Moblogging

Gawping in amazement: Flickr & Upcoming

Prelude: TechCrunch says 'Flickr continues to rock along, with 4.5 million registered users and 17 million unique visitors per month. They have just under 230 million total photos uploaded and 900,000 new photos are uploaded daily on average'.

And after that, the stats for geo-tagging (launched 28 August) are still amazing! '24 hours in, there were 1,234,384 geotagged photos (and now more than 1.6 million geotagged photos as I write this, about 9 hours later)' — Stewart Butterfield, Flickr blog.

But how much more impressive is this (all from Stewart Butterfield's posting):

One of the "little" things that was incredibly complex technically was the integration of location-based searching into our existing tag and text-based search technology. That means you can do things like search for photos matching "food" in southern Asia or architecture in South America. … marrying "traditional" search with spatial search in a real-time context is extremely hard, especially at our volumes and rate of growth. More than 228,000,000 photos have been uploaded, with over a million new photos being added on a good day. There are billions of bits of data that go into the search (more than half a billion tags alone), along with privacy controls, group membership, and so on. This is one of the largest real-time search indexes in the world. In contrast, nearly all web search is done in a "batch" mode with periodic updates, while nearly all real time search is done on a small set of items which "expire" after a short period. But new or updated Flickr photos are typically searchable in under a minute.

And:

… today we're also releasing extensions to Flickr's API to enable adding and retrieving geo information, setting privacy permissions, and searching by location: everything you need to roll your own. … This also means: "hey, if our maps don't work for you, use whatever maps you'd like!"

Finally:

… if you take a photo "near" an Upcoming.org event (in time and space), it'll automatically get tagged with the correct Upcoming event and show up on the corresponding event page without you doing anything.

For developments at Upcoming (also 28 August), go here: undiscovered events ('a very deep well of events that Upcoming members haven't added yet, collected from around the web and updated daily by our friends over at Yahoo! Local. To put this in perspective, we increased the number of upcoming events by 3000% overnight'), event filters, Flickr photos for events, buddy icons, new event pages.

All this is already old news on the web. I blog it because the value of this to anyone involved in education is immense and the achievement it represents (on the part of Flickr and Upcoming staff, but also, of course, the user communities) is the kind of stuff about which we should be telling our students — the next generation of innovators and co-creators.

Best overview of Flickr's geotagging I've seen to date? Thomas Hawks', here. (Hawks is the Chief Evangelist for the photo sharing site, Zooomr — 'We would be seen as a competitor to Flickr'.) A 'Go Read'.

Update:

1) Bokardo has posted on it, too: 'With geotags, Flickr pushes the envelope that much forward. I think it’s a great social feature, and one whose surface has only been scratched so far. I’m excited to see what other views people will come up with, given what we’ve seen in the first few days'.

2) Google Earth Blog: Better Method for Geotagging Photos for Flickr Using Google Earth/Picasa.

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Some thoughts on mobile viewing

Ben posts about some developments on this front:

Om Malik and Michael Arrington are pondering Dave Winer’s move towards mobile-enabling the blogosphere. Specifically, his product OPML Editor will allow users to view content they’ve subscribed to on their mobile phone. This is definitely a useful feature; I certainly spend a fair amount of time viewing my Gmail on my phone (in lieu of a Blackberry or similar device), and the ability to subscribe to content and take it with you is brilliant. Similarly, Winer’s Yomoblog.com service for posting to weblogs by phone looks like it could be great.

Take a look at Dave's portable river ('published by my desktop computer, every night at 1am' — OPML Editor support page).

As Om Malik says, 'there are a lot of tools out there' that enable (or attempt to enable) our mobile lives. On a list of things I've played with and found useful, I'd include Litefeeds and Delicious Mona. On the blogging front, TypePad has just announced TypePad Mobile for posting to your TypePad blog from a mobile device (though there's this route, too). And Gmail on the phone (link) is something I also use a lot.

Ben goes on to recommend Opera Mini, 'an excellent browser that goes through Opera’s proxy server which automatically provides content-squeezing functionality'. I agree: it's very good.

Google has its own functionality for mobile search and reading websites, of course, which currently comes, *I think*, in these forms:

  • Google Mobile Web Search (access your phone's mobile web browser, type http://www.google.com in the URL field, type your search query and select Mobile Web); for UK users, www.google.co.uk is another option.   
  • www.google.com/wml (see here: 'offers Web Search and Mobile search. Mobile search restricts your search to the mobile index which contains sites that are specifically written to fit your mobile screen').   
  • Google's own mobile proxy (where you enter any URL and get a stripped-down version of the page — with the option of having images or not).

I can't speak for the following, not having made much use of them yet, but here they are:

  • Google personalised homepage for your mobile: set it up on your PC — US link here, UK here.   
  • Google Local XHTML — US here, UK here.

And there's the Gmail-for-mobiles that I mentioned above.

Google seems to advertise (ha) its specifically mobile services very little and I may have missed some obvious ones or have got some of the above wrong (it's a bit of a rabbit warren to investigate). Please add/amend accordingly.

Concerning mobile access of websites, I take to heart Chris Heathcote's view that 'well-written sites win' (link — ppt: slide 27). We don't need separate mobile sites and, although I use the Opera and Google proxy services, I wish sites didn't "have" to be re-purposed.  As The Man said, web pages ought to be designed to be read across platforms, across browsers and across devices: 

The Web is designed as a universal space. … The Web must operate independently of the hardware, software or network used to access it, of the perceived quality or appropriateness of the information on it, and of the culture, and language, and physical capabilities of those who access it. Hardware and network independence in particular have been crucial to the growth of the Web. In the past, network independence has been assured largely by the Internet architecture. The Internet connects all devices without regard to the type or size or band of device, nor with regard to the wireless or wired or optical infrastructure used. This is its great strength. … For a time, many Web site designers did not see the necessity for such device independence, and indicated that their site was "best viewed using screen set to 800x600". Those Web sites now look terrible on a phone or, for that matter, on a much larger screen. By contrast, many Web sites which use style sheets appropriately can look very good on a very wide range of screen sizes. Tim Berners-Lee

That's from a document Sir Tim wrote about the .mobi TLD proposal. He concluded: 'Dividing the Web into information destined for different devices, or different classes of user, or different classes of information, breaks the Web in a fundamental way'. The road ahead in teaching, with staff and pupils using their own mobile devices and their own desktops/docking stations, depends upon the web keeping this integrity:

The Web works by reference. As an information space, it is defined by the relationship between a URI and what one gets on using that URI. The URI is passed around, written, spoken, buried in links, bookmarked, traded while Instant Messaging and through email. People look up URIs in all sorts of conditions. It is fundamentally useful to be able to quote the URI for some information and then look up that URI in an entirely different context. ibid.

It's quite clear that teachers will need to be on top of the developing options for mobile viewing (and understand the arguments about web integrity). Is there a site (wiki) which collates and maintains links like these, preferably along with comments and reviews about user experience? If not, we ought to get together and create one.

*****

Update (31 August). For the sake of something like Google-completeness, I should perhaps add here:

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Mobility issues

We have been thinking about the ways in which pupils and staff in our school will be connecting to the web in the months and years immediately ahead. Both campus-wide wireless provision and the expectation that hand-held devices will be common figure prominently in our planning. The huge success of hand-held devices, in particular mobile phones and their ever-evolving range of roles, may make the latter appear a no-brainer, but the laptop isn't dead yet. Time will come, though, when we take our hand-helds with us around the campus, perhaps docking them back in our studies and using there a standard keyboard/screen combo. (On the integration of WiFi into mobile phones, see, for example, this Time article.)

Some colleagues are concerned about increased distraction in classes when powerful mobile devices become ubiquitous. William Blaze has some interesting thoughts about this, including the idea that laptops are primarily a problem as they can create a physical shield between student and teacher/class.

… there are three main uses for the computer in a meeting or classroom, note taking, distraction and instant research. … Using the computer for distraction is the classic anti laptop in the room case, but I'm not sold. Sure their is a certain dynamic to IM that might pull people farther away from the topic at hand, but just how much does it differ from someone handwriting a love letter, doodling or reading all the small print on whatever they pulled from their briefcase? Any additional distraction the internet might bring is easily offset by what it can add to the conversation, no? I like laptops being in a classroom for about two reasons, google and wikipedia. Fast, cheap information. An in room error correction machine. When used correctly the internet can transform a room from a closed information space, into an open one.

*****

There is no finer enthusiast for the mobile phone than Russell Beattie:

People constantly say, “I just want my mobile to make phone calls,” Right? Well the answer to this is … “Your phone is always with you, wouldn’t it be nice if helped do other things as well? Inform? Entertain? Assist you and remind you? You’re lugging the thing around 24/7 anyways, as long as it’s there it might as well be useful!” This is the thing, most people don’t realize mobile phones can do all that, and most U.S. developers just look at it as an anemic platform unworthy of their time, just like Janne said. But it’s not! It’s this great device sitting idle in the pockets of billions of people, all day every day, just waiting to be put to work! Let’s give it something to do! Now is the time! Russell Beattie

The mobile phone is a PLATFORM now. Get it? Long gone are the days when it was used for just making phone calls … Get used to the fact that mobile phones are now the most important piece of technology in the world. More important than your PC or your television or your iPod. Russell Beattie

Mobility is going to change life as we know it - in some places it has already shaped world events and changed history. The ubiquity of the technology is the key to all of this and the lowly mobile phone is the shape of the box in which all of this possibility is kept in. It’s not the computer or the laptop or the PDA, and it’s not WiFi or WiMax, it’s the modern mobile phone. That’s just the way it is … Russell Beattie

So what makes the mobile phone different from a laptop? Janne Jalkanen:

I was listening to the Supernova 2005 panel on mobility as a podcast, and got progressively angrier at the complete lack of vision from their part: everybody was treating mobile phones as just lighter versions of laptops. Then I also read Charlie's commentary on the same subject, and got rather ranty on another blog. Mobile phones are not just bad browsers on resource-constrained devices with crappy connectivity and non-free voice. This is something we Nokians keep iterating over and over. But as I uttered those words, enraged at nobody in particular, I realized that I lack the proper explanation on what really makes a phone different from a laptop with Skype. And if I can't figure it out, then maybe these people are right. Maybe mobile phones should just be treated like computers with tiny screens?

I have a few explanations, though not many: … mobile phones are mostly background devices, whereas a laptop has a tendency of consuming all your attention, becoming a foreground device. The usage patterns are fundamentally different: a mobile phone is always on, always connected, always with you. It's not a Big Brother, but more like a Little Brother, if you excuse the pun. Another difference I can think of is that a mobile phone is more of a physical object than a laptop is: The mobile phone gets decorated with covers and straps and things; the laptop stays the same …

Charlie Schick:

I definitely see that a pocketable, networked, one-hand operated device is the core of the mobile lifestyle. A laptop can never be a true part of one’s mobile lifestyle. … the phone sits in the background, waiting until you need it. Then - a call comes in, an item comes into view that is great for a video or photo, a calendar reminder goes off - and you make the choice to bring it into the foreground. Successful mobile devices are ones that are background devices that don’t force themselves into the foreground. Background activities can be listening to music, waiting for appointment reminders, carrying snippets of actionable data (contact info, calendar, some notes, a to-do list), and waiting for a call or SMS. Things like video, chat, playing games, and browsing the Web are full-time foreground activities, and, while they can be done while away from the desk, aren’t really things I consider doable while walking or driving, or even for small snippets of time.

… to create an app that is truly geared for the mobile lifestyle, you need to take advantage of the background status of the mobile device and not bring it too far or often into the foreground.

Building "background-ness" into the hand-helds of the future can only add to their value in the classroom.

*****

I took many things away from Marko Ahtisaari's posting about the shared mobile future. One tiny shard from there: the Finnish for mobile phone is 'kännykkä, meaning extension-of-the-hand'. To be this "natural", the phone has much development to undergo. Christian Lindholm has said:

The future of mobility is not a bandwith problem. We have a screen problem and that is terminal. The only way to get around it in small handhelds is to design content specifically optimised for small handsets.

Far too few of the big players are paying attention to mobility issues; Charlie Schick makes this point here. One problem, then, for schools, as mobile devices become ever more common, is that accessing web sites on them is as yet tedious, time-consuming and frequently deeply unrewarding (and expensive).  (Mobile Design has some helpful suggestions about how to adapt your website for a mobile device, prefaced by this: 'Publishing a mobile version of your content is harder than it should be. One significant technical leap must be made in order to give users a seamless experience … device detection, the relatively simple concept of routing different devices to the most appropriate content for that device.')

As things are now, we need to be candid about how we use our hi-tech phones. As far as my experience goes, I'm in broad agreement with Jason Kottke. Thumbs-up to clock, voice and text messaging. Email: last year, I ran my email through a Sony-Ericsson P900, but it was all a bit less than a pleasure. This year, with a Nokia 6630, I haven't bothered, and, like Jason, find that it hasn't mattered. Accessing the web: my preferred device for this is my laptop, too. (If the camera on my phone were better, I'd use it more. I'm eyeing the N90 come Xmas — the turn-around point in my 12 month upgrade cycle).

*****

'Next year there will be more than 2 billion mobile phone users in the world. … Mobile phones today have become ubiquitous, embedded into the fabric of everyday life. They have become a mobile essential. If someone owns a mobile phone today it is likely to be one of the three things that she always carries with her, the other two being keys and some form of payment.' — Marko Ahtisaari. And he goes on:

The mobile platform - because of its scale and its focus on the big human fundamental of social interaction - is a center of gravity for other familiar benefits and functionalities. Think of the clock. Imagine how many people wake up to a phone each morning, how many have stopped using a wristwatch. Or, to take a more recent example, the camera is now moving onto the mobile platform.

The future is definitely mobile. Schools must look to it and work out their strategies now. In fact, Marko's figures are already out of date, as Russell Beattie's post here makes clear ('Yep, we’ve hit the 2 Billion Mobile Phone mark ahead of schedule') — and see update below. Russell goes on, though, to say:

… the 2 billion number gets the headlines, but the real story to me is the penetration rates of faster networks and more powerful handsets. Over the next 18 months we’re going to see a dramatic increase in the number of advanced phones out there, which is really going to be exciting for those of us wanting to use these phones as a platform.

*****

Update (22.9.2005). Important posting that went up yesterday on Communities Dominate Brands. Much made me sit up and take note. Key excerpts:

The research organisation Ovum and the GSM Association released the data on Sept 18, 2005, that worldwide there are now 2 billion mobile phone users. …

Putting the number in context. There are twice as many mobile phones, than there are internet users of any kind. There are three times as many mobile phones than there are personal computers. There are more mobile phones than credit cards, more mobile phones than automobiles, more mobile phones than TV sets, and more mobile phones than fixed/wireline phones. In fact a staggering 30% of the global population carries a mobile phone. Since Taiwan first did it in 2001, today over 30 countries have achieved over 100% cellphone penetration rates, and even laggard USA has gone past the 50% penetration rate. In the most advanced mobile markets such as Finland, Italy and Hong Kong the typical first-time cellphone customer is under the age of 10. It is the only digital gadget carried by every economically viable person on the planet. Younger people have stopped using wristwatches and rely only upon the mobile phone for time. It is the only universal device, and the device of the Century.

Every mobile phone user can be reached by SMS text messaging (ie more than twice the number of people that can be reached by e-mail). Each mobile phone can handle payments (if the mobile operator/carrier decides to enable that ability) … And almost every mobile phone user keeps the mobile phone literally within arm's reach 24/7. Yes, 60% of us actually take the mobile phone physically to bed with us, either to use the alarm feature or to hear incoming text messages.. If we lose our wallet we report it in 26 hours. If we lose our mobile phone we report it in 68 minutes. As to those who are new to these phenomena, no, we don't only use the phone outside. In fact 70% of all phone calls are placed indoors, and a whopping 60% of all data access by mobile phone is done indoors.

… the mobile phone is becoming the evolution target for much of the converging industries. 19% of all music revenues are generated by mobile phones. 14% of videogaming software revenues come from mobile phone games. More cameraphones are sold this year than all non-mobile phone digital cameras ever sold. … there is a big future in the convergence of TV and mobile. … In fact almost all community behaviour is migrating to mobile phones, from blogging (there are more mobile blog sites already than there are regular internet blogsites - but most of the moblog sites are in two languages I don't speak - Korean and Japanese) to videogaming to dating to chat to TV-interactivity such as voting for reality shows etc.


Online life and education

It's been well over a year since I and my colleague, Ian, started dabbling with TypePad. We've learned a lot and made many connections — face to face and online — and learned, too, to join "small" bits together (TypePad, Basecamp, Flickr, del.icio.us, 43 Things, Backpack, Ta-da, Audioscrobbler/Last FM …). It's been a stimulating and creative time.

The online magazine that is again waking up, Sed contra, is soon to be relaunched with its own Flickr and music feed, and with podcasting. I was very interested to see that Musselburgh Grammar School has already got to the podcasting stage. Indeed, its work in the blogging sphere (its geoBlog is a collaboration with a school in Silesia) has won it an award as Scotland's Best School Website for March 2005, and it has been nominated for a New Statesman New Media Award for education and innovation (news via Blogger Me, where Alistair Shrimpton, UK Business Development Manager for Six Apart, reports that via their weblog MGS 'received over 1400 letters and emails exchanged between pupils in 20 schools in seven countries with four languages'). Earlier this month, the TES had a very brief article on podcasting and schools, and I've just come across Adam Burt's mobile learning blog, m-learning.

Reboot 7.0 lies ahead for Ian and me, and thereafter plans for further developments at Radley (online calendaring, student-camphone feeds, video blogging, internet-radio/podcasting, state-sector/private-sector collaboration — the last is a major project). It's a good time to be involved in the internet and web-based applications, and teachers have lots to learn and exploit.


From blog to DLA

Tom Coates wrote recently:

I'm beginning to think that the thing we have to do is start to reconsolidate and refactor the weblog concept itself. We need to take a step back for the first time in years and re-ask the question - what is it for? How do we find something hard and shiny in the middle of all these hybridised trends and make it the ideal shape to support all the other services that will grow upon and around it. In a whole range of issues - from the collation of our browsing to the handling of our photos, from the posting of our opinions to the way we're relating to our social networks - the traditional weblog format is starting to buckle. So rather than concentrating on the specifics of clashing informational streams in our feeds and looking to fix them, I'm going to make the problem even larger and ask - are these clashes evidence of something more seriously broken? Does anyone really have any idea what we do next?

The sense of strain in weblog-land is very obvious and I'm quite certain that Tom is on the ball in asking these questions. Today, via Marc Canter, I came across Barb Dybwad writing at geeked. in a post entitled, Thoughts on the Digital Lifestyle Aggregator:

I am still hooked on Marc Canter’s concept of the Digital Lifestyle Aggregator. Think of it as a local node that lets us have the best of both worlds: the awesome informative and communicative power of the distributed internet, and the centralization/aggregation of those bits of information created by, or most relevant to, an individual person.

So now I want my DLA to have both a front end and a back end - a public and private view. The public view will contains all of the data bits I want to be social:

  • my bookmarks (an aggregate collection of del.icio.us, Furl, Spurl, and any future -url that may come into being)
  • my public photos (an aggregate of my Flickr photos and… well, no other service is worth mentioning, really ;))
  • my blogs (an aggregate of The Unofficial Apple Weblog, this blog, my business’s blog, my personal blog, all of my photoblogs, and all the future blogs…)
  • posts I have made on other blogs (see sidebar on this blog for a woefully incomplete list of conversations)
  • posts that I have made in message boards (trickier)
  • some sort of aggregate of my media collection, media tastes and/or media recommendations (pull in last.fm, musicmobs.com, Netflix’s social component, All Consuming, when will the itunes Music Store get a comprehensive social component? etc.)
  • public calendar, commentable. I want to broadcast where I’ll be, recommend events to others, and I want them to be able to recommend events to me.
  • extra-blog conversation interface: my blogs are driven by my own posts, but I want a way for my friends/colleagues to be able to initiate messages and questions for me, as well: publically and privately. A sort of email/message board hybrid.
  • An aggregate of my aggregates: syndicate my blogroll(s) for others to enjoy, and be able to leave local comments on. They can participate in any discussion on the external blog too, of course, but it would be cool to have the option to start up a more localized discussion on the post, as well.

Barb then goes on to detail what she would like to see on the private site of the DLA ('I want aggregated everything that is relevant to interacting with my digital life: a centralized dashboard of sorts') — read her list!

… all through the history of weblogs, the technologies have opened up new doors and created new problems. Different functionalities make it possible to do one thing much more easily or effectively, but they come with a smaller cost elsewhere. We're definitely moving in a positive direction, but each time we make a leap to a new level of functionality, things get more complicated and fractured and difficult for a while. Our feeds are ugly, and they don't quite work right and neither do our sites. But this is because the technologies that we're using to organise and collate our lives aren't quite communicating perfectly and aren't splicing themselves together in the way that we might like. And things are getting ever more complicated, and we need to do something about it. Tom Coates


Folksonomies & synonyms

In the discussions about tagging, the words of those who are actually wrestling with this behemoth can be a salutary reminder of just how demanding are the challenges of programming for a folksonomy.

Michal Migurski is the technology head at Stamen, a San Francisco design and development studio which focuses on interactive projects and which is behind Mappr. In a brief posting about Louis Rosenfeld's discussion of folksonomies vs controlled vocabularies, Migurski says:

His point about synonyms is a great one, though, and is pointedly ignored in Clay Shirky's rah-rah response. Folksonomies are unlikely to evolve synonyms for the simple reason that people will usually choose just one of the many synonyms available. For example, self portraits on Flickr are usually tagged with me (15,396 photos) or selfportrait (2,150 photos), but who tags their photos with both? Right. So the overlap just isn't there to be able to infer that these two terms are synonymous, just like people tend to use one preferred name for a place with names in many languages, or one preferred name or nickname for a person in particular contexts. We just happen to be in the early stages of a project that hopes to use folksonomies and user-generated meta-data to make sense of free form conversation, so this is going to turn into a bear of a challenge.


On remembering

Jyri Engeström:

Googlization: the embedding of personal collections in global networks. In commercial visions like Microsoft's MyLifeBits priority is often given to the image of a jukebox of personal memory artifacts. My guess is blogs, on the other hand, would emphasize the inherent connectedness of individual memory to a constantly evolving social context.

Capturing technologies shape the very nature of remembering as they become intertwined in our daily routines of our self-creation.


Flickr & the future

Two, linked postings have made me think more about Flickr — one by Peter Merholz and the other by Thomas Vander Wal.

Two things stand out for me in Peter Merholz's post: 'Those sites that truly succeed on the web do so because of a fundamental appreciation of what "the network" brings. Amazon, eBay, and Google being the biggest, shiniest examples. They get that the network, with its constituent elements of people doing things, and through those activities somehow connecting to each other (whether it's direct, as in items on eBay, or indirect, as in different people buying the same product on Amazon, linking to the same page in Google), they get that that connection is meaningful, exceedingly meaningful, and if you can leverage that behavior, you can provide an experience orders of magnitude more interesting than when you ignore that connectedness'; (unlike a MMPORG, Flickr) 'provides joy through its multiple perspectives on reality' — yet play is important to the experience of Flickr.

Thomas Vander Wal picks out certain (innovative) features of Flickr as significant for the way the web might develop: it's a 'social network that makes sense' ('As physical space gets annotated with digital layers we will need some means of quickly sorting through the pile of bytes … to get a handful that we can skim through. What better tool than one that leverages our social networks'); it's a tool that extracts something of an individual's "vocabulary" for things ('metadata tools that add text-addressable means of finding objects').

I have been "playing Flickr" since about July and I feel I am only just beginning to make use of many of its features. Finding photographs (out of interest or for specific purposes) via RSS feeds, or taking pot luck and exploring various tags (the tag suggestions that Flickr throws up during this process are themselves a remarkable feature of the site — very clever) has been both intuitive and great fun. Then there's the ability to create groups (social, work-related, topic-focused …): this is a very powerful feature and I have recently started exploring these, socially and for work. Couple all this with a project like 43 Things (can Basecamp come on board, too?), with weblogs (as here) and you begin to have something that is very powerful indeed. Using Flickr is influencing my choice of phone (coming to upgrade time). Much, much more importantly, I can begin to see how it can be put to use to effect vital social missions.

Update: I failed completely to highlight the excellent discussion threads in the Flickr forums and groups. Here's one that bears on some of the points above:

Pandarine: If someone still has the impression that Flickr is less of a community than Fotolog, please get involved in the active groups, and don't just wait for people stumbling across your fabulous work! You can get assignments, be creative or use your imagination, dream, learn something, discuss, share your life, laugh, cry, participate in group hugs, communicate without language barriers, or simply show off your work in the hundreds of specialty groups! Lots of us spend most of their time with hits like flashlight and squared circle. There is a birthday list, a workshop, a place to share your recipes - or you can privately show your wedding pictures exclusively to Grandma Polly and Auntie Bertha and wait until someone comments them. After all it's your choice! Note: These groups are randomly picked, and my list is not intended to be discriminating against the many other fabulous groups on this website. There is so much going on in this community, I can hardly keep up. So please don't ever tell me again that there is "lack of community" in Flickr - or I'll make the list even longer. That's a threat, not a promise ;-)

Zen: To me immediacy of this site has been tempered with an understanding that this is more than a photo storage site... in fact, it began as a cross between a technologically aware social-interaction environment and a sort of MUD (Multi-User Dungeon to use an ancient term) and is much more a collection of people whose thread is the visual image. That sounds more cerebral perhaps, but here is also the capacity for emotion and compassion along with thought and responsibility beneath the HTML.

And one final update (2.1.2005)! Credit for the "Flickr-is-like-a-MMPORG" idea goes back to a posting at giantant.com (well worth reading). And I ought to have thrown in Mappr here as another amazing development — made possible by Flickr:

Mappr is an interactive environment for exploring place, based on the photos people take. By adding geographical information to the wealth of photographs found online, it allows new ways of looking at spaces and images. Mappr adds place to pictures.

Mappr takes advantage of the cornucopia of descriptive information provided by Flickr's users to organize their photos. Flickr's admirable policy of openness with its data provides a way to anticipate and envision a future where cheaply-available GPS technology generates this placement as a matter of course. There's no reason to wait for this technology to become common; by mapping the millions of photos that Flickr makes available, we can start looking at its broad scale potential now.

There's a public Mappr group at Flickr (with feeds and project updates).


The Asian tsunami: web-technology and the bringing of aid

On the day BBC News reports on podcasting and The Times accords Wikipedia a front rank place in the reporting of the Asian tsunami, one might think that web-based technology, applications and resources are indeed entering the mainstream at a number of different points. This is the argument my colleague, Ian, set out earlier today, with specific reference to the Asian catastrophe. Ian went on to say:

All those books that we've been reading finally begin to make sense: The Tipping Point, The Wisdom of Crowds and Small Pieces, Loosely Joined. WebLogs, Wikis, Flickr (imagery), Event Alerts, e-mail, have all been deployed to best effect. It seems the only way to handle a catastrophic event of this scale is by managing the problem from the bottom up — indeed the most noticeable thing about the whole tragedy has been the extraordinary absence of "top down" leadership.

I am struck, too, at the way our desire to donate funds has been facilitated by, for example, Google and Amazon. The Disasters Emergency Committee (UK) has its own appeal portal.

The Times report also said:

There aren't too many bloggers in the towns and villages around the Indian Ocean, but some blogs have reflected the drama these past few days, notably Fred at Extra Extra, posting reflections and pictures from Sri Lanka. In Malaysia, try the screenshots blog from Jeff Ooi. His entry Are You OK, Myanmar? points out how the government of Burma, which is right in the path of the tsunami, has been sending messages of commiseration to neighbouring countries, but has yet to admit to any serious destruction at home. In India, try sumankumar.com, run by blogger R. Sumankumar - who has also set up a blog dedicated to raising funds for Indian victims.  A contributor, Nanda Kishore, offered photos and commentary from Madras: "Some drenched till their hips, some till their chest, some all over and some of them were so drenched that they had already stopped breathing." The SEA-EAT blog was set up by a group of around 30 South Asian bloggers to help direct funds to relief agencies. They are posting a lot of updates on death tolls and relief needs. 

A lot of sites have been set up to help people find each other amid the mayhem - not just tourists in Thailand or Sri Lanka, but locals and their relatives. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been helping people get in touch during and after conflicts for decades, and its Family Links page is doing the same for victims of the tsunami … The Thai Government is to set up a website showing pictures of those found dead after the disaster, but it's not gone live yet. Phuket Hospital is posting lists of patients at various hospitals around Phuket - there are well over 100 names of British patients at the main Phuket hospital. The Sri Lankan tourist board has set up the contactsrilanka site to help people track down missing relatives. It says about 100 foreign tourists died in the country and 85 are unaccounted for. The BBC website has received thousands of messages from survivors of the disaster, and relatives of those who died. Sky News - apparently in reaction to stories that the Foreign Office helpline was creaking under the strain - offered to pass on messages to and from families back in the UK, which are repeated on its site. The Lonely Planet message boards have also been deluged with travellers' tales and requests for information.

There is a BBC News page where their reporters in Asia can blog their reports. And there is now a BBC page entitled, Web logs aid disaster recovery.