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.