Sunday, July 24, 2005

More on Flickr

I'm finally succeeding in getting some of my relatives to upload photos to Flickr, and it's been wonderful. Nieces and nephews who I haven't seen in so long I wouldn't recognize them on the street are suddenly familiar to me again. However, Flickr is far from perfect, and I've noticed that my friends and relatives are running into some of its useability problems. Here are a few notes on it that I've been sending around.

First, tagging is a hard concept to get. My tags are here:

Once you get used to them, and apply them even remotely consistently, it is very easy to find a particular photo again. For example, if I want to find a photo of our dog Dude in Ireland, I could just click on the "tramore" tag and do a quick scan through the photos. You can be a bit sloppy with tags and you'll still find what you're looking for, as long as you err toward "over tagging" rather than under. Add both general and specific:

family friends acton grandpa baby beach pool house

etc. You can always add and delete them. Click on the X next to them to delete and just add tags (separated by a space) in the box under the tags.

Most people, at first, try to tag their photos with dates, but that's not necessary. Most cameras record that information already and attach it to the file. When viewing a photo in Flicker, there will be a section on the bottom right entitled "Additional Information," one of which is "Taken on" and a date. If the date is wrong, you need to change the settings on your camera. The second thing people try to do is tag them with a phrase or other long description that really should be in the title or caption. Like "typical summer day." All you will have accomplished, since tags are separated by spaces, is to tag a bunch of your photos with "typical" and "summer" and "day." Probably only "summer" is a tag that will actually help you find a photo.

Second, yes, the uploading software for Windows (at least) sucks. It works on one of my computers and not the other. Also, most of us are on connections that are fast at downloading, but slow at uploading. Mine is about 1 Mbit down and 128K up. If you try to upload all of your photos, you'll be at it for days. Instead, this is the strategy I use:
  • - Upload only a few a day, when you have a moment. Maybe just the six you can do at once on Flickr's Upload page (via the Web).
  • - When you upload, give it one temporary tag. I use "totag."
  • - When you have another moment, go to, then click on "Yours" in the top left corner (next to Photos:).
  • - Then, just below the Search box on the right, click on "Your tags."
  • - Now click on whatever you used as a temporary tag. You'll see all the photos you've just uploaded.
  • - Click on "Edit these as a batch."
  • - Now go through, give them proper titles, captions, replace your temporary tags with real ones, etc. You might have to go to the temporary tag a couple of times if you've uploaded a bunch of photos and haven't edited them yet.

Within a few weeks, you'd have a relatively large collection. And the slower process forces you to pick and choose your best stuff, not just the entire stream of photos from your camera (featuring the back of people's heads and such). I've done that and now have something like 600 photos up there now.

What Flickr probably needs is some sort of interface where you can ZIP up your photos into one file and upload it that way, which I've seen on many other services. The JPEG file format is already compressed, so I'm not sure how much that actually saves, but it does seem to save a little time, at least.

Finally most of the people I've seen adopt Flickr recently have me as their only contact and then upload all of their photos marked as private, viewable by only family and friends. The result is that I'm the only other person in the universe who can see these photos. That's not necessarily a bad thing. You may not want anyone else to view your photos on Flickr. You might choose instead to just pick out the ones you want to make public and use Flickr to post it to your blog instead, or email the addresses of individual photos around. If you're nervous about Flickr's whole public sharing ethos, that's the way to go.

However, you might want to consider making at least some of your photos public, if only so that people can keep an eye on (or subscribe to, via a blog aggregator) a single Web address to view your latest shots. For example, my photo stream is available here:

Your photo stream address (which you can get by clicking on "Yours" at the top left of Flickr's home page when you log in) probably has a bunch of ugly numbers and symbols in its address. You can make the address look a little less intimidating by claiming your own Flickr home page. Click on My Account and it's one of the settings in there.

You can also try to convince your family and friends to join Flickr and add them as a contact. Believe me, convincing people to join Flickr is hard work.

Hope this helps. For family and friends jumping in at this point, here are my past posts on using the Internet to stay closer together:

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