13 May 2007

Shared Sight

Art Rules

Of the many social tools available on the web, my hands-down favourite is easily Flickr. It's not something I came to prefer based on a systematic comparison of all of the features of the various web applications I use, quite the contrary: I just like it a lot, plain and simple. It's a feeling more than it is a thought. Isn't that the sort of user-engagement most software products only dream of attaining?

It's feature-rich, yes, but on a more personal level it is responsible for making me passionate about photography. On the surface that statement suffers from a basic chicken-or-the-egg problem. Many professionally-trained photographers would no doubt scoff at it, because in a way it's like saying that a typewriter or Word has sparked one's love of writing. But that's a bad metaphor, because it's really more like saying that blogging has made you love writing, which is true for me as well.

Publishing tools fundamentally changed when they became social. Obviously a blog is more interactive than a typewriter, and for me Flickr has made me want to take more pictures. It's like visually blogging, for those times when I need to show you what I saw instead of describing it.

My Flickr usage has rapidly increased in the past year. At first I just posted my photos as a way to share them easily with a few close friends. Around this same time I tagged photos like I would tag del.icio.us bookmarks, so that they would be useful to me and I could find them again later. Then at some point other people started finding my photos - total strangers - and I started noticing their photos. We became social network "friends" because we liked seeing the ways each other saw the world. Around this time I started additionally tagging my photos according to ways I thought others might enjoying stumbling upon them. As my experience of Flickr as a community grew, what started as a personal system of classification became social.

As Ross Mayfield observes in his post Power Law of Participation, "Part of what makes Flickr work isn't just excellence at low threshold engagement, but the ability to form groups." A few weeks ago I could no longer resist the pull of the high engagement side of the graph. I started not one, but two new groups and one of them, believe it or not, actually is related to the original idea (and title) of this blog!

First up is Stuff on the Ground. The concept is simple. It's photos of stuff. On the ground.

Next up is my first case of ever staying on-topic with anything: Subculture: The Meaning of Style. Although I nicked the title from (paid homage to?) Dick Hebdige, this isn't an exercise in cultural theory. I just want photos of punks, goths, hippies, ravers... all the freaks we know and love because they make the streets of this planet more colourful. If that leads you to a meaningful examination of some dialectic or other, it's not my fault.

If you enjoy photos in any way, taking them or just looking at them, and haven't yet visited Flickr, dash over there and check it out. You don't have to contribute photos to have fun or be social. Leave comments on the photos you like or participate in group discussions. If you're anything like me, though, it will suck you in and very shortly you'll be obsessively carrying a camera everywhere you go.