Flickr: The Secret Life of Plants in Photos
Flickr is one more example of an exciting web application that allows the online world to be an increasingly open site of communication every day. It's a free digital photo sharing service that allows users to upload their photos, tag them by subject, organize them in a variety of ways and leave descriptions for each image. Then, other users can browse the photos by tag or group or "photographer" and easily post comments below each photo. There's a lot of neat groups out there, but I was inspired to blog about it today after seeing The Secret Life of Plants photo pool. It currently has more than 4,000 images in it, more are added all the time (several since I began this blog post) and you can view it as a slide show here. It's very nice.
The concepts involved here are amazing. Take a little time to explore the site and you'll see what I mean. Or, check out the Flickr Blog, where the company's employees highlight some of their favorite photos uploaded by users and talk about developments in the system. More than just fun and art, Flickr also used their service to post photos of people lost in the recent Asian tsunami. There are many more possible uses. Imagine, for example, an environmental group encouraging people to post photos of an endangered ecosystem all in the same viewable group, or a company encouraging participants in an event it has hosted to post their photos of the event in a common Flickr area.
Many people use their Flickr account to run photos they've taken recently along the side of their blogs. See, for example, the blogs of Darice de Cuba and Big Dog, Little Dog (look at bottom of right side bar). Flickr was recently purchased by Yahoo, and hopefully it will be allowed to continue developing in the organic manner that it has to date. More and more companies are realizing that great value can be created in a user generated data set. Amazon.com book reviews were one of the first well known examples of this, but now there are countless examples. It's pretty exciting.
Flickr photos are also amongst the search results included when you do a Technorati Subject Tag search. See, for example, this Technorati Tag search for "genetics". It includes search results of Flickr photos tagged "genetics" along with blog posts and items tagged "genetics" in two of the biggest social bookmarking tools (Definition).
Unfortunately, the photos are copyrighted by default. You can search through those with a Creative Commons license for reuse here (for example, the photo above is not from the Secret Life of Plants, I found it in the Creative Commons section of Flickr.) As I understand it, this isn't so much the fault of Flickr as it is the fault of the US Government, who changed the copyright system in 1978 from assuming no copyright unless you asked for it, to now assuming copyright unless you declare a work not copyrighted. To hear a great talk by attorney Lawrence Lessig about why default copyright assumption is bad policy, check out this talk (audio file) of his posted on IT Conversations.
Such are the political battles being fought these days, but tools like Flickr are pretty fantastic none the less in the mean time.