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What Is Flickr (and Hot Tips for Using It)

by Giles Turnbull
Your Life in Web Apps
Flickr is an online photo management and sharing application. Its primary goals are to help people make photos available to those who matter to them, and to enable new ways of organizing pictures. You can join Flicker for free and begin sharing images immediately. Pro accounts are available for those who want to add and display high volumes of photos.

In this Article:

  1. First, You Need to Be a Member
  2. Flickr Basics
  3. Uploadr and 1001
  4. Ladies and Gentlemen, Meet Fraser Speirs
  5. Widgets and Extras

Few sites have had as much impact on digital photo sharing as Flickr.

Before Flickr came along, sharing photos meant a laborious and sometimes not very user-friendly process of creating albums, uploading them, and devising a means for people to navigate between them.

Indeed, the whole concept of posting photos to the web was still based on the idea that they should come in a set, a collection called an "album." Digital photography doesn't work like that; we no longer process rolls of film, nor do we have to file away groups of images in album-sized collections.

Posting photos online needed a new approach, and the team at Flickr worked out what it should be.

At Flickr (for anyone who has never visited the site), the single image is the basic unit of photo sharing. Sure, images can be grouped together (into "sets" rather than "albums") and viewed as a group in a slideshow, but there's no need to do that. Rather, images can be added as and when they are taken. If you've just taken one good shot today, you only need upload that. If you've taken 30, you can upload them all. It doesn't matter.

Flickr's database structure means that every image is associated with its creator or owner first, then with any groups or sets it might have been added to, then with any free-text tags that might have been assigned to it, and finally with the electronic metadata that the camera added to the original snapshot.

Flickr is one of those ideas that depends on interconnectivity. Your pictures are of interest to your contacts; your weather pictures are of interest to other users of the weather photos group. Your "weather" tag shows up in the RSS readers of others with the same interest. While you forgot to add the "weather" tag to that great shot of a cloud you took the other day, you did remember to add "cloud," which means the image shows up alongside other clouds. Some passing stranger helps you out by adding the "weather" tag for you anyway.

In the rest of this article, we shall be exploring some of the ways you can make the most of Flickr from the comfort of your Mac OS X computer.

There are some great tools, plugins and add-ons for OS X that make interacting and browsing Flickr much easier (and more fun) than simply using your web browser. We shall describe some of them here, and talk to one of the most high profile and enthusiastic of Mac-owning Flickr users, Fraser Speirs, about his motivation for building links between Macs and Flickr's database.

First, You Need to Be a Member

There's one thing you do need to use your browser for, and that's getting a Flickr account in the first place. The basic-level account is free, so you've got little to lose.

The essential building block of Flickr is individual photos, and the first thing you will want to do is create your own "photostream." This is the term used to describe your own pictures, as they are uploaded. Like a weblog page, the photostream has the most recent images at the top of the first page. Older pictures are shown below, and on further pages if need be.

Flickr took a different approach to offering free accounts. In the past, photo sharing sites restricted the amount of storage space a person could use before they had to pay up for an account. The Flickr team recognized that storage was dirt cheap; it's bandwidth that costs money. So they devised a system whereby you can post as many pictures as you like to a free account, as long as you don't exceed a predetermined bandwidth limit during a given time period (currently, 20MB per month).

Even if you do, you won't get kicked off the site or have your pictures deleted. You'll just have to wait a while until the timer resets, and you can start again.

Another restriction on the free account is that only the most recent 200 pictures in your photostream will be displayed. That doesn't mean that older ones are deleted, they're just not visible.

So it's in your interests, if you're trying out Flickr and are not sure if you want a Pro account, to try not to post huge multi-megapixel images. The larger the pictures you post, the sooner you'll eat up your bandwidth allocation. Since the main aim is to share via the web, professional image quality need not be high on your priority list, especially if you still have backups of the original images as they came out of the camera. (You do backup your original photos, right?) Posting pictures at about 800x600 size should be fine, at least for testing purposes.

Make a note of your account details (most importantly, your password); you'll need them later to activate some of the software tools we're going to use.

Your Life in Web Apps

Essential Reading

Your Life in Web Apps
By Giles Turnbull

Have you dreamed of a simpler life where web apps and a browser meet all of your computing needs? All you need is a network connection. In this PDF Giles Turnbull introduces you to a day of web apps-only, then he surveys the best and most innovative web apps from the current crop available right now. He also addresses practicality, security issues, and backup strategies for living the web app life. Is it really possible? This PDF will help you decide.

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