Browsing for Photos on Flickr
Keep in mind in the samples below that I ran on Flickr, there’s very little health or mental health information one could search for as an image. So I went with just random topics that came to me from hobbies, interests, or things that seem to have been on the public’s mind. I created my list from scratch on a piece of paper, and ran the same search on Flickr as a non-logged-in user (visitor), logged-in user, and on the Google Image search. Also, I understand that Flickr is going to have a lot less photos than Google does, since Flickr is reliant on people actually uploading such photos to the Flickr servers. I’m more concerned about the quality of the end result.
As a frustrating aside, it’s virtually impossible to find a simple search box for Flickr once you’ve logged in. You have to click on a “Photo Search” link in the bottom list of a dozen or more links in order to get to a search box. Search results also appear different if you’re logged in than if you come to the site as a visitor.
- Search term: George Washington
Public search: 543 photos found
Logged-in search: 462 photos found, relevancy seems to have taken a hit
Actual photos of George Washington? They’re in there (pictures of him on a dollar bill, a plate, a statue, etc.), you just have to dig a bit. On Google Image search, the entire first page is covered with photos of George.
- Search term: The Space Needle
Public/logged-in search: 0
I accidentally wrote “the space needle” instead of just “space needle.” For whatever reasons, Flickr is very literal. It can’t know when you’ve put in unnecessary words. Google Image search had no problem returning results of the Space Needle in Seattle, as did Flickr after I removed the offending “the.”
- Search term: Iraqi soldier
Public search: 0
Logged-in search: 21
Now things are getting interesting. Why does Flickr show some photos only when logged in? The only settings available to me when I upload a photo are to show it to Everyone, or to show it to only specified friends or family. I don’t see the option to show it only logged-in users. Perhaps there’s some political or other reason for this occurring, but I did find it odd. Of the 21 photos I looked at, most of the soldiers appeared to be American, not Iraqi. In Google Image search, I found over 6,500, with plenty of actual Iraqi soldiers shown.
- Search term: Grand Canyon night
Public search: 0
Logged-in search: 6
So now I know it’s not for political reasons that logged-in users are seeing something different than public users; it must be for some technical reason. But nothing in the FAQ or other help sections on the website explained this discrepancy. The six photos displayed are beautiful images, and capture the kind of memory I was hoping for. You’ll also find 1750 photos in Flickr for “new york night” when logged-in, but only 1 on the public search.
- Search term: Gibson guitar
Public search: 8
Logged-in search: 396
Big discrepancy again. I’m beginning to suspect that Flickr is trying to entice people to become registered users through this mechanism, but oddly doesn’t say so when viewing the 8 results here, or the 1 result for “new york night.” It seems also that the more specific you are about objects, like this example, the higher the quality of the results.
- Search term: MRI scan
Public search: 0
Logged-in search: 10
One of the few health-related searches I could actually look at (unless you want to see lots of people in hospitals or people showing off their surgical scars via “surgery”). Some scans shown, as well as photos of the MRI scanning machine.
At the end of this short exercise, I think Flickr remains a great service if you’re looking to upload your photos and not have to pay for storage or such. But as the results illustrate, to me at least, that there’s a fair amount of unexpected variability in the quality of the search. Almost like it is idiosyncratic. Almost like it was put together by people who didn’t necessarily look at the world the same way, or weren’t on the same page.
I think that can be useful and beneficial for things like photos, since as previously mentioned, it’s been so darned difficult historically to categorize them effectively and efficiently. Tagging seems to largely work in this context. For the record, though, throwing your images on a Web server and allowing Google to take care of the job also seems to be pretty effective too. And Google seems to be a bit smarter when it comes to figuring out what a person really is searching for or means. Flickr could easily improve in this latter respect.
So Flickr is a useful and valuable service to people, at least for those needing to upload and organize their photos. Perhaps a little less so for those searching for a photo. Let’s examine another popular Web 2.0 service, Del.icio.us.
Grohol, J. (2006). Web 2.0: Consistency, Relevancy and Reliability. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 28, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/web-20-consistency-relevancy-and-reliability/000111
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 22 Jan 2014
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.