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Flickr upgrades core experience with bigger photos

Bigger images are more compelling, and today Yahoo's photo-sharing service is set to put people's pixels to better use.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
2 min read

It's been nibbling around the edges, but Flickr plans to improve a central part of the photo-sharing site today by showing photos larger -- potentially a lot larger.

Using what it calls a "liquid layout" that adapts to the size of the browser window, the Yahoo site will show high-resolution images as large as possible on its main photo pages. The traditional accompanying information will show alongside -- maps, thumbnails of other photos in the photostream, camera information, and the like.

Here's a before-and-after comparison for a person using a larger monitor.

The old look of Flickr's main photo pages.
The old look of Flickr's main photo pages. Flickr
The new "liquid layout" look of Flickr's main photo pages.
The new "liquid layout" look of Flickr's main photo pages. Flickr

Flickr launched with photos 500 pixels wide, geared for an era of 800x600 screens. In 2010, it moved up to 640 pixels wide. The liquid layout will expand much more, and Flickr picked a range of sizes to avoid having to "upsample" -- the process of expanding an image beyond its actual dimensions, which degrades image quality. (Flickr's "lightbox" mode already showed photos larger and set them off against a black background, but that page lacks the descriptive information, comments, and other features of the main photo page.)

The change is a core part of Flickr's much-needed redesign. I'm hoping the next update will bring the wall-to-wall photos "justified" look to people's photo pages to make groups of photos look better, not just single shots.

The Yahoo photo-sharing service promises more to come as the year progresses. Next up for the liquid layout is better speed -- an area I find Flickr lags Facebook and Google.

"Now that the algorithm is complete, we need to work on the performance," said Flickr developer Ross Harmes in a Flickr code blog post. "The first time you go to a liquid photo page, we have no choice but to adjust the page width on the fly. But every other photo page you visit will have the dimensions stored from the last page, and the page will be rendered with the correct width from the start."