in interaction design

FlickrMaps a failure?

FlickrMaps
It’s been interesting to see the mixed reaction that FlickrMaps has received since it’s recent launch. After all, it’s such a cool idea, to be able to show on a map where you took your photo, and see what the rest of the world looks like through other people’s eyes. It’s like Google Earth with a few hundred thousand personalities. Beautiful.
Oh and, of course, it’s a mashup, so it must be cool!
This is what Flickr told us to expect from FlickrMaps:
FlickrMaps
See, there’s your local park, and that’s about where the statue is that’s in your photo. Drag your photo there. Very cool.
Here’s what it’s like in London.
London on FlickrMaps
Yes, you know London, in the UK. That city with a population of population 7.3 million, inhabiting an area of 174 sq km. Here’s the map that Flickr/Yahoo give me to position my photos on. Forget about the park, I can’t even find my suburb.
And, as you can imagine, it’s not much more fun in Sydney.
Sydney Map on Flickr
Yes, at a stretch, there are satellite maps that you can use in these locations that give you more granularity… but nowhere near the precision of streetmaps. And not what Flickr promised.How have the people of London responded?
London FlickrMaps photos

Pretty underwhelming really, isn’t it.

There is more to this than just the US-Centric product focus. There are also some pretty significant (in my opinion) flaws with the way that the Map service has been designed.

Let me start by saying that once you *find* the map section, then adding your photos to the map (assuming there is a decent map of the where you took your photo) is a real pleasure.

But here’s the problem – when are you *most* likely to add locations to your image?

I’d hazard a guess (and it is only a guess, perhaps Flickr have user research to show differently), but I’d guess that it would be at the point that you’re uploading your photos. I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty much the only time that I add things like tags to my photos. And it’s when I’m uploading a bunch of photos that I might think about putting them into a set.

(Again, this is dangerous business, looking at your own behaviour and theorising that everyone else’s behaviour is the same… so I’d be interested to hear how/when you add tags or make sets… and at what points you think you’d add geotagging to your photos).

Alas, while you’re uploading your photos, and even once you’ve uploaded them, there’s no hint of the map.

When I went to explore FlickrMaps this morning, I literally felt as though I was hunting for them. Where was the first place that I went? Well, to the detail page of one of my photos, of course. I was sure I’d find a call to action asking me to put my un-mapped photo on the map. Nope.

Eventually I got to – ‘oooh, the organiser’. Perhaps it’s there.
And there it was.

So, I find the Maps either because I’m hunting for it, or because I happen upon it. This means that I’m unlikely to geo-tag very many photos.

And, as demonstrated by the map of London and number of uploads, it seems that not so many people *are* geo-tagging their photos.

BUT – things may not be as they seem. Did you notice that strange paging device on the map? This one:

Map Pages

Do you get it? I sure don’t. Maps and pages… what is this? An atlas? (See it in context in the image at the top of this post)

After playing with it a while I learned that if I clicked on the arrows to the left or right I got to see the map refresh and show me different numbers of photos uploaded in different locations. Apparently this is a page.

Now, am I just being thick, or does the concept of ‘pages’ just make no sense at all on a map like this? I don’t know about you, I’m basing my expectations on the other Yahoo and Google Map mashups with all the masses of pins poking out all over the place. And no pages.

I can’t even begin to get my head around what a page might mean in this context… what goes on one page and not another? And playing with the pages didn’t clear things up for me either.

I can’t think that these pages are helping the situation any though, because according to this widget there are 3.5 million images that have been geo-tagged. That’s a pretty impressive number.

Go play with the map though, and tell me where all these images are… I sure can’t find anywhere near that many. I’ve played around with England, NSW (Australia) and East Coast USA and I don’t reckon I’ve seen more than three thousand photos on the map (and that’s erring on the generous side).

So, has FlickrMaps been a failure so far? Well, if you define success by uptake, then I’d say the jury is out.
If there have been 3.5 million photos geo-tagged in the last couple of weeks, then you’d be a hard judge to call that a failure.
But, if that is the case… then I’ve never seen something successful look so much like a failure.
Come on Flickr. Don’t be hiding your light under a bushel.
Let’s see those 3.5 million geo-tagged photos and where they’re at. Let’s see the FlickrMap phenomenon come to life. And let’s get more people geo-tagging by thinking about how we can seduce them into geo-tagging at the moments when they’re most likely to participate.
Oh, and to everyone in ‘the Valley’. Please don’t forget about us, your loyal customers, from *all over the world*!
Update: Dave (Heller) Malouf has an interesting post with his evaluation of  FlickrMaps here. Check it out.
  1. I’d go with the US-centric comment. The resolution of the maps in the UK is awful, and while you read posts (Veen I think?) where he talks about making sure the geotag for his photo was in the correct part of the local park… then try it in the UK.. forget it. If you are lucky you can identify the park but beyond that there isn’t much more you can do.

    But then Google Maps are nowhere near as detailed as Windows Live, but of course MS suffers from not being ‘cool’ or ‘Web 2.0′.

    The service is usable, and does have benefits but I think until they crack some of the issues, it’ll remain a ‘nice to have’. As you say, ‘hiding’ this feature in the Organizer suggests that it might not ever have been aimed at the masses??

  2. I believe Flickr Maps interface is brilliant, but its geotagging interface is not designed for accuracy, but for massive geotagging because of two reasons. First, Yahoo Maps poor coverage for most of the World makes impossible exact geotagging. Second, it takes to much time to find the exact location. Most of Flickr users are not eager to do it, they just want to locate their photos aproximately in the place they took them.

    Actually they are both good reasons to do it the way they did and I believe that for some users and uses it’s ok, but not for others.

    If your prefer Google Maps for geolocating your photos and you care about accuracy, Panoramio may be interesting for you. You can later watch the photos in Google Earth (via feed KML), a much better experience than web-based maps.

    Eduardo

  3. I am inclined to agree that the geo-tagging thing on Flickr wasn’t all I expected it to be.

    One of my contacts told me to give it a go and I thought that it was a brilliant idea! My flickr behaviour is a bit different from yours, I upload a batch, into a set, with some general tags. Sometimes I go through a add more tags etc straight away and sometimes, if I am a little bored in front of the telly or something I go through and delete the ones I don’t really like, add some tags…’do flickr house-keeping’

    So, I thought geo-tagging would be great. I sat down, all ready to geo-tag away. It took me ages to find it too (probably only a few minutes but I am not very patient). And then when I did find it the lack of detail was a huge disappointment. I was looking forward to being able to find someone else’s pictures of my favourite beach in Croatia and so I was fully intending to be really dilligent about showing where I had taken my pitcures. Too hard. I gave up.

    I was also expecting a google map mashup type thing. Like ononemap but for pictures.

    Maybe the next release will be better?

  4. Ivanka,
    Thanks for the reference. As a Flickr Pro myself, I was a bit disappointed with FlickrMaps… but I guess this is their first attempt. Our first version of OnOneMap had its problems, although the latest update is doing very well. In fact, all suggestions welcome for growing OnOneMap from hundreds of thousands of uniques per month to millions.

    Philip (philip at ononemap.com)

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