Is it just me, or is Flickr (currently in beta) one of the best examples of next generation web services?

Note that in this context, I mean "web services" in both senses of the term:

  • A web site that provides some useful service that I can interact with using a web browser.
  • An application with an API that has been exposed over HTTP using REST, XML-RPC, or SOAP.

Flickr has been on my radar for a while now, but I only recently began to start playing with it. I'm impressed as hell. After my first 10 minutes of playing with it, I found myself thinking "why don't we build stuff like this at Yahoo?" In other words, I realized that we could probably learn a lot from this when it comes to building next generation applications at Yahoo. (Whether or not we do is a whole separate topic of discussion.)

If you want the short version of why I think this, consider the following points. Flickr has the potential to set the new standard for on-line photo sharing, management, etc. Why? Because Flickr...

  • does one thing and does it well
  • provides a clean and simple UI
  • has clear and helpful documentation
  • exposes core functionality with a documented API
  • account sign up is brain-dead simple
  • makes extensive and intuitive use of RSS
  • like, uses tags to help organize
  • doens't spam me with graphical/animated/flash ads or try to unexpectedly pop up any sort of window

In other words, it's developer friendly, user friendly, and is a web site as well as a "service" or "platform" (in the Web 2.0 sense) all at the same time.

Flickr isn't perfect, of course, but the few things I've run into with it are very minor.

Flickr Links

Here are some places to poke around to get a flavor of what Flickr is about:

RSS and Tags

I especially like their use of RSS for "photo streams". For example, this an RSS feed of all my photos (not many yet). And this is an RSS feed of photos tagged with "beach". Note that the URLs are nice friendly RESTish and hackable. Oh, and those are all available as Atom feeds too.

Expect to hear more about Flickr...

Posted by jzawodn at September 07, 2004 11:11 AM

Reader Comments
# Lee Wilkins said:

I think Flickr will become the leader (if it already isn't) of the photoblog / software arena

I love Flickr and the organizer is perfect

on September 7, 2004 11:13 AM
# Michael said:

I'm very impressed with their Organizr, but I _really_ wish it was a seperate application, available for a price.

I want my pictures on my server... Not theirs.

on September 7, 2004 11:39 AM
# Eric said:

I recently wrote up a theoretical way in which one could use Flickr to populate what is essentially a Markov Matrix for Bayesian image classification all via their pre-classified RSS tag feeds that you refer to.

I haven't implemented it (although it should be easy and I explain fully how to) mainly because I am not particularly interested in shouldering the server load were it to become popular.

Here is the write-up for anyone curious (

on September 7, 2004 12:06 PM
# Olivier Travers said:

This reminds me I mean to write a post about why the best web applications should expose their guts through a web service, and why web services are better off with a web app face as well.

on September 7, 2004 01:35 PM
# Justin said:

Flickr's great, agreed!

however, note that while it NOW seems to "do one thing and do it well", it initially started as a social-networking thing. the images thing grew organically from that, AFAICS.

I'd still be a little more happy with trusting it with all my pics if there was a good bulk-download option for backups.

on September 7, 2004 02:12 PM
# Scott Johnson said:

Flickr looks like a great proof of concept. The API is, as you stated, well-defined. But every time I have accessed a Flickr site, it has been painfully slow. These folks need to get some bandwidth if they are going to truly be a success. Perhaps some big company like Yahoo! will buy them and solve that problem.

on September 7, 2004 02:24 PM
# Scott Johnson said:

I'd still be a little more happy with trusting it with all my pics if there was a good bulk-download option for backups.
I couldn't agree more. I have a serious fear of trusting a third party's server with my data. I want total control when it comes to backing up my data. Bulk downloads would certainly solve this problem.

on September 7, 2004 02:26 PM
# Stewart Butterfield said:

Wow - thanks for the write up Jeremy!

on September 7, 2004 02:47 PM
# Stewart Butterfield said:

(Should have said: I work at Flickr)

A lot got posted while I had the comment window open - Justin & Scott: as evidenced (hopefully) by the open APIs and RSS (which, when you think about it, is continuous partial export) we have no problems with providing ways for people to get their photos AND metadata out. We don't now, but will be providing downloadable versions as well as CD/DVD backups at some point, once we are out of beta (this is an actual beta, not a Friendster 'beta').

And Justin is right - Flickr basically sucked when it first came out. We made lots of mistakes, but we made them fast :)

Finally, Scott, we peak at 16Mbs right now without noticable slowdown (that's a few hundred served per second) - when you say you've visited 'a Flickr site' and it's been slow, do you mean a blog with Flickr photos posted to it? If so, there may be nothing we can do about that.

Here's a good benchmark page, showing the most recent public photos uploaded into the system: - it renders sub-second for me (but I am pretty close to the hosting facility) - how about you? Feel free to follow up by email - my name is 'stewart' and the domain of the company is ''.

on September 7, 2004 05:14 PM
# John Roberts said:

My curiousity is... how will Flickr make money? I've had this question about Flickr and various other nifty services I've seen in the last year or two. Before I'm going to commit lots of time and energy into putting my data in someone's else's hands, I want to know if the service will be around months/years from now.

Flickr does seem cool... but that didn't save various other free services when the bubble popped. No offense to the folks at Flickr, but that's what I'm thinking. There's no such thing as free anymore. So... what are the costs going to be? Money? Personal information? Advertisements? Some combination of all three? I can handle the truth, and I think most of us can these days.

If Flickr hasn't figured it out yet, that's fine... but maybe it's time to say so.

on September 7, 2004 07:58 PM
# Stewart Butterfield said:

It's pretty simple: 1) ads to cover the costs of the free users (who are limited in the amount they can upload each month and in a few other ways) and 2) subscription fees (for (almost) unlimited uploads, storage, bandwidth and some extra features).

on September 7, 2004 10:23 PM
# Justin said:

'And Justin is right - Flickr basically sucked when it first came out.'

well, I'd disagree there -- it was pretty cool back then too, just hadn't quite found its niche yet ;)

on September 7, 2004 11:36 PM
# Justin said:

this is weird - i noticed that the other Justin in this thread is also Irish (well, he's got lots of Irish links and is a member of the Irish blogger group iloggers

Two Justin's , same blog , both Irish.... is this a first?

on September 8, 2004 12:50 PM
# Justin said:

and it gets weirder.. turns out this other Justin's dad is into photography. Well, this Justin here is going to start a photography course at the local college soon (as a fall-back career a la Jeremy with his gliding thing...)

Weird - Carl "Synchronicity" Jung would have loved this...

on September 8, 2004 12:58 PM
# Tony said:

How about getting the my yahoo RSS feed to display the image rss feed?

You could make it an option for image base RSS feeds to display the image or just the headline
I added this feed to my yahoo and all I saw was:

jzawodn's Photos Remove

* IMG_3690 - 1 week
* IMG_2361 - 1 week
* IMG_3559 - 1 week

on September 10, 2004 02:20 PM
# Stewart Butterfield said:

Tony - ouch! That sucks. I'll look into that's a problem with our feeds or their display (did you try both RSS and Atom?)

on September 11, 2004 01:09 AM
# sti said:

I have an idea how Flickr might be making their money... The other day I got registered and I gave them my real email address. Yes, it was a mistake but it was very, very late and I was half asleep.

Well, the next day I began getting spam.

I've had that particular address for 10 months and it's been spam-free because I've been very, very careful with who I've given the address, so you can imagine my surprise.

Of couse this is not conclusive proof but the timing fits pretty well.

Needless to say I will not be paying for their Pro Account.

on September 11, 2004 11:09 AM
# Stewart Butterfield said:

Sti - I'm the president of the company that makes Flickr and I can tell you absolutely without any reservations that there is now freaking way we'd be the least bit involved with spamming.

If you want any confirmation or to discuss it, give me a call - my mobile is 604.551.8514 (I'm UTC-8 ... don't call too early). Most spammers won't give out their personal numbers if that is any evidence.

Here's part of the story of my personal experience with spam - I had to give up on an address I used for 6 years, and which hundreds of contacts had because it is not up to 6,000 spams per day. I'd personally be in favour of severe corporal punishment for spammers.

(And in any case, you can buy a CD with 50 million email addresses on it for $10 - how much do you think we'd make? Most spam these days seems to come either from running through a dictionary against any known domain and from addresses spidered out of people's local address books by viruses. I bet not a lot comes from the web anymore.)

on September 11, 2004 11:16 PM
# sti said:

I believe you now Stewart... I'm sorry. I was too angry and made hasty accusations. I only now went through the Received headers of the spam I got. It seems to have received me via another address which I thought absolutely spam-free, an address which I did not give to Flickr.

Please accept my sincere apology.

on September 12, 2004 01:08 AM
# Stewart Butterfield said:

Sti: no problem - I understand :)

on September 12, 2004 05:45 PM
# Nico said:

Michael wrote:

I'm very impressed with their Organizr, but I _really_ wish it was a seperate application, available for a price.

I want my pictures on my server... Not theirs.

I totally agree on that, I think Flickr is a very cool thing, but I'd like to have something like that at home (say: on my server).

With the documented Flickr API it shouldn't be too hard to write some piece of code (PHP for example) that acts as backend for the Flickr uploader and all other programs that use this API. Ok, it's not that easy to include all the cool Flash features etc. But it would be a first step to have a photo gallery script with Flickr API. Maybe there will be more "frontend" applications that use this API (not sure if Flickr will open the Organizr as a speperate application that supports different hosts than

on October 12, 2004 03:59 PM
# Ruben said:

Wow Jeremy, it's probably an understatement to say your opinion of Flickr had a hand in today's news :)

I don't use Flickr but have heard all the buzz - with the acquision by Yahoo I'm probably *more* inclined to use it now. Hopefully it stays the way it is for the foreseeable future, like you rave.

on March 21, 2005 10:47 AM
# Poemas de amor said:

It's an amazing service, you can make a lot of things integrating your forums and blogs with flickr api.

There are also a lot of example scripts in the Flickr API Documentation page that can help anybody, I'm pretty sure that there should be addons for phpBB available.

on May 16, 2007 02:41 PM
# gazduire web said:

An grate service.What can i say.

on September 10, 2008 10:02 AM
# Work At Home said:

It is a great service with unlimited functions. I have transferred all my family photos from 2005 to flickr. It actually saves up the hard disk space. What else we can ask more for free?

on July 21, 2009 05:56 AM
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