Interview: Flickr :"The eyes of the world"

By February 22, 2008

Kakul Srivastava, director of product management for Flickr, talks about why she gets a jolt of caffeine from looking at all the photos on the site.   Most casual Flickr users have never heard of “ambient photography” and they pro

bably don’t think of themselves as “the eyes of the world”. But that’s what how the folks at Flickr think about the site. I got a chance to sit down for a quick conversation with Kakul Srivastava, director of product management for Flickr, a Yahoo property.

“With the advent of digital photography, the limit of 24 or 36 exposures went away. We started taking photos constantly. This is what we call ambient photography. The first round of photo-sharing sites was still event-based. You uploaded photos and sent the link to friends,” recounts Srivastava who was the first non-Flickr person to join the team after Yahoo acquired Flickr in 2005. She had been working on Yahoo’s Internet TV strategy after a stint at Adobe.
Kakul Srivastava“Flickr is a stream of what’s happening in the life of the photographer. With two to three million photos uploaded every day including 50% to 60% which are shared publicly, it is the main public photo-sharing site. You can find a photo of the sunrise on Mount Fuji for every day of the week on Flickr,” Srivastava (right picture) says. This outpouring of images would be one big mess without some way to navigate through it.
Flickr has found several ways to make the cream rise to the top. For example, their Interestingness feature is based on an algorithm that aggregates three types of metadata: information downloaded from the camera (date, shutter speed, exposure…), the tags chosen by the photographer and viewers’ behavior (the number of times the photo was viewed, added as a favorite or posted on a blog). Not many photos of babies in there, but some stunning photos.
Another way is the Places feature which makes a whole corpus of photos about a particular location, including the most iconic among them, come together. To this day, 50 million photos have been geo-tagged on Flickr.
Debunking the idea that Flickr’s 23 million registered users only post photos for their friends and family, the site comes to life off the Internet when some of the most passionate members gather for Flickr Meetups. On March 15, some of them will be coming together to celebrate the site’s 4th birthday (here is the invite of sorts to the San Francisco event). Flickr has even launched a few professional careers for photographers who were discovered on the site. Eric Lafforgue was one of the lucky ones.
So what did Flickr bring to Yahoo three years after the acquisition? “Flickr is a fast-growing, very engaging service. It has a different user base than Yahoo,” Srivastava says. For one thing, everybody who wants to use Flickr has to create a Yahoo account. “As an entity, we make money,” she says. How? Through the Flickr Pro accounts ($24.95 a year, but Flickr won’t say how many have signed on), through advertising and through deals with print partners who sell photo-enhanced personalized products.
What about working for a company that Microsoft is courtly so boorishly? “We hear about it. But regardless of what happens, it will be fine,” says Srivastava diplomatically. Some Flickr users are being more outspoken and are using photos to express their opinion. One thing her engineers are working on is adding video. “It will not be You Tube, it will be like Flickr.” Coming to your screen sometime in 2008.
By Isabelle Boucq, for Atelier

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