Decentralized Social Photo Management?

I’ve been a Flickr user for a long, long time. In the olden days I was averse to the notion of outsourcing my image storage to a third party, but a walk in the Copenhagen woods with Ben, one of the people of Ludicorp, Flickr’s birthparent, convinced me that it was worth exploring the social aspects of Flickr.

What I discovered is that there’s more to putting photos online than just looking for a cheap place to store bits: being able to share photos with my friends and family, have them leave comments, mark photos as favourites, and to do the same with their photos has become an integral part of how I use Flickr. To the point when I encounter photos that aren’t stored in Flickr they are, in a sense, dead to me.

Recently, though, I got skittish: when faced with the notion that, if Microsoft were to acquire Yahoo!, my photos would be part of an evil empire, I started to think about alternatives. My experimenting with Share on Ovi, Nokia’s social photo alternative to Flickr, only reinforced my misgivings (I like Ovi, especially the one-click upload from my phone, but it suffers from the same “walled garden” qualities that Flickr does).

Which got me thinking: is it necessary to store and manage the actual bits of my photos in the same place as my photos exist as social objects? While it’s obviously in corporate best interests to have the two wedded — there’s nothing like photo-lock-in to build “customer loyality” — it’s not necessarily in my best interests, no matter how enlightened the outsourcer or rich their community.

I blurted out some gibberish yesterday at Gong Bao Thursday about the possibility of piggybacking a system on DNS, or something DNS-like to do this. Nathan countered with the notion that shareable ATOM or RSS feeds could achieve the same thing. I’m still not really clear what I’m looking for, or what I’m thinking of, but it seems to boil down to having a decentralized system where a photo with any URL could become a social object with all the richness that Flickr and Ovi afford, but without the downsides of having to rely on a single vendor’s walled community as the environment. The Internet itself, after all, is a social network, isn’t it?

I welcome thoughts anyone might have on this.


Steven Garrity's picture
Steven Garrity on July 11, 2008 - 18:33 Permalink

Preach-on brother! The idea of having to have your photos stored with one service in order to use the social features has always seemed very un-Web. Most social networks suffer the same problem (Chris Messina is working on fixing this:

Weblogs have always gotten it right. You can host your own weblog using common software, you can roll-your-own software, you can use a hosted service. No matter how you do it, you are still part of the blogging world. There’s no penalty to not using a central service.

Oh, and e-mail is also pretty good at that too.

Jacob Friis Saxberg's picture
Jacob Friis Saxberg on July 11, 2008 - 18:56 Permalink

This is exactly what I have in mind with Journster.

I thought I mentioned it to you at Reboot :)

I’ll keep you posted about the project, which needs a new name.

Ann Thurlow's picture
Ann Thurlow on July 11, 2008 - 19:49 Permalink

So how isa it that Microsoft is an evil empire and Nokia is not?

Nokia is focused on wireless and wired telecommunications, with 112,262 employees in 120 countries, sales in more than 150 countries and global annual revenue of 51.1 billion euros and operating profit of 8.0 billion as of 2007.”

Microssoft if giant and Nokia is giantish? Nokia is Scandinavian?

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on July 11, 2008 - 20:09 Permalink

I wasn’t suggesting that Ovi is a better alternative to Flickr (although, simply as a matter of taste and corporate family preference, I’d take a Nokia over a Microsoft any day). The issue for me is keeping control over my digital assets out of any corporate hands.

All that said, I’d rather the Scandinavians ran the world that the people in Seattle ;-)

oliver's picture
oliver on July 11, 2008 - 22:22 Permalink

Hear hear! If Flickr/Yahoo thought it had a viable business model acting only as a “notation and interlinks server” for content and users elsewhere on the Web, I suppose they’d be able to do it in a heartbeat. Or a non-profit like Wikipedia might do the same, if somebody wrote the code for their servers. I wonder if the SETI@Home/Folding@Home model also would work? This involves a central authority, which the serving institution buys amount of computer power and bandwidth to operate, but with personal computers linking from all over the ‘Net doing most of the computing. I guess if there’s nothing to actually compute and only the problem of serving, that’s not helpful. Could you have Napster-style sharing of the comments/notations/interlinks + IP addresses of photos, which would exist on personal pages all over but not get copied around in the P2P file-sharing process? Or is that what we’re talking about already, but I just don’t know the lingo?

oliver's picture
oliver on July 11, 2008 - 22:39 Permalink

Actually, this sounds like a classic library/information science problem. Also like collective annotations of gene and protein sequences, which the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) has been offering up open-source code and solutions for since forever. I suppose the NIH and biotech companies could be contributing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of centralized computing and bandwidth for the databases they write code for though, in which case I guess that’s an approach for deep pockets only.

oliver's picture
oliver on July 11, 2008 - 23:36 Permalink

Wait…. if you’re talking about collecting and supplying the comments and links that masses of other people attach to your photo, isn’t this exactly what you’re doing by posting a photo to your blog, and which I can receive either via RSS reader subscription or by deliberately surfing over to it? I think Flickr exists because photos are not just memory hogs but visual-space or screen hogs, which makes us prefer to post most of our photos on a different page than the one we’re blogging on—and Flickr makes it easy to do that. It’s like keeping photos in an album that you leave out on the coffee table for people to browse if they want, as opposed to papering the living room wall and carpeting the floor with all of them, or having a continuous slide show running behind you whenever you host anybody to tea.

stan rogers's picture
stan rogers on July 12, 2008 - 15:24 Permalink

nice analogy… …