Flickr Video: Does it stand a chance?

Flickr Video is just around the corner, but what is Yahoo going to do to make it work? We've got some ideas.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
5 min read

The short answer is yes.

The long answer is that the success of the soon-to-be-released Flickr video depends largely on how much the company borrows from its photo hosting roots and innovations.

While YouTube and various other video hosts I partake in are fantastic for content, the films many people capture on their digital cameras tend to have no editing or post-processing whatsoever. These same videos can be a hell of a lot more interesting when put into context, which is where discovering videos on blogs or people's personal sites can bring a little more to the table than simply plopping them in with the other mass of videos on other hosting sites.

Flickr's popularity, in part is because of its community who are incredibly active and fill the site with a massive amount of content. However, the site's development has remained somewhat stagnant, which is where the inclusion of videos is the single biggest change since its inception. With that imminent change, there's a lot to talk about regarding how video will play into Flickr's current structure.

What Flickr does right

Let's start out with what Flickr video needs to have compared with features the site already has for its photo service.

Flickr's 'interestingness' quantifier might be a useful feature for discovering cool videos. The same process can be seen here for photos.

1. Interestingness: Flickr's killer application is the "interestingness" algorithm. This automates the process of discovering some of the very best photos on the site simply by keeping an eye on natural user activity. If the same thing could be applied to videos, we'd have a much richer selection of naturally popular clips to view without any sort of special voting system or editorial control.

2. Organization: This includes things such as sets, collections, and tags. While nearly all the other video hosts have these features, Flickr needs to let you mix in your video with related pictures from the same set and do it seamlessly. At the same time there needs to be a way to separate photos from videos and browse each type of media on its own.

3. Push video to the API: Another reason Flickr got huge is because the public API, which lets all sorts of services tap into the data and make changes from outside of Flickr. YouTube just released its advanced API and it's the way of the future. As we've seen with services such as Digg over the past year, the results can be exceptionally cool if you let people create tools with your data.

The only thing that keeps me from thinking the company will do this is its stance on letting its members use Flickr as a host without linking back. Flickr may decide to let videos be shown offsite, or without any of the branding, but there may be strings attached--like a branded player with ads.

4. Community interaction: This is related to interestingness, but groups and photo pools make for some exceptional viewing and creativity of the masses. Providing a way for people to pool similar videos together into groups would be fantastic. Think of the next time you're trying to plan a vacation. Wouldn't you love to simply have a repository of the latest photos and videos in one place?

Flickr's camera finder is a good way to see what hardware other Flickr users take their shots with. (click to enlarge)

5. The camera finder: One of Flickr's best features is the camera finder. It lets you see what other people's shots look like using a certain make or model, and can be hugely helpful in figuring out if you simply need to get some new hardware, or take a photography class. Video host Vimeo has a way to view which camera a user has, but it's only through tags. Most advanced users do this, but it's a manual process.

If Flickr could find a way to make that metadata more of the equation, it would make some of those charts and graphs even more engaging. The problem, of course, is that metadata for video clips is all over the place, but guessing that users are using the same camera for photos and videos might take some of the work out of the equation.

What Flickr needs to change

There's a lot of competition out there. Let's look at what needs to be different from other companies trying to get a piece of the video pie.

Viddler's video player supports timed tags, something we're expecting to be a part of Flickr's efforts.

1. The video player: Yahoo just retooled its video player, but it's not all that different from what's seen elsewhere. As Dan Farber noted about the yet-to-be-unveiled video player in his story yesterday, it can't just be a clone of YouTube or else Flickr users will simply continue to use video services they're already members of. The same must be true of the player--it's got to have the certain Flickr-ness to it that's going to make Flickr members comfortable.

Photo pages on Flickr are already setup similar to the way they are on a lot of video sites so I don't think this is going to be a problem. Implementing tags and notes is where it might get tough. I think Flickr's going to have to take an approach similar to video hosts Viddler and Asterpix in making tags a dynamic part of the experience, and recognizing that for longer form videos, a tag for just a tiny part of the video might not be as useful to the viewer who is expecting to see an appearance early on.

2. Privacy: We've chided Flickr on its privacy controls in the past, but it's come a long ways from its early days in letting you share private content with others. The bottom line is that privacy for videos needs to be paramount--there's simply a lot more visual information than what's in most photographs. There need to be controls about privacy upon uploading, and easy ways to make a video sharable with small groups using the same privacy filters and passwords that you get with a set of photos.

I'm hoping to be pleasantly surprised with Flickr's video efforts when the service goes into beta next month, but there are a lot of things that need to be right from the get-go to get my vote of confidence. For me, the biggest item on this list is the integration with photos. The one thing none of these other video hosts have is that rich blend of media that can give people multiple angles of the same content using different types of media. Finding a way to blend the two mediums together is going to require some finesse.

Related: Flickr: 10 things we love and hate