A twist on online communities

by Eszter Hargittai on January 20, 2006

Judging from my posts around here – not to mention my daily browsing habits – I’m obsessed with Flickr. I wanted to take a step back and give a bit of basic info about the site to those who are not that familiar with it. It is my way of trying to spread all that Flickr goodness to more people.

Flickr may seem like no more than a photo-sharing Web site, but it’s actually much more than that. It is a large community of people sharing images, yes, but also learning about a myriad of topics, exploring nearby and distant lands, and communicating with people from all over the world. In some ways it resembles corners of blogworld. One important difference is that a good chunk of the communicating is done through images rather than text.

Flickr can help you get to know people in all sorts of ways through their photos (and I don’t just mean by looking at what they had for dinner, although frankly, if the cook or restaurant is a good one, that can be interesting as well), get to know cities (e.g. the Guess Where Chicago and Guess Where NYC groups are both fun and informative), learn about healthy foods, read thought-provoking (or not) quotes, and much more.

In case you don’t need these basics, perhaps you’ll find some helpful tips in my guide to finding great photos on Flickr published yesterday on Lifehacker. Consider that the second installment to this post.

Here are some of the basic features of the site. Some of the links below will only work if you are logged in to the system. If you have a Yahoo! account then you are all set. If not, sign up for a free account now, you won’t regret it.*

  • At the most basic level, Flickr is for uploading and sharing your photos. There are several tools available for this from uploading in the browser to stand-alone applications (and even widgets). Or you can forward your cameraphone photos directly to your account.
  • Once you have uploaded your pictures, you can make them completely public, only accessible to contacts designated as family, only accessible to contacts designated as friends, accessible to both family and friends, or completely private.
  • You can post photos under Creative Commons license allowing others to use your images depending on the specifics. You can
    set a default license for all your uploads.
  • You can mark other people’s photos as your Favorites if you want to have easy access to them later. You do this by clicking on the Add to Faves button above the photo.
  • You can organize your photos into Sets. You can create new Sets under Organize. Also, once you have a Set, you can add a picture to it by clicking the Add to Set icon above the image.
  • You can join Groups based on various themes and topics. Click on Groups and then do a search on a topic of interest. Choose the group and join it as a member. Once you are the member of a group, you can add photos to it. To add one of your photos to a Group, click on the Send to Group icon above the photo you are viewing. (You can only add your own photos to Groups.)
  • You can create Groups (private, invitation-only or completely public) organized around themes. If public then others can contribute their own photos to your group. Groups can also have ongoing discussions.
  • You can comment on others’ photos. You can also easily follow whether people have commented on or favorited any of your photos. The system also lets you see all the comments you have made on others’ photos and whether photos you have commented on have received additional comments.
  • You can add notes to your photos (or others’ photos if they allow it) by clicking on the Add Note tab above the image. Drag the box to the area on the photo that you want to annotate and add your comment.

As you can tell by this list of features, much of Flickr goodness comes from sharing photos with others in various systematic ways. There is also a lot of communicating that gets done in the comments and on the notes to photos.

Now that you know some of the basics of the site, you may be interested in this guide to finding great photos on the system.

Enjoy! And feel free to post a link to your photostream in the comments. Mine is here.

[*] I am not affiliated with either Flickr or Yahoo!, I just think Flickr is a super service and want to help people understand it better so they become members of the community.



Dirk 01.20.06 at 10:23 am

There are a couple blogs on blogspot in which the owner reposts Flickr pics of scantily clad women. Updated every day. (I don’t think it would be appropriate to post the URLs here.) This is an example of individuals repackaging Flickr content in a way that appeals to a segment of the population.


Slayton I. Mustgo 01.20.06 at 1:36 pm

I use Flickr to see a place I want to go, or have been and want to see again. Search for tags like Monterey or BigSur, and display by “Interestingness” (unless you want to see recent developments: like Boston after a snowstorm). If it is popular, you can often get a specific restaurant or hotel: Nepenthe, PostRanchInn or Deetjens.


jenn 01.20.06 at 2:25 pm

Excellent that I am not the only one addicted to Flickr! I also like that you can add some simple code (provided by Flickr… awesome) to create a Flickr badge on your personal website!


Karl 01.20.06 at 4:18 pm

Have you seen Tribe.net Seems like a similar model. I have used it to find like minds to meet and form groups around ecological action, playing music, or sahred interest in local events. Tribe is more for community and networking than sharing photos, though each member has a gallery and photo sharing is part of the package.


LarryB 01.20.06 at 7:24 pm

Flickr has been experiencing a wave of complaints and photostream shutdowns of subscribers who post images that others might find objectionable, even if they’re clearly art photos and nothing else.

I suspect that two things are happening – Yahoo is getting nervous about COPA coming back and zealots are poring through Flickr by keyword looking for things to complain about.

They should have left the whole operation in Canada, where it started and where they get less twisted out of shape by a handful of questionable images in the midst of a vibrant community site.


Mary 01.20.06 at 8:34 pm

The Creative Commons licensing also permits someone like Jonathan Coulton to make a music video out of a sweet and odd series of pictures. Quicktime video is here at his site. Google video is here.


almostinfamous 01.21.06 at 2:31 am

hey eszter, as an avid flickr user myself, i wanted to point out that when you are looking at any of your own pictures, you can add it to a *new* set by clicking on the ‘add to set’ and clicking the create new set that is right on the very top. this eliminates the need to go through the organizr unless you want to reorder the sets themselves, which can be a blessing for slower internet connections.

also, once you get into flickr with the account and joining some groups, there are also some cool toys you can play with such as fd’s flickr toys or FlickRandom that make flickr fun.

PS: i think this post deserves a time-sink button


almostinfamous 01.21.06 at 2:50 am


the second link there should be


Eszter 01.21.06 at 8:30 am

FD’s Flickr Toys are awesome.. I plan to post about them separately, but thanks for mentioning, the site deserves multiple links.:-)

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