What Flickr could learn from Fotolog

How could the cutting-edge and more feature-rich Flickr have anything to learn from Fotolog, and from what customers from Fotolog experienced during the big group refugee period a year and a half ago? This question is the core reason I wanted to do start blogging about my experiences at Flickr, Fotolog, and a few other social and community sites.

While looking at Technorati results for well.com links at work this week, I stumbled on an interesting blog post by Gene Smith:

His questions are good, and the fact that the report of discussions on The WELL was from a friend of mine (who’d read the laments from me and others) made me laugh. So I’ll speed though some of the backstory for now and try to explain some of the amazing differences in these two large social photo sharing sites.
First, it’s true that the reason we left Fotolog en masse was that performance there had become so slow. Thousands of loyal users sat cursing while trying to upload or even just navigating the site, day after day. The way the impulse to “swarm” spread was because of the lovely, simple Fotolog interface. If you were a heavily networked member who finally uploaded and saw your latest photo come up, or who came back to your page to see comments, you would see brilliant little thumbnails of new images from your contacts on the side of the very same page. Not their icons, their latest works in miniature!

In the context of a tight community who could no longer connect with one another due to the slowdown, this meant that people who kept trying could eventually post images that said they’d left for Flickr — for example, overtly, in a jpeg sign with big bright letters, or symbolically, as a pure black image — and the thumbnails of those little images populated the main photo pages of all their contacts. It became obvious that people were leaving, and this news spread because of the nature of the interface, and the pattern of group communications that had grown out of the site’s interactive structure.

It’s good to remember that the great slowdown seemed to be a result of being loved to death, staggering under sheer load of seemingly infinite demand. The site had become wildly popular internationally, particularly with young Brazilians. It was a direct result of a popular journalist in a major newspaper there falling in love with the Fotolog community experience and writing about the thrill of it.

Directly navigating via people’s visions and expressions is one of the most compelling group experiences, and providing your contacts are excellent photographers, it’s one of the best ways to improve your photography without even trying. This style of visual networking can’t be done currently at Flickr, so I and some others have struggled to explain to those who only know Flickr how we miss that experience, even though we are settled in at our new community. I’ll have more to post about his.

Oddly enough, if you go to the main page at Fotolog, you don’t get a sense of any of this. Fotolog’s simple charms are hard to see until you have a page, regular uploads and contacts doing regular uploads.

Fotolog has finally had an influx of investment, and I am told that it works much better now. I have more to say about the two sites, and their challenges, and I’ll be uploading there again some to get a fresh take on that situation.

Flickr did and still does many things more useful features than Fotolog. The tone of communications with customers and the style of open collaboration is exemplary and exciting. Tagging, sets and Creative Commons licensing are all supported very well on Flickr and not at Fotolog. And yet, that ability to navigate through the visual expressions of friends of friends, rather than via profiles or buddy icons, is something I still miss in my regular near-daily Flickr presense.


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