Flickr is an image and video hosting website, web services suite, and online community platform. It was one of the earliest Web 2.0 applications. In addition to being a popular Web site for users to share personal photographs, the service is widely used by bloggers as a photo repository. Its popularity has been fueled by its organization tools, which allow photos to be tagged and browsed by folksonomic means.[citation needed] As of November 2007, it claims to host more than 2 billion images.

Flickr was developed by Ludicorp, a Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada-based company that launched Flickr in February 2004. The service emerged out of tools originally created for Ludicorp's Game Neverending, a web-based massively multiplayer online game. Flickr proved a more feasible project and ultimately Game Neverending was shelved.

Early versions of Flickr focused on a multiuser chat room called FlickrLive with real-time photo exchange capabilities. There was also an emphasis on collecting images found on the web rather than photographs taken by users. The successive evolutions focused more on the uploading and filing backend for individual users and the chat room was buried in the site map. It was eventually dropped as Flickr's backend systems evolved away from the Game Neverending's codebase.

Some of the key features of Flickr not initially present were tags, marking photos as favorites, group photo pools and interestingness, for which a patent is pending.

In March 2005, Yahoo! acquired Ludicorp and Flickr. During the week of June 28, 2005, all content was migrated from servers in Canada to servers in the United States, resulting in all data being subject to United States federal law.[6]

On May 16, 2006, Flickr updated its services from beta to "gamma", along with a design and structural overhaul. According to the site's FAQ, the term "gamma", rarely used in software development, is intended to be tongue-in-cheek to indicate that the service is always being tested by its users, and is in a state of perpetual improvement.[7] For all intents and purposes, the current service is considered a stable release.

In December 2006, upload limits on free accounts were increased to 100MB a month (from 20MB) and were removed from Pro Accounts, permitting unlimited uploads for holders of these accounts (originally a 2GB per month limit).[8]

In January 2007, Flickr announced that "Old Skool" membersthose who had joined before the Yahoo acquisitionwould be required to associate their account with a Yahoo ID by March 15 to continue using the service.[9] This move was criticized by some users.[10]

On April 9, 2008, Flickr began to allow paid subscribers to upload videos limited to 90 seconds in length and 150MB in size.

Corporate changes

In June 2008, Flickr co-founder Stewart Butterfield announced his resignation following his wife and co-founder Caterina Fake, who left the company on June 13, 2008.[11] Butterfield wrote a resignation letter to Brad Garlinghouse in which he stated that he was an old tin man in a new age.[12]



Flickr asks photo submitters to organize images using tags (a form of metadata), which allow searchers to find images concerning a certain topic such as place name or subject matter. Flickr was also an early website to implement tag clouds, which provide access to images tagged with the most popular keywords. Because of its support for tags, Flickr has been cited as a prime example of effective use of folksonomy, although Thomas Vander Wal suggested Flickr is not the best example.[13]

Flickr also allows users to organize their photos into "sets", or groups of photos that fall under the same heading. However, sets are more flexible than the traditional folder-based method of organizing files, as one photo can belong to one set, many sets, or none at all. Flickr's "sets", then, represent a form of categorical metadata rather than a physical hierarchy. Sets may be grouped into "collections", and collections further grouped into higher-order collections.

Finally, Flickr offers a fairly comprehensive web-service API that allows programmers to create applications that can perform almost any function a user on the Flickr site can do.[14]


Organizr is a web application for organizing photos within a Flickr account that can be accessed through the Flickr interface. It allows users to modify tags, descriptions, and set groupings, and to place photos on a world map (a feature provided in conjunction with Yahoo! Maps). It uses Ajax to emulate the look, feel, and quick functionality of desktop-based photo-management applications. Because of this, Organizr simplifies the batch organization of photos, which is more cumbersome with the normal web interface.

Access control

Flickr provides both private and public image storage. A user uploading an image can set privacy controls that determine who can view the image. A photo can be flagged as either public or private. Private images are visible by default only to the uploader, but they can also be marked as viewable by friends and/or family. Privacy settings also can be decided by adding photographs from a user's photostream to a "group pool". If a group is private all the members of that group can see the photo. If a group is public the photo becomes public as well. Flickr also provides a "contact list" which can be used to control image access for a specific set of users in a way similar to that of LiveJournal.

In November 2006 Flickr created a "guest pass" system that allows private photos to be shared with non Flickr members. For instance, a person could email this pass to parents who may not have an account to allow them to see the photos otherwise restricted from public view. This setting allows sets to be shared, or all photos under a certain privacy category (friends or family) to be shared.

In March 2007, Flickr added new content filtering controls that let members specify by default what types of images they generally upload (photo, art/illustration, or screenshot) and how "safe" (i.e., unlikely to offend others) their images are, as well as specify that information for specific images individually.[15] In addition, users can specify the same criteria when searching for images. There are some restrictions on searches for certain types of users: non-members must always use SafeSearch, which omits images noted as potentially offensive, while members whose Yahoo! accounts indicate that they are underage may use SafeSearch or moderate SafeSearch, but cannot turn SafeSearch off completely.

Many members allow their photos to be viewed by anyone, forming a large collaborative database of categorized photos. By default, other members can leave comments about any image they have permission to view, and in some cases can add to the list of tags associated with an image.

Interaction and compatibility

Flickr's functionality includes RSS and Atom feeds and an API that allows independent programmers to expand its services.

The core functionality of the site relies on standard HTML and HTTP features, allowing for wide compatibility among platforms and browsers. Organizr uses Ajax, with which most modern browsers are compliant, and most of Flickr's other text-editing and tagging interfaces also possess Ajax functionality.

Images can be posted to the user's collection via email attachments, enabling direct uploads from many cameraphones and applications with email capabilities.

Flickr has increasingly been adopted by many web users as their primary photo storage site, especially members of the weblog community. In addition, it is popular with Macintosh and Linux users, who are locked out of photo-sharing sites that require Windows and Internet Explorer.

Flickr uses the Geo microformat on the pages for over 3 million geotagged images.[16]

Flickr partners with third parties to offer streamlined printing of various forms of merchandise, including business cards, photo books, and large size prints.

Users of Windows Live Photo Gallery now have the ability to upload their photos directly to Flickr.


In March 2007, Flickr introduced mandatory filtering of all photos and a process of central review of photos by staff to set levels of appropriateness. By default all Flickr accounts are set to the status appropriate for a minor and must be changed by the user in their account.

Flickr has since used this setting to change the level of accessibility to "unsafe" content for entire nations, including South Korea, Hong Kong, and Germany. In summer 2007, German users staged a "revolt" over being assigned to the user rights of a minor. [17] See Censorship controversy below.

The filter system of Flickr assumes that photos may be unsafe and should not be public until a staff person has validated that the material is safe. Until this happens, which could take up to a month, material cannot be viewed by persons without a valid Yahoo and Flickr account. A Flickr site not marked as safe can only be viewed by people in the community who have set their filters beyond the default status of that of a “minor”.


Flickr offers users the ability to release their images under certain common usage licenses. The licensing options primarily include the Creative Commons 2.0 attribution-based and minor content-control licenses - although jurisdiction and version-specific licenses cannot be selected. As with "tags", the site allows easy searching of only those images that fall under a specific license.[18]



Users in mainland China could not see any images in Flickr when they log in.

On June 12, 2007, in the wake of the rollout of localized language version of the site, Flickr implemented a user-side rating system for filtering out potentially controversial photos. Simultaneously, users with accounts registered with Yahoo subsidiaries in Germany, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Korea were prevented from viewing photos rated "moderate" or "restricted" on the three-part scale used. Many Flickr users, particularly German, protested against the new restrictions, claiming unwanted censorship from Flickr and Yahoo.[19]

Flickr management, unwilling to go into legal details, implied that the reason for the stringent filtering were unusually strict age-verification laws in Germany. The issue received some attention in the German national media, especially in online publications. Initial reports indicated that Flickr's action was a sensible, if unattractive, precaution against prosecution,[20] although later coverage implied that Flickr's action may have been unnecessarily strict.[21]

On June 20, 2007 Flickr reacted by granting German users access to "moderate", but not "restricted" images, and hinted at a future solution involving advanced age-verification procedures for Germany, though no mention was made of Singapore, Hong Kong or Korea.

Flickr is also blocked by the governments or ISPs of some countries. An example is the UAE provider Etisalat.

Users in mainland China are no longer blocked by Chinese ISPs.

Virgin Mobile ad copyright

In 2007, Virgin Mobile launched a bus stop ad campaign promoting their cellphone text messaging service using the work of amateur photographers who uploaded their work to Flickr using a Creative Commons-by (Attribution) license. Users licensing their images this way freed their work for use by any other entity, as long as the original creator was attributed credit, without any other compensation required. Virgin upheld this single restriction by printing a URL leading to the photographer's Flickr page on each of their ads. However, one picture depicted 15 year-old Alison Chang at a fund-raising carwash for her church,[22] for which Chang sued Virgin Mobile and Creative Commons. The photo was taken by Alison's church youth counsellor, Justin Ho-Wee Wong, who uploaded the image to Flickr under the Creative Commons license.[22]
“ The case hinges on privacy, the right of people not to have their likeness used in an ad without permission. So, while Mr. Wong may have given away his rights as a photographer, he did not, and could not, give away Alison's rights. In the lawsuit, which Mr. Wong is also a party to, there is an argument that Virgin did not honor all the terms of the nonrestrictive license.[22] ”

On November 27, 2007, Chang filed for a voluntary dismiss of the lawsuit against Creative Commons,[23] focusing their lawsuit against Virgin Mobile.[24] As of May 2008, the lawsuit is still pending [25]

Yahoo! Photos

Yahoo announced that they would shut down Yahoo! Photos on September 20, 2007, after which all photos would be deleted.[26][27] During the interim, users had the ability to migrate their photos to Flickr or other services (including Shutterfly, Kodak Gallery, Snapfish, and Photobucket). All who migrated to Flickr were given three months of a Flickr Pro account.

See also

  • Image hosting service
    • List of social networking websites
    • Photo sharing
    • User-generated content


1. ^ Holy moly! « Flickr Blog
2. ^ 2 Billion Photos On Flickr
3. ^ Auchard, Eric (2007-11-19). "Flickr to map the world's latest photo hotspots", Reuters. Retrieved on 2008-01-27.
4. ^ Graham, Jefferson (2006-02-27). "Flickr of idea on a gaming project led to photo website", USA Today. Retrieved on 2006-09-04.
5. ^ "US Patent Application 20060242139: Interestingness ranking of media objects". Butterfield; Daniel S. ; et al. (2006-10-26). Retrieved on 2007-01-21.
6. ^ "Data moving to U.S. very soon!". Flickr (2005-06-10). Retrieved on 2006-09-04.
7. ^ "What does Flickr Gamma mean?". Flickr. Retrieved on 2006-09-04.
8. ^ "How many photos can I upload for free?". Flickr. Retrieved on 2007-05-16.
9. ^ "Yahoo! IDs, signing in and screen names". Flickr. Retrieved on 2007-02-01.
10. ^ "Flickr to require Yahoo usernames". BBC News. Retrieved on 2007-06-15.
11. ^ Flickr Co-founders Join Mass Exodus From Yahoo
12. ^ Stewart Butterfield's bizarre resignation letter to Yahoo
13. ^ Vander Wal, Thomas (2006-01-17). "Folksonomy Research Needs Cleaning Up". Retrieved on 2006-09-04.
14. ^ Flickr Services: API Documentation
15. ^ / Help / FAQ / Content filters
16. ^ Geo examples, in the wild
17. ^ Offical Topid: German SafeSearch Settings
18. ^ "Flickr: Help: Photos: How can I copyright my photos?". Flickr. Retrieved on 2007-11-12.
19. ^ heise online - Flickr filter raises eyebrows
20. ^ Zwangsfilter: Flickr verbietet Deutschen Nacktfotos - Netzwelt - SPIEGEL ONLINE - Nachrichten
21. ^ Foto-Portal: Jugendschützer: Flickr-Filter nach deutschem Recht nicht nötig - Netzwelt - SPIEGEL ONLINE - Nachrichten
22. ^ a b c "Use My Photo? Not Without Permission.", New York Times. Retrieved on 2007-09-25. "One moment, Alison Chang, a 15-year-old student from Dallas, is cheerfully goofing around at a local church-sponsored car wash, posing with a friend for a photo. Weeks later, that photo is posted online and catches the eye of an ad agency in Australia, and the altered image of Alison appears on a billboard in Adelaide as part of a Virgin Mobile advertising campaign."
23. ^ From the Why-a-GC-from-Cravath-is-great Department: The lawsuit is over (Lessig Blog)
24. ^ Gross, Grant (2007-12-01). "Lawsuit Against Creative Commons Dropped", PC World. Retrieved on 2008-05-25.
25. ^ Chang et al v. Virgin Mobile USA LLC et al :: Justia News
26. ^ "Yahoo Photos going dark as Flickr shines on". USAToday. Retrieved on 2007-05-30.
27. ^ Yodel Anecdotal » Blog Archive » Give your Photos the fun of Flickr

External links

  • Official site
    • Flickr Blog
    • Ludicorp corporate website
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