Flickr – George Oates

This session was a great way to kick off a conference, with a fascinating behind the scenes look at photo sharing website flickr and the possibilities it offers.

George Oates
George Oates

Flickr began as a game where people had to co-operate to complete tasks. It evolved to a photo sharing site through the concepts of collaboration, conversation and contact network based on the fundamental idea that photo sharing was a social activity – and although some stories were “shockingly mundane” it still offered opportunities to interact and react and many of the game inspired elements of the original site continue.

George Oates, now a senior member of the Flickr team, walked us through Flickr’s approach and how user centric it is and some examples of how organisations are using flickr commons to get new audiences for their content and fresh engagement with their content.

The Library of Congress example was fantastic – they started with a photo collection, but let the flickr community add tags – 11,000 were added in a single day. Other organisations got help with translations for various items.


George also announced that the National Library would be joining the commons project – so expect more news on that front as soon as she found an internet plug – see more on the flickr blog

Questions were asked about the fear that libraries may put up information on existing items that may be wrong. This is where users and communities can help – the conversations and comments around items displayed can add to or correct information. Libraries can decide what information to take back into their catalogues, if they so wish. It’s a problem and an opportunity. It’s not though, a reason to hold off – flickr is a platform to show off our content and let other people enjoy it – isn’t that what we are all about?

The point is that the audience can act in the performance space that is flickr and affect how things are shown. This leads to variation, richness and a mixed up, smeary and messy collection of information that complements “lovingly catalogued” subject headings of libraries and helps people search in a way that’s easy for them.

I found this an inspiring session – our challenge is to take the risk and be as open as the Library of Congress were. Are we ready to do that?

Oates also posed the question of whether Flickr iself is now an institution – there’s five years of the world in photos – how will that be protected for the future?

Challenging questions all round. I’ll leave you with one of George Oates’s memorable quotes:

People don’t like to be told what to do, but they do like to belong.

3 thoughts on “Flickr – George Oates

  1. Lisa November 27, 2008 / 10:40 am

    It was a good session – some of the things that stuck with me
    – search flickr groups for “Bento Box”
    – members of the public can know really valuable stuff about our content
    – if an institution is going to fully engage in 2.0 media they must accept that they CAN’T CONTROL all the information that is online about them – Scary!

  2. richard November 28, 2008 / 12:11 am

    It’s true – and at the Te Papa demonstration today they talked about museum curators getting together and ‘losing control’ – but they aren’t disempowered by that necessarily – people engage in new ways, and in richer ways. We don’t have control over how people use books – or only as much as fining them if they don’t bring them back. So in one way it’s no different – it’s just about putting good stuff in people’s hands (or on their desktops or mobile devices) rather than waiting for them to come in and borrow it.

    Also Oates was big on that it’s a conversation – a dynamic thing, with multiple outcomes.

  3. mj November 30, 2008 / 8:49 pm

    I like the idea that we can follow Library of Congress’ lead and let customers tell us information about our items.

    I remember when The Press published photos of the people who landed on the early ships to Canterbury and they were overwhelmed with the responses from the community. Why not let the community lead the discussion?

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