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This article was published on April 25, 2008

Why you should tag your Flickr pictures

Why you should tag your Flickr pictures
Ernst-Jan Pfauth
Story by

Ernst-Jan Pfauth

Ernst-Jan Pfauth is the former Editor in Chief of Internet at NRC Handelsblad, as well as an acclaimed technology author and columnist. He a Ernst-Jan Pfauth is the former Editor in Chief of Internet at NRC Handelsblad, as well as an acclaimed technology author and columnist. He also served as The Next Web’s blog’s first blogger and Editor in Chief, back in 2008. At De Correspondent, Ernst-Jan serves as publisher, fostering the expansion of the platform.

Do you tag your photos on Flickr? If you are a loyal tagger, you may consider yourself member of a small groups of Flickr users. One that has however, “an outsized influence on the overall Flickr experience”, said Kakul Srivastava, director of product management of Flickr. During the “Next Generation of Tagging: Searching and Discovering a Better User Experience” Web 2.0 Expo session, she discussed enhancing the user experience through tagging and geotagging.
In the practice of tagging, she sees four levels of sophistication, namely:

Different levels of tagging within Flickr

  • First there is the “I exist” level. You just tag pictures to make them findable for yourself
  • The second level is all about making your photographs findable for others. You want those Flickr users to know you exist
  • Thirdly: wow! You find other people exist too! Let’s interact! So you start annotating your friends by adding tags. We should thank Facebook for this, as they made tagging people normal.
  • The fourth level of sophistication consists of tagging objects within pictures.

Paris HiltonSo what’s the results of all this happy taggin’? According to Srivastava, “sly Russian mathematical magic” will take place. That might sound rather abstract, so let me name some examples. Because of extensive tagging, the Flickr algorithm can start clustering tags so that the meaning of a certain tags is disambiguated. Let’s use a classic example here: are you looking for the Hilton in Paris or for a Chihuahua-carrying utterly famous blonde?

Another example of taking tagging to next level is checking hot tags. By doing this, you can see what’s hot and happening, and where. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that last week’s hottest tags in the US was “popemobile“. This has a link with the last advantage Srivastava mentioned: geotagging. 68 million Flickr pics are geotagged, thanks to clustering you can multiply that number four of five. What leaves the Flickr community with a stunning 100,000 places on the world that can be viewed by checking out related Flickr photos.


So where do we go from here? Srivastava polled some people from her team and predicted that tagging objects would become more popular and complex. The metadata is becoming more structured, making it able to look for specifics types of airplanes – to name an example. Also, interaction in tagging is here to stay. But what I consider to be most important consequence of good-tagging behavior is the ability to see what trends are emerging throughout the world. Like the popemobile tag, some tags – or clusters of them – will tell stories, maybe even news. And that’s what makes a structured web really fascinating.