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What Is Flickr (and Hot Tips for Using It)
Pages: 1, 2, 3

Ladies and Gentlemen, Meet Fraser Speirs

Provided free as part of the iLife package on all new Macs, iPhoto has become something of a standard photo-management tool among OS X users.

The recent 5.0.3 update finally fixed an editing problem that had vexed many users, where the colors of edited images were changed after the user had clicked "Done" in the adjustment panel.

That fix in place, iPhoto becomes an appealing option for anyone who wanted to manage and edit photos while using Flickr, mainly thanks to the efforts of one British programmer, Fraser Speirs.

As a Mac user and keen photographer, Fraser Speirs saw the potential for Flickr early on. But he was frustrated by having to switch to his browser to add pictures to his photostream.

So he created FlickrExport, a plugin that makes it simple to select one or more images in any iPhoto view, and export them straight to Flickr, complete with tags and even the option to turn the new additions into a set.

FlickrExport iPhoto plugin

The FlickrExport interface covers pretty much every eventuality. You can add tags to an image, and copy identical tags to multiple images. The same goes for image titles, and privacy settings (Flickr lets you nominate other Flickr users as "Family" or "Friend"; when you make an image private, it will only be shown to one or both of those groups).

Speirs's initial activity in creating Flickr Export wasn't enough for him, though. So inspired was he by the openness and hackability of the site, that he started coding more little Flickr hacks:

"I started FlickrExport because I had been a Gallery user for a couple of years and there was a cool iPhotoToGallery plugin by a developer called Zach Wily that I used all the time. When I decided to switch from Gallery to Flickr, there was no way I was going back to a web-based upload form.

"I recently had an email from a FlickrExport user saying that I had, in his words, helped keep his family together across the distances by making it so easy for them all to share their pictures. That's the kind of feedback that I live for."

Why Flickr? What's the attraction of writing code for it? Speirs's answer to this is firm:

"The attraction is, ultimately, that it's hackable. It's literally a platform on which to build new toys. The Flickr API is very complete. You could almost build a desktop application that let you do everything you can do on Flickr without ever opening your web browser. For me, APIs--and complete APIs at that--are the big distinguishing factor in what's commonly called "Web 2.0" applications. Full APIs are what make applications like Delicious Library possible.

"People say that applications like Google Maps will make the desktop application irrelevant, but I disagree. The distinction has always been that the rich experience is on the desktop, but the cool content is on the web. The revolution in web services means that desktop apps are no longer excluded from playing where the cool kids are. If anything, we're entering a new golden age of desktop application development."

Fans of Speirs's software will be pleased to know that he's working on FlickrExport 1.3, addressing recent changes in the Flickr API, and an Objective-C framework called FlickrKit that will be released under an open source license.

Until they are released, and if you're not an iPhoto user, you might be interested in yet another of his Flickr-related hacks: an Automator action for manipulating photos as part of larger workflows. This is also a work in progress, as Speirs says ("It's very much 0.1-quality right now.") but look out for future updates.

Widgets and Extras

Flickr toys are by no means restricted to the computer desktop. As Speirs pointed out, the API turns Flickr into a platform for building toys, and plenty of people have been busy building great stuff you can play with it in your browser.

The Flickr Hacks group knows a thing or two about playing with Flickr; they seem to pick up on all the cool stuff and start playing before anyone else sees it. Among their recent discoveries are Flickr Mosaic Maker (shouldn't that be Makr?) which turns any combination of photostreams or individual pictures into a very smart looking mosaic image (guess what, there's a group) and the Google Earth hack that grabs geotagged images from Flickr based on your current view of the world.

The Visual Dictionary lets you spell words with pictures of letters; Spell with Flickr does the same thing. Has anyone proposed marriage with one of these yet?

Spelling with Flickr

There are a number of Greasemonkey scripts that do clever things to Flickr pages if you're using Firefox to browse the site. (At the time of writing, Greasemonkey is in a spot of bother with security problems; upgrade to version 0.3.5 before trying any of these.)

Flidget is an OS X Dashboard widget for uploading photos.

Next time you're at some geek conference and plan to post pics of the event to Flickr, you might like to hand out some cards.

My favorite web-based Flickr toy is the Postcard browser, which offers a really cool, fun way to browse through images with a specific tag. I won't try to describe it; just go try it for yourself, and I think you'll see what I mean.

Giles Turnbull is a freelance writer and editor. He has been writing on and about the Internet since 1997. He has a web site at

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