Caterina of Flickr on Communication and Freedom

From a fascinating interview with Flickr’s Caterina Fake: “We wanted to build a web-based game that would take the social web to the next level. When we realized it was the communication that was so important we changed direction” Web apps are tools with which people communicate. Of course people do some task with them, […]

From a fascinating interview with Flickr’s Caterina Fake:

“We wanted to build a web-based game that would take the social web to the next level. When we realized it was the communication that was so important we changed direction”

Web apps are tools with which people communicate. Of course people do some task with them, but communication is key. With Flickr, of course, people communicate through photo sharing. With other tools, people communicate around other artifacts, like links, reviews, ratings, and other types of what Richard MacManus and I called “microcontent” in our Web 2.0 for Designers article (back when Web 2.0 didn’t mean everything under the sun).

Caterina continues:

‘The advance of the social web has thrust Flickr into the limelight, but the notion of sharing, discussing and commenting on pictures was far from original, which begs the question: Why has Flickr succeeded where similar sites have not?. “About 80 per cent of photos on Flickr are public: that level of social freedom wasn’t foreseen,” says Caterina. “When we started the company, there were dozens of other photosharing companies such as Shutterfly, but on those sites there was no such thing as a public photograph – it didn’t even exist as a concept – so the idea of something ‘public’ changed the whole idea of Flickr. By sharing images via tags, users are able to see stuff that’s going on all over the world – pictures of the London bombings and the Lebanese evacuation were up in minutes after the events.”‘

I find it interesting that Caterina uses the term “social freedom”. Certainly, having images public by default gets them to the 80% shared figure, but is it really freedom?

Perhaps it is, given that users can make them private when they want to. It also seems like an issue of control. People don’t mind having images public, as long as they can make them private when they want to. The insight to make them public by default is brilliant…but my guess is that it wouldn’t work as well if you weren’t able to choose.

Published: November 29th, 2006

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