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Flickr getting a geography revamp

The Yahoo photo-sharing service will soon be retooled to make more use of geotagged photos.

Flickr has 42 million photos with geotags--information called metadata that records the location where a photo was taken--and now it's trying to let users get more out of them.

At the Web 2.0 Summit on Friday, Flickr co-founder Stewart Butterfield plans to demonstrate two new features, which are scheduled to debut in coming weeks. First is a revamped Flickr map page, an interface that lets people look at the photos taken at a specific location. Next is a new "places" feature that lets people explore specific geographic sites--a catalog of more than 70,000 so far.

For a look at the new pages, you can look at a gallery of Flickr screenshots we posted. And Yahoo itself is posting some information on the new feature.

Click for gallery

The changes bring some refinement to the current world of geotagging, which is not for the faint of heart. (Though my experience has been a lot smoother once I got the time zone issue straightened out.)

Flickr's current map interface presents users with a map dotted with pink circles; a number in each circle indicates how many photos tagged with that location have been recently uploaded to Flickr. The new maps interface replaces those circles with the descriptive tags commonly used to label regional photos.

For example, some areas are likely to show tags with geographic descriptions such as "London." Others could get event-based tags that show a spurt in popularity, such as the San Francisco Bay to Breakers race, Butterfield said. Not too many words fit on a map of the world, but users can click a button to bring up a fresh supply.

"The current user interface is slow and confusing. People don't get the idea of a paging through photos in this kind of user interface," Butterfield said.

So far the tag interface appears at the global map level, but Flickr will gradually spread it to more local views, said Dan Catt, a Flickr engineer who works on the mapping technology.

The places pages offer a prepackaged view of thousands of locations. Clicking on a link on the maps page can take a user to the nearby place page, sifted to show the tag on which the user clicked. The page itself shows recent and interesting photos taken at the site, featured photographers who have photographed the region often, and popular and recent tags that lead to a new category of photos for that area.