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Hot on the heels of their official Flickr app for Android, Yahoo have released a their unimaginatively titled Yahoo! Weather Android app, but behind the banal name are signs that Yahoo are finally starting to understand how the vast treasures of Flickr might integrate into a mobile media world. While this is a fairly simple idea – combining global weather data with matching photographs – it’s the sort of thing we’ve not seen from Yahoo in a long time. More to the point, the simple design actually houses a great weather app, and it’s free. Yahoo are probably paying a license to use the Weather Channel data, but the real riches are the Flickr photos which are all provided by users for free. That said, I don’t think this is exploitation: each photo comes with credit to the photographer (well, their Flickr username) and a link back to the original photograph. For most Flickr users, the exposure far outweighs any thought of payment, especially in a free app.
Currently all photos are drawn from a specific purpose-driven Flickr group, so no one’s image will appear without them explicitly adding it to that group. However, there were just over 2500 photos when I looked this morning, so I guess a lot of the world isn’t covered yet. I’d suggest that in the next version, Yahoo make the most of those thousands and thousands of Creative Commons licensed images which folks have already explicitly given permission to re-use via their copyright license choice. Everything under a Creative Commons Attribution license, for example, would clearly be suitable for inclusion in the app. Given there are, literally, billions of Flickr photos, perhaps asking a whole lot of users to add specific photos to the Weather app group could broaden the potential photos rapidly.
It’s also noteworthy that Yahoo are focusing on Android apps right now. Rather than compete with the very entrenched iOS photo apps, Yahoo are courting Android users who’ve not really found their killer photo apps just yet.
Overall, though, it’s great to see Yahoo realising just how rich a resource Flickr can be for mobile apps. Flickr really is the jewel in Yahoo’s rusting crown, and if they can make it shine perhaps we’ll see the beginning of a fresh start for Yahoo, at least in terms of mobile development. This weather app just scratches the surface, but I suspect we’ll see tourism and other location-based apps quickly emerging, finally utilising the rich diversity of photos and metadata that constitutes the core of Flickr.
Barely rating a mention since it’s not a new tablet (hello Amazon), Flickr relatively quietly launched their official app for Android today. The app itself isn’t bad, pretty seamlessly uploading photos, with a set of basic filters, tagging and some rudimentary tools to engage with your Flickr connections (or ‘friends’ if we were speaking Facebook). However, as the few commentaries have noted, it’s very close to too little, too late. There are a lot of photography-based apps, ranging from Instagram, which is iOS-only for now but clearly the major player there, through to Android equivalents like PicPlz or the ubiquitous photo uploading with Facebook.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a huge fan of Flickr for a long time. I’ve been posting my photos to Flickr since September 2004 — there’s more than 3000 on there now — with over half a million views collectively. I’ve also been a paid member “Flickr Pro” for most of that time, and while a few years ago $25/year seemed reasonable for unlimited uploads and the ability to share 90-second HD video, I can only imagine it’s a much tougher sell today (indeed, I suspect most Flickr Pro accounts are maintained by folks like me not wanting to lose their archive rather than any new sign-ups). All of that said, Flickr has summarily failed to embrace mobile devices and tablets. To some extent this has been countered by great APIs which have meant the vast majority of photography apps at least have the option to upload a copy to Flickr. However, it has also meant that Flickr isn’t the destination, it’s the cupboard. Whatever app people have been using, a secondary copy on Flickr means it’s there for the long haul, but the activity has been in the new app ecology, of which Instagram is the exemplar. And I suspect the main reason for the app’s launch now is to try and carve out a space on Android devices before Instagram arrives.
For an application with, lets be fair, a rubbish presence on the web, Instagram has done incredibly well focusing on building their core business: a great photo-sharing app that makes everyone feel like an artful photographer and, more importantly, builds a curational community who love to look at each other’s photos. Instagram is a light-weight app in many ways, but every single feature is the right one; the LIKE button is central, commenting is central, and tagging was lifted wholesale from Twitter and reinforces the seamlessness with which Instagram photos appear in social media streams. And they’ve done so well that within 12 month Instagram have clocked up 10 million users. But Instagram hasn’t arrived on Android yet and none of the various Android-based clones have stood out enough to reign supreme.
For the Flickr Android app, then, the question is how well it compares to Instagram. Now, with the basic filters, tagging, geo-tagging and photo uploading, they are on an even level. Flickr, however, needs to learn very quickly that interacting with photos in a Like Economy means that if you need to open a new menu to Like or Favourite a photo (which you currently do – it’s not on the same initial screen as the photos) then the odds of people liking and sharing pictures is greatly reduced. Flickr also need to radically re-vitalise the community nature of photo-sharing via their app. At the moment, interactions feel cold and forced, compared to the socialability and vibrance of sharing and commenting on Instagram. If Flickr can learn and push out a new version within a few weeks, perhaps they can become the shining light in the Yahoo crown they once were (it’s not like much else in the Yahoo world is getting much attention at the moment).
That said, Flickr does have the advantage of a robust and rich interface on the web. Indeed, I still cherish many of the fine-grain controls offered by Flickr on the web, such as the ability to explicitly chose Creative Commons licenses, and a rich set of tools for grouping and sharing photos in various ways. These tools aren’t widely replicated in apps, and I suspect its the richness of Flickr on the web which might be harnessed to encourage the app users, and build a bridge between the app and the web versions of Flickr. Only time will tell, but I can guarantee if Flickr aren’t monitoring feedback closely and already building a new version of the app, their one shot at establishing themselves in the app ecology will be lost.
Oh, today Flickr also launched “Photo Session” which basically looks like the Hangouts from Google Plus, but based around images, not videos. I can’t imagine Photo Session will find much of a crowd, but we’ll have to see.
You can download the Flickr Android App from the Android Marketplace.