My sister-in-law recently started asking me about Flickr. As I started writing her, I realized that I was not only talking about the power of Flickr itself, but alsothe power of “Cloud computing”. I’m a heavy user of Flickr and in this post, you’ll see a some of my quick tips on how to use Flickr as well as how Flickr is another great example of cloud computing.
Although I listed out the reasons why I thought Flickr, and cloud computing in general, was a good thing, I’m sure a lot of it was lost on on her, and that’s how it should be. (Read "A Primer on Cloud Computing" to learn more about what cloud computing is.) Consumers of cloud computing services really don’t think about what it takes to deliver these services and most people take what they are getting for granted and what a bang they are getting for their buck. For corporate computing however, the benefits are real. Although this article focuses on cloud computing from a consumer point of view I’ve thrown in a few references to corporate use. I’m not naive enough to believe that there aren’t any down sides for the corporation and will cover the things to look out for in a separate article.
I use Flickr to store and share all of my family pictures that I care about as well as sharing most of the pictures that I take at kids games with the other parents. I do a little photography on the side so flicker also provide a place for me to quickly share the proofs of a client shoot.
After creating your Flickr account, the first thing you need to do is start uploading your photos. The easiest thing to use when uploading images is the Windows uploader if you are a PC user. You can download and install it from HERE. If you are on a friend’s PC, you can use the quick uploader at this page. Note, I don't upload everything, just the pictures that are the ones that I would want to keep and share. Also, almost everything that gets uploaded is first run through some post-processing in Photoshop. I may crop, change the lighting or "air brush" out unwanted pimples and other blemishes (especially for clients).
One of the most powerful aspects of flicker is tagging your images! Tagging is the process of adding little key words to your photos, making them easier to find. For instance, I tagged all the photos that I took today with three things "baseball” “2010” and if Juan was in them, “juan". This not only allows me to find all the images that have juan in them but the ones where he was playing baseball this year. I could put in a query that says "juan boyssoccer 2009 ballpic" which would quickly find the four pictures out of 16,523 that are the best pictures of him playing soccer in 2009. Although you may not agree with my standard for tag naming, it gets the point across.
Tagging is easy, especially if you do it when you upload your pictures. It's easy to apply a tag like "boyssoccer 2009" to all the photos you upload in a batch when upload. In the uploader, just click on all of the ones that have your child in them and add that name as a tag, then click on all the ones that another person and add that name, etc. You just need to be consistent with your tag naming convention. You can also tag pictures after you upload them with ease if you forget to. When you separate tags with a space, it adds them as separate tags which you may not want to use tags like “San Diego”. Sure you can us quotes to encapsulate tags with a space but that’s a pain. This is why you will see a people's names (except my family) like "andyshuck", "jullianashuck" or jacobsniffin.
Make your tagging conventions consistent so that it's easy for you to remember. For example I always tag city state together like "springervilleaz" or "alpineaz" or "sandiegozoo". After you upload, you can tag stuff in batches that are all the same or if you screw up, you can fix it by going into your tags and just editing them which will fix the tag on all pictures. Say for example you tag something as "springerville" instead of "springervilleaz". Just go into to the listing of all your tags by clicking "You" at the top of the page, choose "Your tags" from the drop down, then click on "See all your tags in a big list here", near the bottom of the page. Then click on "edit" for the tag that you want to change. Changing a tag will modify the tag everywhere you have used it.
NOTE: If you go in later and add or edit a tag (like I just did when I noticed a picture didn't come up that I expected), it will take a few minutes for it to be indexed and start working in search results. This is because there are, on average, about 7,000 images uploaded to Flicker every minute from around the world. As I write this, it's 7:30 PM in San Diego, and 5,185 pictures were just uploaded in the last minute. Think about this happening every minute of every day!
I also upload each major chunk of images into a "set". It's easy to add images to a set when you upload but you can do it later using the "Organize and Create" tab using drag-and-drop. You do this so that to make browsing your images easier. For instance, I uploaded all of today's pictures into a set called "2010-04-24 Baseball" and then, after I uploaded them, I opened that set and sent the URL to all of the parents.
In addition to sets, you can easily add sets to a "collection" using "Organize and Create" tab at the top. I added the baseball set mentioned above to the "Spring Baseball 2010" collection so that I, or a parent, can bring up all the sets that I took of baseball this year. I don't have a ton of collections but it is nice feature when you have multiple sets that are all related. The easiest thing to do is use sets because you can assign a set right when you upload.
I put my clients names in as "firstlast" so that I can quickly find them. Flickr has a new feature that allows you to enter the name or email address of a person in the photo. I'm now sure how that is used and you can't add that from the "uploader", therefore, I don't use it.
Searching and using tags!!!
Because I started tagging in a consistent way (and fixing them when I didn't), I can now reach into my pile of 16,523 images and find just the picture I want. This semi anal retentive approach also allows you to use the power of their super computer strength to share just the photos you want. For instance. If I search on "juan marilu flying" I'll ONLY get pictures where both of them are in the image and it's when we are flying. I used this method of search when I remembered a certain picture that I wanted to show someone and it brought up on my iPhone, two out of 16000 images in 3 seconds. So, when I want to find a recentfamily portrait to send to someone I just do a search with "juan marilu jeanette christian" and click "Recent" in the sort order. But if you really want THE FAMILY PORTRAIT, you have to include "sulu" (our dog) in the search terms (WOW, it found the TWO pictures in under a second). Whenever I get a picture that is really good in kids sports, I use "ballpic". Try searching my pictures with that and then add "juan" to the search and you get Juan’s best sports pictures.
Using search allows you to create virtual albums or “logical sets”. I decided that when I get a great picture of one of the kids, I tag it with "marilupic" or "juanpic" to indicate it's among the best. Now all I have to do for my mom is e-mail her the URL that is shown after I enter that into the search window and sort the results by "Recent". Now when ever she clicks on it, she gets only the best, and as soon as I add one to the list, she'll see it. I can quickly give a "soccer mom" a virtual album of her kids when I spent the time adding her son's name in the tag. I don't do this very often and really only for our closest friends (want to see a picture of Jacob Sniffin, or Jacob in the best shot ever, click HERE). I did this when I shot a gymnastics meet for a friend and made it so he could pull all of the ones of his daughter out of the pile. Feeling the power of tagging? I hope so.
You can easily use flicker for doing research on places you are going to go to or have been and want to show someone other perspectives. Chances are, someone has uploaded the image and tagged it. For instance, you can search just my tags for "catwalknm" or search all of Flickr using “catwalk new mexico” but be advised that you will get pictures from the catwalk but also fashion shows in New Mexico. I use it all the time when I want to show that one special pic to someone that I'm talking to. I just whip out my iPhone and access my 16k pictures and find it in under a minute. There is a Flickr app for iPhone and others that make it a little easier to use, and you can use the Flickr mobile web page as well.
Tagging doesn't take much time and if you stay with it, you will have a very powerful tool at your fingertips.
Why do this and the Advantages of Cloud Computing.
You may be asking "Why go to all of this work, and shouldn't I just use a PC program to do this?". I chose to tag and use the full power of Flickr from the very beginning for the benefits listed above. Actually, when I had a smaller collection, I spent over a month re-uploading my stuff that was on a competitors site to Flickr because of the capabilities of Flickr and the ease of tagging. I also realized that I had a choice of trying to use a PC program to do all of this stuff or use the "cloud computing" approach and thus use Flickr.
Below I list the benefits of using Flickr. Most of these benefits apply to any cloud computing application (like Google Docs, Gmail, and other apps (likesalesforece.com for companies). These benefits are more consumer oriented, so if you want to read a more complete list that is more corporate oriented, Benefits of Cloud Computing that I posted in this BLOG.
- Purchasing software - You don't have to buy the software. Although you do pay a small fee for unlimited uploads on Flickr or use of other more corporate applications, its nothing compared to the cost of deploying the capability yourself.
- Storage - In this case, storage is unlimited! Forget the pain of adding disk drives or running out of space. If you are a company, this is a big deal because it's not just the cost of disk drives but the cost to manage it, back it up, the racks that it goes into, the power, air conditioning, and the space within a computing center. Some companies are just tapped out, no more power, space or air conditioning and adding more gets very expensive.
- Backups - No problem, cloud computing normally does this for you. This doesn't mean you shouldn't backup your photos. A vendor like Google or Flickr isn't infallible, or it could always go out of business. But it is in their best interest not to loose your stuff because this is big business. Imagine if Flickr lost a large set of photos. It could destroy their reputation and put them out of business within a year. I still backup everything that I have onto two different places and sometimes three but many people don't, and Flickr is their only lifeline if their PC crashes or they have a fire. (see my article "Backup your PC to the NET, or just backup", because this is important!).
- Installing - If you have a PC program, you have to install it, and then live through the pain of upgrading it or fixing it when it breaks. Cloud computing means you get the upgrades without the pain.
- Interoperability - It doesn't make any difference if you have a Mac, PC, netbook running LINUX, iPad, or iPhone... Cloud computing works on any platform as long as it's hooked to the net and has a compatible browser. It's important to note that having a compatible browser might look like a limitation, but most cloud computing vendors know that their customers might want to use more than just one browser, so they normally ensure that multiple browsers will work. And if nothing else, they try to expose most functionality on all browsers. Vendors are now creating special detection so they can direct you to a mobile version of the site if you are using an iPhone or other mobile device.
- Instant publishing and sharing - This is one of the foundational benefits of cloud computing. Depending on your Flickr configuration, sharing your pictures is immediate. Just like in Google docs, which allows you to share documents with others, you set exactly who you share information with in Flickr (world or individuals from a family or friends group). In Flickr, you can set your stuff to be private, or only to friends, only to family, or to the world. You can also set who can do what (like who is allowed to comment on your pictures, tag your photos, and has who has the ability to see all sizes.
- Supportability -Although you run the risk of your cloud computing vendor (like Google and Flickr), it's a lot less likely to loose support for your service (depending on who you choose) than a piece of PC software, especially if you don’t stay with the latest version.
- Getting a new PC - When you purchase a new PC, moving your data and programs over is a real pan but with Cloud Computing, this isn't normally a problem. Because you are using "the cloud", as soon as you turn on your new PC and hook it to the Internet, you are back in business. Nothing to re-install, nothing to upgrade.
- Comparability - Compatibility rocks! With typical PC programs, you not only have to worry if it's compatible with your PC (Mac or windows), but also the version of stuff on your PC (like Vista or Windows 7). As we've already touched on, most cloud computing solutions are platform agnostic and just need you to use a compatible browser.
- Access from anywhere, anytime - This is getting to be known as the "killer app" of cloud computing. With powerful mobile computers (also known as iPhones and other devices) you now have the power of a super-computer in the palm of your hand and access to your data from anywhere. You can use Flickr from any device that has network access, like your iPhone.
- Social networking - Flickr, like other applications, allows you to keep tabs on what your friends are up to and comment on each others photos (you can allow just your friends, family, the world, or no one to comment in the Flickr settings). Although not a core part of what I would consider cloud computing, having everything else in this list enables this ability for companies that want to make this a feature.
- Power! - Most people don't realize (or even care), but most cloud computing applications are using thousands of computers (hundreds of thousands in Google's case) to solve your problem. For example, when you do a very simple query in Google, hundreds or more computers leap into action to find your results and get them back to you in 3 seconds or less. Think about that. It may take up to a half second to get your request to Google (or Flickr) and a half second or more to get it back to you. That leaves only two seconds for Google to find what you are looking for, order it, merge it with advertising, and sometimes customize it based on your personalization settings and your security filters. Although using Flickr versus a PC program to find your pictures on today’s desktop computers may not sound like a good justification, what about using the tiny little processor in your iPhone to do the same thing? Hmmm.
- The synergistic effects - The interoperability of most cloud services with other users using the same (or possibly different) service can bring huge benefits. Initially, you may not think this is a big deal but what if you wanted to quickly put together an album that has pictures of your baseball game taken by all of the parents on your team. This is super easy if you tell your parents to all use the same unique tag that will link all of them together (one that probably won't be used by anyone else). I could ask the other parents on our baseball team to tag all of their pictures of today's game with "pqsouthbaseball", then I could simply create a URL that links to a query result page that uses this tag and the date of the game to merge all of the pictures of the game into one result set. Other applications like Google apps, allow you to integrate other peoples data into your calculations. The possibilities are endless.
- Collaboration - This is another crown jewel of cloud computing because globally accessible applications enable easy collaboration. We can work together to tag your photos (if you allow) just like we can collaborate real time on a Google document (actually watching a group of friends all type at the same time). We can ask (and allow) the world or just our friends to collaborate. Some Flickr users allow anyone to add tags to their photos.
- Crowd sourcing - This is an extremely powerful concept. Crowd sourcing allows you to to leverage millions of smart people to solve difficult problems, like finding photos. Because everyone contributed to the effort of tagging, finding photos could be easier. This is how Google makes finding stuff look so easy. Although most people don’t know it, when you use Google to find a web page on a particular topic or answer a question, one of the things that you are leveraging is the fact that millions of other people have asked the same question and normally chose the best answer. It's possible that Google can look at what you chose to look at and possibly what you finally settled on to rank answers. Google uses algorithms to look at what other web pages link to in order to figure out who has similar or complimentary information and the more links you hve to your page, the higher your search ranking is. Over time, the quality of the results for that question just gets better and more relevant. Combine this with the fact that Google knows, in general, where you are. That means that a guy in Miami who searched for "dolphins" will see his favorite football team included near the top of the results where someone in San Diego would see the football reference a little farther down. Crowd sourcing is also how I think Google provides one of the best translation engines and speech to text services in the industry, they use millions of people to train their computers without them even knowing it.
- Easy - So easy, my 82 year old mom can use it. I can't ask my mom to install some lame software to manage her pictures and then use it while talking to her over the phone, but I can explain to her over the phone how to upload her pictures to an account I created on Flickr for her. Think about that, you no longer have to be a computer geek to do some very powerful things. In addition, companies like Google and Yahoo, the owners of Flickr, spend millions on top talent that are dedicated to figuring out how to make using their applications easy. That's why you don't need a 100 page manual to use their solution.
- Always on - This gets into up-time and other geeky things but building a service that is always on is difficult. Always on is almost always a cloud computing foundational feature. It has to be since cloud computing services are accessed around the world in every timezone, all day, every day.
- Value / Cost - Think about what you are getting to take advantage of and then look at the cost. Sometimes you are getting all of the above for free. The beauty of cloud computing is that this expense or cost of computers, power, storage, people, management, software, facilities, network, backups, and more is spread sometimes over millions of users. Google has found a way to offer gmail and Google Docs for free to consumers! Companies can create a new .com address that receives company mail, calendaring, office suite of applications, and more with all the advantages above for a tenth the cost or less than doing it themselves.
- Scale - Cloud computing allows users and companies to quickly scale up by keeping reserve capacity. In order for a small company to add computer capacity quickly, they think in months. Cloud computing normally provides the ability to scale in minutes. On average, there are about 7,000 images uploaded to flicker every minute from around the world. As I write this, it's Saturday at 7:30 PM in San Diego, 5,185 pictures were just uploaded in the last minute. A new user can start using Flickr without really worring if they have the sape for him. Think about this happening every minute of every day! This is one of the many reasons companies and universities are turning to Google for mail and Google Apps. I can setup an entire company and upload all of the company employees to a custom Google Apps Domain in one day. That means that I instantly am providing e-mail, calendaring, collaboration tools, web sites and a full office suite of applications without buying a single computer server or software license. To do this for a company of just 300 would could costs hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment and people, and if you wanted the same service levels that you get with cloud computing possibly over a million.
As of October 2009, Flickr claims to host more than 4 billion images.[ref]. With the addition of approximately 5,000 to 8,000 images, and now videos, added every minute, you’re talking about a lot of content. Combine this with the fact that ever year, due to advances in technology and cost for cameras that store larger images, Flickr's storage needs must be off the charts. I think you’ll agree that this simple service is a great example of cloud computing.
- Chris Claborne