Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Exploration or What's So Secret in that Secret Sauce


Draidel ExplosionNo1, originally uploaded by carolWorldLeader.

Flickr has this concept of "interestingness" which culminates in your photo landing into something they call "Explore." Flickr's "Explore" is, according to them, a way for users to see some of the "most awesome photos on Flickr." Whatever.

While I'm not a big fan of the "puppy and kitten brigade" and you already know my feelings about the overdone HDR shenanigans going on within the bowels of Flickr, I'm not beyond admitting that my curiosity sometimes gets the better of me. Quite frankly, I wish I knew how Flickr's "interestingness" algorithm works. It's just one of life's little mysteries that I wish those idiots who make the "Idiot's Guide to..." books would reveal. Call me what you will ("shallow," "petty," other words come to mind) make fun of me, heck, even call me "jealous" but, one day a few months ago, I embarked upon a little personal journey. A journey that took me about as far as I was willing to go into the great abyss of that algorithm called "interestingness." A journey a little deeper into those aformentioned "bowels of Flickr" to see, well, just what the heck was going on around here.

Here's what I did. In the course of my regular shooting, I shot an image I thought maybe (just maybe) could make the ranks of Flickr's explore. (For those of you unfamiliar with my work, I shoot mostly experimental photography, architecture, lensbaby-type stuff. Not the usual Explore fodder. Despite my subject matter and choice of technique, I have been an exhibiting photographer for about 15 years. I've made it into juried shows. I've sold work. I've had gallery exhibits in places like New York and San Francisco. I'm not a "photographic slacker" by any stretch of the imagination. I can gage an aesthetic and know when I'm close, though, in this case, I did not set out to do that-it just happened. And, yes, I do have a few photos already in the ranks of the "evil" Explore, though I've no earthly clue as to how they got there, who put them there, or any of that goodness and light. Nor do I care. I'm just not that into Explore, I wanted to figure out the logic behind interestingness.)

So, I took my "explore worthy" image, uploaded it into Flickr and set out to get it into explore.

The first thing you need to know about Explore is that it appears to be sort of time sensitive. That is, if a lot of people look at your photos in a short period of time, your image appears to have a better chance of making it into Explore. So, it would naturally follow that you'd want to expose your image to as many people as possible in order to make Explore. And, you might be right about that assumption, but there are a couple of caveats.

Some of the ways you can share photos on Flickr are by putting them into groups, by showing them to your contacts, or just by somebody checking the "everybody's" photo link as you are uploading your photos.

Let's first explore contacts. If one of your contacts leaves a comment on your photo, that seems to raise it's interestingness factor, although it seems to go up more if somebody who is not a contact of yours leaves a comment. That is, to get the highest interestingness factor, you need to attract viewers from outside of your regular Flickr "circle of friends." So, you want to get your friends and family to see your picture, and leave a lot of comments, or all view it at the same time, but you also want to attract new viewers-folks who haven't seen any of your images yet and who are outside your ordinary circle of Flickr friends.

One way to do this is through groups but, once again, there are a couple of caveats here too. Putting your pictures into some groups, specifically groups that require comments (Score ME! Hit, Miss, or Maybe, come to mind) actually lowers your "interestingness" score. Why? Well, to put it bluntly, it's because people were once abusing it and so the Flickr interestingness algorithm was adjusted to account for this. (I actually tested this theory out with my image. I had it rising in interestingness, let it get ranked a personal #14 or so, put it into one of these groups, and watched it drop to #43 or so. So, I can attest that these groups actually drop your interestingness factor quite a bit.)

One good way to get attention in groups is to participate. Join some of the more popular groups and post images into threads but do it wisely. If you take your carefully crafted flower macro shot and place it in a "60 miles per hour" thread, nobody's going to believe you and you'll lose a lot of street cred in the deal. Participate with your best driving shot, or find a more appropriate forum for your flower macro to make it work. (In the case of a flower macro, consider joining a group like Nature1-2-3 which could give you a lot of views but don't just "dump and run" into the pool. Leave a lot of comments for other folks, so they might turn around and check your stuff out as well.)

The most non-obvious way to get more views is by the "everybody's" button. Most people don't think of this but, if you alter the time of day that you upload, and you wait for a lot of other folks to upload different photos, then "sneak" yours in, you have a better shot of making Explore. Think about it. If you have a flower macro you want to get into Explore, and everybody's uploading portraits, you have a better shot. So, one way somebody might make the ranks of Explore is to take brilliant flower macro shots and then upload them in the dead of winter, when nobody's shooting flower macros, because there's snow everywhere. (Of course, Flickr is international, so it's always "spring" somewhere but, you get the idea.) This also works with groups. Monitor the 1-2-3, World Through My Eyes, 3-2-1, and other popular groups for a stream of work that runs together and stuff in yours when it's different enough to make folks click on your thumbnail. Wait for a bunch of green shots to pop in your red one, or wait for a string of portraits to slip in your flower macro-try to avoid adding your flower macro to the end of a stream of flowers-this will gain it a bit more attention and might get you viewers.

The best way to make Explore?

  1. Take interesting photos-specifically images that look like they belong to Explore. If you don't match the aesthetic, well, it's harder to get into the club.

  2. Upload at various times throughout the day to see when your shots get the most notice.

  3. What which groups you post into-post into groups that will give you the most hits: specifically, hits from people who are not currently in your Flickr circle.

  4. Don't overpost. Posting something in 50 groups makes everybody bored and nobody wants to look at your stuff.

  5. Don't post into groups like Score Me! which, while fun, lower your "interestingness" ranking.

  6. Leave other people lots of comments and hope they will reciprocate. Sometimes leaving comments for people spurs them into leaving comments for you.

  7. Participate in group threads but do it wisely. A well-placed image can earn a lot of views in a short time but it should match the topic at hand. Also starting interesting threads is a great way to get your image at the top and probably earn you more views.

  8. Keep the better images you upload at the top of your stream. For example, make sure that, if you upload 10 images, the last one you upload is the strongest. That way, if somebody clicks on your 'Photos" link to view your stream, they will see your best shot, and might be more inclined to leave a comment.

  9. Remember that they change the algorithm for Explore from time to time and that images in Explore today might not be in Explore tomorrow so enjoy your fame while it lasts.

  10. Try to participate in groups that have better work. Seek out groups that have a lot of members who have images in Explore. If you find a group with stronger work, get involved. This will earn you more views, since the work is stronger and people will follow the group more closely.


Finally, and most importantly, don't take Explore too seriously. It's just a numbers game-having more photos in Explore does not make somebody a better photographer, it just makes them more popular in some ways. Think of it this way, Madonna has sold more records than Leontyne Price.

http://www.flickr.com/explore/

Until next time...

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