Community: From Little Things, Big Things Grow

by George Oates

22 Reader Comments

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  1. I wonder if, in the described Flickr groups, you observe a small group of people who contribute a lot of comments and photos and a large group who contribute a lot less. Like described by Jacob Nielsen in “Participation Inequality: Lurkers vs. Contributors in Internet Communities”:http://www.useit.com/alertbox/participation_inequality.html
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  2. “People don’t like being told what to do. We like to explore, change things around, and make a place our own. ” Isn’t that the essence of this whole ‘internet’ thing?!? This web of ours is becoming a place where all the rules can be rewritten to suit our individual and 21st Century needs. Community architecture is, I agree, about nurturing and empowering the individual to be as creative and connected as possible. You state that as Flickr continues to grow, “it seems to operate more like a society.” I think the analogy can even be expanded further, Flickr as an institution on the internet, even the beginnings of a visual processing (occipital) ‘lobe’ of the internet. Each portion of the ‘society’ acts to contribute, aggregate, processe, etc. the inputs from the edge of the network and therefore adds their own value to it. Over time rolls form, personalities emerge and ‘governing bodies’ need to suggest guidlines/rules that will help these complex networked individuals to conduct their ‘business’ in these networks. As a governing body (i.e. the host of the site and the people who decided what users are and aren’t able to do from a technical and thus social level), I agree, it is “very hard to remain neutral while our members jostle and collide and talk and whisper to each other” and I commend Flickr and so many others in this frontier for doing so. Wouldn’t it be fun to see a window into the Internet 10 years down the road? What are the possibilities if a community is nurtured just right. What ‘guidlines’ will need to be in place to support sustainable social architecture? How will these communities evolve over the coming years? ahh well, too many good questions and things to think about. Thanks for getting me started! A well written and insightful piece. Thanks you for your thoughtful perspective.
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  3. I’m impressed by how useful these takeaways are for understanding what makes for effective communities in the _offline_ world.  Brilliant.
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  4. I spend too much time on Flickr. But as part of my work involves photography it’s not too surprising! One thing not mentioned in the article is blogs - and more specifically the Flickr widget. My main Flickr group is http://www.flickr.com/groups/cyclingedinburgh This ‘supplies’ pictures to http://cyclingedinburgh.info (strip in right hand column). It currently has 92 members (I only know who half a dozen are ‘in real life’ even though most of them live in the same city!) Maybe I should organise a meet! People add photos to do with cycling in Edinburgh - not always pictures with bikes IN. This is a random process - though I also seek out contributions by simply searching http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=edinburgh&s=rec The resulting vertical strip of 10 images changes several times most days and can produce some really interesting juxtapositions. (Which are occasionally worth grabbing to form another image! - http://www.flickr.com/photos/chdot/2338879304/ ) Then people comment on the photos (in Flickr) It really is a web of connections. http://www.flickr.com/photos/chdot
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  5. I adore your comments about anonymity vs identity.  I think anonymous participation is something that isn’t explicitly discussed enough - we’re forever rattling on about managing online identity, premised on the idea that most people are happy to have their online activity centred around a publically projected identity, and this doesn’t seem to be the case among the wider group of Web users, ones who aren’t bloggers, opinionators, and other types of Web mouths.  As you suggest, anonymity doesn’t have to condemn a user to passive consumption. You made a comment that users who choose to remain anonymous tend to be treated, eventually, with suspicion by other members, and leave us with the rather elliptical suggestion that “identity and connections appear to have social value”.  That doesn’t explain any actual _suspicion_, though, and I’d be very interested in your take on where this suspicion comes from, and the rights and wrongs of not coagulating your online identity in online fora such as Flickr.
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  6. great article. good things to think about as i work on a new project. my biggest struggle is accepting the dark underbelly of the society in microcosm - there is a creepster component on flickr. there are ways to deal with it, but it’s there. the flickr community is large enough that you can stay in the “good neighborhoods” .. but in a smaller, growing community, how do we make sure trolls don’t set up shop and dominate the conversation?
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  7. hmm how do I add this user as a contact?  where is that link again!?  dang flicker interface..
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  8. I like to read such great posts about creativity and mutual esteem! Thanks!
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  9. Interesting that you mention gaming as I believe Flickr was originally designed to be a game! (“Game Neverending” I think it was called.) The design is great - love the pink and blue colours, which have translated into real life events. But the white background does not show photos at their best. You’ve probably all seen those links under some photos: “Best viewed on black”. Sites like Blackr (?) and some blogs exist to showcase photos directly from Flickr on black backgrounds. I checked one blog and the photos made my jaw drop. Amazing deep colours. Yet I’d already seen the same photos on Flickr with a white background and not been so amazed. The difference was stunning. Black simply makes the colours richer. The problem is that text isn’t as nice on a black background. I then wrote a few lines of CSS and made a custom stylesheet that could be applied to Flickr automatically by the browser. The styles set a permanent black background and I thought it worked really well. See an “example screenshot along with the code”:http://www.flickr.com/photos/christopherhester/2104263736/in/set-72157602729084151/ . Video! I’m surprised the article didn’t mention this. It’s interesting how negative the reaction has been to its introduction on Flickr. So much for the community spirit of love. This could be a good example of how a community fights change introduced by its creators. What will happen when the next big feature is introduced? Or would some users prefer Flickr to stay fixed as it is now, forever? I hope not. I personally enjoy videos on Flickr and can easily avoid them if I didn’t. It’s great to finally upload some of my digital camera shorts that I’ve made over the years, without going to another site like YouTube. The 90-second time limit is genius. (Though I hope it gets extended over time.) We are also seeing some superb talents emerge who are complimenting their photostreams with videos.
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  10. Fantastic post - I run a site thats in its formative stages. I barely even own a camera but love browsing flickr. The more I hear about how you guys built such a great site the more I realize what we need to do to make our site as engaging. Thank you
    Philip
    Snooth.com
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  11. Wow - Thank you for all your thoughtful comments. It’s lovely to hear that you enjoyed the article! I wanted to address a couple of things directly… *Richard said*
    _"I wonder if, in the described Flickr groups, you observe a small group of people who contribute a lot of comments and photos and a large group who contribute a lot less.“_ Yes, I’m sure that’s often the case, particularly when people are finding their feet within a new group of people. It depends a bit on the sort of group too, I think. I’ve observed a certain cycle on Flickr several times which I think is fascinating. An example is where someone might post to our Help Forum asking a question (or being angry about something!), and then I’ll see that same person actually being helpful in some of the other threads! I think what often happens in groups is that some members will participate and engage more deeply than others, and often end up being “promoted” to a moderator or an admin. Nielsen’s theory about lurking really just mirrors the way we are offline, doesn’t it? Not everyone’s an extrovert or an exhibitionist. *Charles said*
    _"Isn’t that the essence of this whole “˜internet’ thing?!?“_ Absolutely! We the People of the Internet have always known that, but I think it’s a relatively new realisation for the megacorps and broadcasters out there :) _"I think the analogy can even be expanded further, Flickr as an institution on the internet, even the beginnings of a visual processing (occipital) “˜lobe’ of the internet. Each portion of the “˜society’ acts to contribute, aggregate, processe, etc. the inputs from the edge of the network and therefore adds their own value to it.“_ What a wonderful thing to say!! I think I love you! *Chris said*
    _"Maybe I should organise a meet!“_ I’d highly recommend that. Flickr meets are great! There are lots happening all over the world, a sample of which you can see over in “the Flickr group on Upcoming”:http://upcoming.yahoo.com/group/8/. *Douglas said*
    _”...and leave us with the rather elliptical suggestion that “identity and connections appear to have social value”?. That doesn’t explain any actual suspicion, though, and I’d be very interested in your take on where this suspicion comes from.“_ (This could probably fill a whole other article.) Apologies for the ellipsis - I thought it was particularly hard to quantify that concept, so made a slightly cheeky assertion rather than stating a hard fact. One of the most powerful things about Flickr, I think, is that it allows us to see true lives and actual people. Certainly there is a huge artistic vein to the content, but there are also many, many life stories and often gritty realities. Perhaps it’s as if there’s a “you show me yours and I’ll show you mine” thing going on. Perhaps it’s that people who don’t engage and share after a while aren’t “joining in.” *Lori said*
    _"in a smaller, growing community, how do we make sure trolls don’t set up shop and dominate the conversation?“_ You need to concentrate and be present. If someone comes by and makes waves, you’re well within your rights to weed them out. It’s like that annoying dude at your party who’s hitting on all the chicks and generally being a dork. No harm in asking him to leave… *Richard A. said*
    _"hmm how do I add this user as a contact? where is that link again!? dang flicker interface..“_ Wily, isn’t it? (You can add someone as a contact a few different ways: by mousing over their buddy icon, clicking on the little arrow that pops up and choosing “Add as a contact”, or by heading for their profile and clicking “Add x as a contact.” Totally acknowledge this could be easier, fwiw.) *Chris H. said*
    _"I then wrote a few lines of CSS and made a custom stylesheet that could be applied to Flickr automatically by the browser.“_ Fantastic! I must mention my very favourite Greasemonkey hack… An Englishman named Pip wrote a little script to “change the spelling”:http://www.flickr.com/photos/pip/59343912/ of “favorite” to the Queen’s English spelling, “favourite” :) There are “loads of hacks like this”:http://www.flickr.com/search/?ss=1&w=all&q=greasemonkey+screenshot+flickr&m=text… though maybe “hacks” is the wrong word. Perhaps “enhancements” is better. _"It’s interesting how negative the reaction has been to [video] on Flickr. So much for the community spirit of love. This could be a good example of how a community fights change introduced by its creators.“_ Yes, agreed. You could say that the negativity is also a sign of love, that people feel such passion for the place and feel protective of it. Interestingly, there was also a “backlash against the backlash” over video on Flickr, where other members helped to assuage fears, poke fun or stay the course with video. We knew it was a big change - absolutely - but we also knew that it was going to be a lot of fun, opening up new channels for creativity and documentation - a position we felt confident we could defend. And you’re right, there’s some wonderful stuff coming online, which you can get a taste of over in “the Video! Video! Video! Flickr group”:http://flickr.com/groups/video/pool/ ... Yay!
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  12. Damn ascii - Sorry - I’ll try to clean that up :/
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  13. I come from a different background and experience in terms of exposure to people and their expectations. Consider yourself blessed with a pleasing creative experience. You have enjoyed a self-selecting creative audience. My work has been in Department of Defense and Financial services areas. Here you meet a completely different kind of user. This user is frustrated if there is not ONE CLEAR WAY to locate what they want or effect a certain action. They have a checklist mentality, and their expectations are formed by previous experience, even when that experience is not necessarily related to your application paradigm. It can be a real challenge to make a web page look like the financials page of the WSJ. And you may have to do this even when you know that usability will suffer. I have encountered people who are not just frustrated but actually offended by design decisions which have been tested against a significant group of users. This does not mean that they will not adapt. However the pace of change and choices made must be carefully thought out so as not to alienate these users. Things that are easily apparent to the creative user who is engaged and willing to invest a little time in an adventure—may well lead this user to judge your work as “Crap”.
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  14. As “flickr becomes about uptime, speed, and flexibility—almost detaching the things we build from the content itself and people’s interaction with it.” In terms of community, would it seem that services like our site (http://www.boingboing.net/2008/03/19/compfight-powerful-s.html), born out of a niche that flickr may not fill, represent the new direction for the flickr community? This is obviously not flickr’s core, but hey, you guys nailed it, nobody else in this market space has come close… What do you do now? Your providing efficient tools for extending the core of flickr through the API. How do you see flickr interacting with the extended communities and fostering your own growth from now, on? Do you attempt to shape these extended communities with the same goals that you mentioned aided in flickrs initial growth? Do you simply add more media types, there by extending through the use of existing infrastructure? i.e. videos
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  15. This article makes me thankful that there are still people in the world who design with hospitality in mind. It gets at the heart of what people yearn for on the web, a place that makes them feel comfortable and treats them as a person while providing them the simple, elegant tools to do what they need and interact. There’s simple rules to being a great host, on and offline, and those who master those rules have the best parties. Great job.
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  16. Flickr’s a fantastic tool, we use it for our personal photos and even as a way of sharing photos with 3rd party design agencies. With the privacy controls we can choose who will view our images and for £24 we get two years of unlimited storage and bandwidth; much more economical then hosting it ourselves. It’s a great community (much more fun then Facebook) has a fantastic feature set and offers more and more every time I visit.
    It has also provided another portal to find Creative Commons licence imagery. So form a commercial front and personal front flickr is a community to love; its a great design and coding of the quality you’d expect more from our friends at Google. Anyhoo that’s starting to sound like an advert. Raise your glasses to the site that continues to engage its community and gives without asking.
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  17. I have been a member of Flickr for a couple of years but haven’t discovered the functions much, yet. I have been trying similar websites but Flickr is the one I keep coming back to upload my photos. People say personal websites will disappear because we have inexpensive websites like Flickr to show off the content. “”¦I worked hard to make the site seem as if there was a person behind the screen talking to you. As we churned out pages to piece the site together, I obsessed about copy all over the place to make Flickr sound human.”? I think this is what we have been trying to do especially since E-commerce websites became popular. The information and products suppliers are trying to provide services which they need to add value to differentiate them from their competitors. The higher point of services for example, is where users can shop things as if he is at an actual shop getting advised or informed face-to-face. It is possible 10 years from now, we may use or discover the “computer”? in a totally different way and we deal with a person behind a webcam or projected hologram. The way of providing online services may totally change. Flickr’s friendly words are one of these steps for future. I had been involved with a sharing-content —website before. The actual copy on the site, as well as having a black or while background, were some of the larger issues we had to address.
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  18. ,——
    | Amy Franceschini is one of my favorite artists. In 2002, she created a
    | sculpture called Game for the Masses, her “Intro to Game Theory.”? In
    | game play, players distribute all the “pucks”? evenly. Whoever
    | manages to collect all the pucks wins. That’s it.
    `—— You make it sound like poker
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  19. *Thomas said* _"My work has been in Department of Defense and Financial services areas. Here you meet a completely different kind of user. This user is frustrated if there is not ONE CLEAR WAY to locate what they want or effect a certain action.“_ Certainly. The trick with large, information-heavy sites designed from within the organization is that you often end up with impenetrable systems that only a mother could love. I tried to pay a parking ticket on the Californian Department of Motor Vehicles site the other day, and it took me a while to work out where to do it, when I would have thought this is a) a pretty common task, and b) a money earner! Even though Flickr sets a certain tone, and is a fairly free-flowing place, we’ve also tried very hard to make the “micro-interactions”, like changing an email address or adding a tag very direct and clear. This sort of effort can happen in any system, whether it’s a fun place to be, or not. _"I have encountered people who are not just frustrated but actually offended by design decisions which have been tested against a significant group of users.“_ Funnily enough, that actually happens on Flickr too, every time we release a new feature! It’s probably change more than anything else that people react to. Who knows? If there was focus on interaction design on every site, perhaps there would be less frustration?  ;) *Ryan said* _"How do you see flickr interacting with the extended communities and fostering your own growth from now, on?“_ Good question! Hard to answer though, if you consider Flickr to be more of a vessel than anything else. I mean, Flickr itself doesn’t really interact with anything. Certainly, the “web” around Flickr will grow and expand, as content squirts all over the place, but I guess whether Flickr has influence over directing that growth is the interesting bit. I’d say Flickr is practically agnostic in that regard. We have guidelines about how to make use of the API, and guidelines about how to participate on Flickr itself. Apart from that, it’s really up to you how and when you share content from Flickr in other places. _"Do you attempt to shape these extended communities with the same goals that you mentioned aided in flickr’s initial growth?“_ Not really, no. We try to allow people to share as they see fit. That’s possibly helped the proliferation and growth of the “Flickrverse” outside the edges of flickr.com. When you decide you’re going to open the gates and let the data you host out on to the web, you have to make sure that a) you and your team are prepared, and b) that you respect your members’ right to opt out if they’re not into it. *Paul* Thank you! Try throwing a “bacon camp” party! (With actual bacon!) *Chris* Cheers! *Cara said* _"People say personal websites will disappear because we have inexpensive websites like Flickr to show off the content.“_ Interesting, isn’t it? That idea of “My Portal”, or mashups might just mean that personal sites are a simple page that links to all the different web services I’ve cherry-picked, that suit me. I’m curious about the teeny web services like FireEagle, that only do one or two things, and very simply. Also curious about the idea that I, a non-programmer, might be able to tie different web services together without needing to write code (or maybe just a little bit, but no server administration please!). That’s exciting! Also interesting to think about that in the context of Ryan’s comment about influencing extended communities. I’d say you’re better off releasing that influence as much as you can, just because there are almost infinite mashing possibilities. Certainly, you’ll have no control over what things look like, so you may as well just give that up right now :) *Lee said* _"You make it sound like poker.“_ Heh. Don’t tell anyone.
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  20. An interesting peek into Flickr’s history can be found by reading an “interview”:http://www.adaptivepath.com/ideas/essays/archives/000519.php with Eric Costello in 2005. He mentions Game Neverending, but also something called _Flickr Live_ which I hadn’t heard about before. What is it? Read the interview to find out! Fascinating stuff!
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  21. Community can make things bigger. We discuss various thing with others like blog, forums and when people join your discussion that makes the matter important and popular and more and more people start joining your discussion and that makes good healthy community.
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  22. Flickr has been a wonderful home for our community of “Blind Photographers (Blind Photographers on Flickr) “:http://www.flickr.com/groups/blind_photographers/. I created the group a few years ago wondering if I were the only visually impaired person using a camera. Now we have a group of 115 members, half of which are active. Not only to we share photography, but discuss vision issues and camera accessibility tips. We are currently doing a project to discuss how visual impairment affects our photography. I do not think another site would have brought us all together. The main social sites like Facebook and Myspace are not friendly to this type of group. Dedicated sites just get lost in the vastness of cyber space. Thanks to all you folks at flickr for doing what you have done. PS If you would like advice on making flickr more accessible to the blind and visually impaired, all of us in “Blind Photographers (Blind Photographers on Flickr) “:http://www.flickr.com/groups/blind_photographers/ would love to help
    I
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