More Flickr vs Instagram

As a follow up from an earlier piece:

Flickr vs Instagram March 2012

The Google Trends lines for Flickr and Instagram have finally crossed. I think it’s a pity. There are tools around Flickr that I’d like to build that I’m probably not going to, because I don’t have any faith in it still being around in a year’s time.

This attitude doesn’t make any sense, because I pay Flickr money, and Instagram still don’t seem to have any sort of sensible business model. How badly can Yahoo! have messed up here that I’m preferring Instagram right now?


What this means:

  • You can’t pin photos marked as private
  • You can’t pin photos that are marked as being for adult audiences only
  • You can’t pin photos where the Flickr user has explicitly disabled sharing
  • Photos not in one of these three categories can be pinned.

Aaron Hockley

Pinterest is requiring sites to individually and explicitly opt-in to “this image is not available for public sharing”. In fact, the way they are providing for you to do this isn’t even something that individual photo owners could have done on their own – it had to be implemented at a Flickr-wide level, rather than by photo owners. This bothers me.

As the article points out, Flickr already had a “do not share this photo” setting on their site. Pinterest should have respected it. When the next social image sharing site turns up, do they get to invent their own “do not steal” meta tag that everyone has to implement as well?


I built another thing. Feedify will make Atom feeds out of things that don’t have feeds, because I like having feeds. Basically, I got bored of having to jab at 5 icons on my phone every time I wanted to do a sweep of “what my friends are doing” – I’d much rather just subscribe to feeds and my RSS reader can tell me about things.

Right now it’ll make feeds out of Flickr and Instagram photo uploads of your friends. These were easy – they map directly to single API calls to the respective services (in the case of flickr, this leads to unavoidable disadvantages with the feed. But that’s life). As and when I think of more things that are easy, I’ll add them.

So yes. Feedify. Play with it.

favset builds a set of favourites

Paul Mison wrote a nice tool:

For a long time, I’ve maintained a set called Your Favourites on Flickr, which contains those photos that lots of people have marked as, well, a favourite.


Of course, it would be nice if this had a web interface, and if it offered to let you choose a set to use or to create a new one, and so on, but I already had the set, and like I said, I’m lazy. Feel free to fork it and make it do any of that stuff.


As usual, the code for this lives in github as favset – patches are welcome. The obvious thing it needs is some sort of scheduling ability – I’d like my set to be updated every couple of days, so it’s always current. I’ll get round to that eventually, I’m sure.


Instagram does two things. Firstly, and most obviously, it takes photos, sticks a filter on them, and uploads. But it also has a social aspect to it; it gives you a single, very simple view of the photos of your friends – a flat list in reverse upload order.

When I first started using Instagram, I just turned on the ‘post to flickr’ option for all of my uploads and didn’t think about it again. But that stream has a certain fascination to it – photos are uploaded one at a time, in the expectation that people will look at them very soon, and they’re fleeting – there’s no homepage for your past photos. You link to them or they go. People only upload things that they think people want to look at.

Combine this with an app like Carousel so that I don’t have to keep waking up the phone to see things, and I’ve started to quite like the ambient pictures that it gives me.

I haven’t decided if any of this is Meaningful yet, however. These photos are interestingly ephemeral. I’m not ready to decide if transience is a useful property, but I keep coming back to Jason Scott:

[..] if someone gives you an amazing Moon Laser and the Moon Laser lets you put words on the side of the moon, the fact that the Moon Laser’s effects wear off after a day or so isn’t that big a deal, and really, whatever you probably put on the side of the Moon with your Moon Laser is probably pretty shallow stuff along the lines of “WOW THIS IS COOL” and “FUCK MARS”. (Again, to belabor, a historian or anthropologist might be into what people, given their Moon Laser, chose to write, but that’s not your problem).

To hedge against this, I still upload all of mine to Flickr (except when I forget to press the button grr defaults) and I have the phone set up to store all the pre-filtered high-quality versions of the photographs (there’s a minor issue here that instagrammed photos have crap exif – this may bite me later. We will see).

Anyway, there’s nothing inherent to Instagram-the-application about any of this. This is just the model that the software encourages. As an experiment, I threw together something that I’ve called (for now) flickrgram. It emulates a similar thing for your flickr photostream – stuff your contacts have posted, in reverse-uploaded order, with a tiny bit of metadata wrapped round it. It’s formatted for iPhone, because I like the portability, but scale it up a bit and it’s a perfectly decent desktop interface (I’m using high-resolution images for the retina display, so it still looks good).

And here’s the conclusion I, and some people I know, have come to — it doesn’t work as well, because people don’t use Flickr the same way as they use Instagram. This isn’t entirely unexpected — several people have mentioned that they put photos into Flickr more for archive and storage than for sharing. I know plenty of people who will upload massive batches of photos (hundreds at once), entirely swamping everyone else. (Luckily, the API call I’m using to populate flickrgram returns at most 5 photos per user, so I’m defended against this. But only by accident.)

The interesting thing to me is that these models — “shoeboxing” verses Instaagram-style “lifestreaming” — are two entirely different usage models for a photo sharing site. Flickr was built for the streaming case (it’s got a photostream as the main thing you see) but recently the shoeboxing is rather swamping the streaming, and the two models just can’t coexist in the same contacts list – the uploads of the shoeboxers will swamp the incoming streams of people who just want to follow streamers. Instagram, on the other hand, by utterly ignoring the needs of shoeboxers, has been able to build a much better streaming experience.

It reminds me of Twitter, where the same thing has happened. The high-volume broadcast / at-reply people drown out the ambient “eating a sandwich” group of people that I quite liked getting the updates of.

Two things interest me about this. Firstly, is this ‘streaming only’ interface convention something that’s going to hurt the Instagram streamers in the future? Are they going to realise in a few years that they’ve not built up any meaningful history in this service? When they want a photo they remember taking, and can’t get it, will there be pain? Or will no-one care?

The other question is, can you get any money out of streamers? Shoeboxers want reliably stored photos, safe URLs, lots of upload bandwidth, all things you can charge money for. They can’t easily drift between services, because they have all their data in this one. Streamers don’t care. They haven’t got any history, and as long as the streaming app will push into facebook, who cares what the backend is? They’ll change apps just because the new one has a better filter.

Maybe the streaming experience that Flickr provides is as good as you can get it, because you have to pander to people who want to do archive, or you can’t make proper money.

Anyway. go play with flickrgram.

Syndicating GeoRSS

Maybe I talk to Aaron too much, but I’m obsessed with geodata this week. So today the crazy mess of code that is understands lat/longs on pages, and presents little ‘has a location’ links next to the tags (I’ve tagged this one with ‘where I’m sitting’ as an example). When I syndicate flickr photos, I’m pulling any geotagging data across as well, so you’ll be able to see lots of geotagged photos as well.

In the same vein, I’ve added georss to the Dopplr journal feeds. Items are tagged with the lat/long of the tip or city that they’re about. Trip items get their location from the city the trip is to. Not every item will have a geotag, but everything that I can tie to a location will do.

Feedparser (which I use to pull my Dopplr feed into needs a patch to be able to parse the GML properly (that patch doesn’t apply clean to the 4.1 release on, but can be bullied into working pretty easily). So I also pull the lat/longs of my Dopplr updates into

I have no idea what I’m going to do with this data. It just seemed a shame to leave it lying around unexposed. I’ve put it into my RSS feeds as well (I love django), so the stream feed can be dropped into Google Maps for prettiness. And eventually I’ll make the ‘has a location’ links do something more interesting, I guess.