Flickr co-founder talks about growth, plans

Photo site and tagging pioneer turns three years old

Flickr, the lauded photo management and sharing site, recently celebrated its third anniversary and IDG News Service had an opportunity to chat with co-founder and general manager Stewart Butterfield about Flickr's growth in size and quality, its status as a Yahoo company, near and long-term plans, as well as peanut butter.

An edited version of the conversation follows.

Flickr just turned 3 years old. How do you think it will look and operate three years from now?

We have a concrete vision to be the eyes of the world, the primary source for sharing and discovering what people see all around the world. I don't see that changing any time soon. The challenge is how we make it bigger while still maintaining the same quality and sense of intimacy with now 7.2 million registered users and 23 million monthly unique visitors. It comes down to urban planning in a way that a massive city like London has all kinds of cozy little neighbourhoods. Making something like that happen is a huge and challenging thing.

We also tie very well into Yahoo's newly articulated mission, which is to connect people to their passions, their communities and the world's knowledge. Flickr has a really interesting role to play in that. We have a lot of people who are passionate about photography but there are literally thousands of groups on Flickr about gardening and knitting and all kinds of other passions people have. Flickr is a great medium for those interactions as well.

If you're the eyes of the world, do you foresee Flickr getting a news component?

Yes, we already allow for that and it already happens but it's not surfaced nor packaged up very well. But almost every day, Flickr is used as a source for photos that either don't exist anywhere else or that there's just a bigger variety on Flickr. A good example is when the New York Yankee player's plane crashed into a [Manhattan] building. A text bulletin went out on the wires but there weren't photos available, so the Yahoo front page team did a search for "NYC crash" on Flickr and found the first couple of photos that had been posted and weren't available from any other source at that time. By the time photos started coming out of the wire services, there were dozens and dozens of images from different people on Flickr, and that's where the Yahoo front page pointed to, linking to the Flickr photos. Expanding that capability and making it easier so it's not a manual process is definitely something we're interested in.

The flip side is that it doesn't have to be big, breaking international news for it to be significant to people. ... We did a big round of geotagging features in the second half of last year and are always looking to improve those as well. We have more than 12.6 million geotagged photos. It's easy to imagine a future where you can say: "Show me photos taken within the last 15 minutes within a kilometer of me." That gets very interesting, obviously.

Are you planning anything to help your community of photographers to sell or commercially syndicate their photos?

It's something we're evaluating and looking at different approaches. The interesting thing about the New York crash case is that there wasn't any time to negotiate rights to use those photos on the Yahoo front page, so they linked to the photos on Flickr. If you're a photo editor in any kind of news environment you can't negotiate one-off licenses with a bunch of different people because it's just too time consuming.

Will you at some point have a mechanism where photographers have previously stated how their photos might be used if someone's interested?

We have nothing to announce in that regard but it's certainly in the realm of my imagination.

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Juan Carlos Perez

IDG News Service
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