and for big changes they are still the best. If all you want to do is crop and lighten and sharpen, however — which for the vast majority of photos is all I really want — then an online tool like Picnik works just fine.
So far I’ve tried it out on a few pictures and it worked great, although saving the photo after I was done took awhile (as MG Siegler also notes at ParisLemon). Still, a nice addition to Flickr’s tools. Update: Someone from Box.net emailed me to let me know that Picnik is also integrated with their online storage solution, so you can edit any photos that are stored on Box as well.
Another great idea from Flickr, which just recently announced that it would be adding geotagging and other features: the integration of photo-editing tools, in this case from Web-based editing service Picnik. Mike Arrington says he prefers Fotoflexer, which I’ve never tried, but regardless I think Picnik is a great addition.
I’ve often wanted to trim or crop or otherwise modify a photo of mine while I’m browsing them, but can’t be bothered to download it and then open it with Photoshop, etc. I’ve tried some online tools that allow you to import photos from Flickr into their service — which they can do once you grant them access to your account — but it’s still not as intuitive as using those tools right on the site.
I wonder how the Flickr announcement will affect some of those other services such as Flauntr.com and Preloadr.com.