Flickr Puts Pictures on the Map

Flickr Map

I think Flickr’s launch of geotagging for photos is the most exciting development in social software since the launch of Friendster way back in 2002. If you are not familiar with the site, Flickr is basically a conventional photo-sharing website like Webshots or Snapfish rolled together with a social networking site like Friendster or Myspace. The service has become very popular because users can share photos with friends and family, search for photos by keyword, or create or join groups with ease. Last week Flickr launched a feature where users can mark where a photo was taken simply by finding that spot on an easy-to-navigate map, and dragging a thumbnail of the photo to the correct spot on the map. Flickr then launched a public map allowing all users to navigate every geotagged photo, or create searches with filters for photos taken by certain people, groups, or with certain descriptions.

What’s the big deal? According to the company blog, Flickr currently stores 228 billion user photos, and that number increases by about a million a day on busy days. Since the geotagging tool launched on August 28th about 3.7 million photos have been indexed. It seems only a matter of time before GPS-enabled cameras and cameraphones become widespread, greatly accelerating the pool of geotagged photos on Flickr or other services, and reducing the inevitable amount of human error. You can see where this is heading: billions of photos of every part of earth searchable by an infinite number of variables including date, keyword, or photographer. Looking for a photo of a landmark with a Creative Commons license? No problem. Want to navigate photos of a news event like a war or crisis by the day they were taken? Enter a few keystrokes. Hoping to keep track of or share geographic scientific data? Drag and drop your images, and choose who to share with. What other uses of geotagging am I missing?

Author: Rob Goodspeed


  1. Hi Rob,

    It’s offline right now, but we’re currently using Google maps to create one for the Historical Commission here. We’ve taken photos of many commercial buildings in town and recorded their locations using GPS. In addition to the photos we’ve taken, I hope to identify the locations of historical photographs and add those to the database as well. Once the mapping is complete, I’ll be reading newspapers at the public library and entering everything I find out about occupants and uses in the past into a database.

    I will probably be sorry that we didn’t wait for affordable geotagging cameras because matching the photo to their coordinates is a pain.

  2. Hillary- Thanks for the note, it sounds like you’re doing some very interesting work. Although I know this type of software has been available for quite some time, I think it’s really the easy to use web interface of this that gives it its power – dragging and dropping makes the geocoding process very easy.

    What is the end product going to be for the database you are developing?

  3. I agree that dragging and dropping makes it far more accessible. People still have to know where they were when they took the photos though, and that was the real challenge in matching ours with points. We also have taken to bicycling in Detroit and it’s about impossible to tell where exactly we were from the photos. This day comes to mind:
    I suppose our problem wouldn’t even be fixed by a geocoding camera because we recorded the location of the address, not the spot where the photographer was standing when the picture was taken.

    It is our intention to have an interactive map on the Historical Commission website with information for each address, building, business and owner linked together with the pictures. Steve mentioned to me this morning that he will be working on it again soon, and I’ll send you a link when it’s back online.

  4. Dale: We actually have talked about a wiki, but Steve has convinced me that the software will be easier for him to write if we stick with a simple database.

    I may invite others to participate. I’ll have to be careful about who I give access to because Hamtramck’s history varies depending on who you talk to. Even our newspapers have reputations for bias. There’s also the matter of respecting the wishes of residents who don’t want their dirty laundry aired on the commission’s website. I’m not sure I can adequately police the content if I let others enter information.

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