I am not one to join social networks. I get LinkedIn reminders constantly, but have no interest in joining. Neither was I overly impressed with Orkut and half a dozen other ‘instacommunities’.
However, flickr has been different for me, and has gone beyond being just a great place to store my photos (with built in web services that are turning out to be too much fun)–it is now become the only social network I’ve been involved with where I actually take advantage of the community aspects of the tool/service.
One main reason why is that Flickr does some things right from a social network perspective. First, there is no ’standard’ on what is good photography at Flickr, like there is with something like Photoblogs, so anyone can feel comfortable uploading their photos–regardless of perceived quality. This resists the hierarchical organizations that tend to quickly grow out of other social networks–leading to a rather ironic flaw in that the tool that’s designed to enable equality of participation is the one most likely to destroy equality of participation.
Second, a ‘contact’ in Flickr doesn’t have the connotations that comes with so many other networks — to be friends with, or establish a trust to, the other person. Creating a contact in flickr could be nothing more than wanting to ‘bookmark’ the person because you like their photos. Based on this, when folks add me as contact, I usually reciprocate, primarily because if a person likes my photos, I want to know why, and I can learn this by looking at their photos. Much of the time, too, I do so because the other person has fun or interesting or beautiful pictures, and I never tire of looking at fun, interesting, or beautiful photography.
When I do add a contact, I never annotate with ‘friend’ or ‘family’ — I prefer to leave the contacts as undifferentiated. To me, this leaves things ‘even’ and keeps open the door of possibilities. Because of all of this, I have contacts ranging from friends I’ve made through weblogging, to technologists (and usually friends) I’ve known for years, to a young 18 year old from the Arab Emirates who has nice photos, but whose friends make such wonderful use of the “Notes” feature with each picture.
Other social networks require that you classify your contact, and most of the time, blare it out for all to see — my god, it’s like grade school playgrounds all over again.
As for activities, lately I’ve been invited to join a couple of new groups; both are interesting and I feel like participating, which is unusual for me. One in particular, is titled Muted Color with a kickoff thread of “Is Subtlety a thing of the past?” This has potential to be an interesting discussion group, as right from the start, we’re talking about ‘muted’ as in color saturation and hue, as compared to ‘muted’ in relation to contrast.
(Among the links listed in the messages was one to a site full of optical illusions and if you haven’t seen it, you may want to spend a little time checking out the different illusions and how they are made. )
Of course, the social networking aspects of Flickr wouldn’t mean a damn to me if the technology didn’t work. From a technical perspective, the service separates out the moving parts from the static photo servers so when Flickr, the service, is overloaded by demand, the photos in pages like mine still show quickly. This is essential because if Flickr can’t serve up the photos quickly, people like me will hesitate about embeddding them in their pages. This functionality is still the main impetus behind my subscription.
The new Creative Commons feature was handy and I used it to find two images that have formed the background of a new web site page I was hired to create (and which I’ll link to when finished). I, also, adore the web services, which helped me create Tinfoil Project, and which I can see other uses in the not too distant future.
I know some folks like the tagging capability, but I haven’t, yet, incorporated this into my online life. Not yet.
Perhaps that’s the key to Flickr–it provides services that form the basis of use, and the social networking is a secondary factor based on something all of us who join share in common: a love of, or at least an interest in, photography.
I don’t want to become a Flickr addict, a person who is always blathering on about how good it all is; but I’ve been critical of social software in the past, so it’s nice to be able to take off my ‘naysayer’ hat and to use a service and honestly say, “Now, that’s the way this all should work.”
I believe that Flickr originated in Vancouver, BC. Maybe social networks are things that only Canadians get–like universal health care, and tolerance for gays.