Flickr Social 101

A certain friend of mine (who shall go unnamed) is living in Kenya. I met him today for lunch and was super psyched to hear about his life, but a little vexed to discover that he has 5000 photos he’s sitting on, a Flickr pro account, and a substantial internet connection. I asked him why he doesn’t upload one photo a day and he responded with, “I use Flickr as storage.” I thought this completely was absurd, until I remembered that some people have never been properly introduced to the social features within Flickr.

What I find most engaging about the product are the lightweight social interactions that allow me to keep up with my friends, even those who don’t have blogs or active myspace/facebook accounts. Much of the social functionality, such as searching for people, adding them as contacts, and following their progress, are not immediately obvious in the interface. This short tutorial should get Nathan him up to speed, along with anyone else who uses “Flickr for storage”**:

1. Find your friends. First, do a few searches for your connected Flickr friends. These will be the people who told you about Flickr, extol its virtues every time you’re out with them, or use their phone cameras to beam pictures to the internets. Whenever you see someone you know, drag your mouse over their photo, and when a box appears over the photo, press the arrow to expose the secret contact menu. Here you can click the link that says “add them as a contact.” You can also use this menu to get to their contacts page where their friends are listed. Use this list to find any friends you might have in common. Also, when you meet someone you like, exchange Flickr handles. Chances are they’ll be happy to swap photos.

2. Setup alerts. The next step is to make yourself aware of what your friends are doing on Flickr, both in their world and on your photos (you probably didn’t know people were commenting on your photos, did you?!). This is probably because you only go to Flickr when it’s time to dump some photos into the hard drive. There are three feeds of information that you want to track. Find your user id using idgettr and modify these URLs to be your own (right-click, copy the URL and paste it somewhere to replace USERID with your id):

Once you have these three feeds, you need to track them. If you already use an RSS reader, simply add these to your list of feeds. Done. If not, Yahoo! Mail beta users can add them to the feeds box in their mail. For people who don’t know what the hell RSS is, and don’t care, use RMail or RSSFwd to send updates to your email. This should take 5 minutes to setup.

3. Be social. When you see that your friend has uploaded a picture, say something to them. It might not make their day, but it will probably make them happy to know that you’re watching. It’s a small amount of effort that can have a positive impact on someone’s day. Or, if you’re a little shy in the online world, drop one of their photos in an offline conversation, e.g., “hey man, I thought that picture of you with a tiny 49ers helmet on was nuts! Were you drunk?” The answer will, undeniably, be “no.”

I made this guide so that every time I have this conversation I can tell people to search for “flickr social 101.” Please let me know if you have any comments on how to improve this tutorial and I’ll be happy to incorporate them.

** note this guide does not apply to misanthropes or pop-stars.

Five things you didn’t know about me

I don’t usually participate in the “what is your favorite citrus fruit?!?” games, but when Chad calls, I listen. I got tagged Chad, Cody, Ian and some number of intermediaries back to the ur post.

1. I wanted to be an engineer from a very young age. When I was 5 years old, we had this yellow velour couch (it was 1982, remember) and solid oak coffee table. While my mom was talking to a friend or something, I placed one of the cushions between the coffee table and the couch. Then I said, “look mommy, soft bridge!” followed by one step and then the sound of my teeth making contact with the hard oak. Blood, tears, and a dental specialist for years didn’t get me down though: at age 8, I wore an MIT sweatshirt despite not knowing anything beyond the meaning of the letters. Not that I thought at ALL about the place between 8 and 22, but my 8 year-old self must have pulled some strings to get me in for grad school.

2. I was a frat boy in college. I was a member of the Alpha Delta Phi chapter at the University of Chicago. This is a statement that I always have to back up with excuses, like, “I was young, I needed the money,” or “I saw their hip hop a capella group as a way to explore my sensitive side.” Although it didn’t end on the best note, I admit that I had a great time there, and it put me among the likes of Ben Stein, P.J. O’Rourke and John Perry Barlow.

3. I never have been a very good actor. In the third grade my whole class put on a play. I don’t even remember the title, but I do remember my part: bus driver. I had one line in the entire hour-long production, and it went something like, “all aboard!” Anyway, my teacher at the time didn’t think that I was putting enough energy into it, and he coached me on how to be more expressive. In the end he yanked me from the part and I was the only student not to perform. This is the part of the story where I’d love to say, “but then I went on to star in a broadway production of the same play 10 years later.” But I didn’t. I became an engineer and I can’t even remember the name of the play.

4. During my Ph.D. I spent a summer working for the CDC studying STDs. When I tell this to most people they respond by saying “haha, so did you get a lot of hands on experience?” as they step away from me pretending I’m infected. The truth is that it was a really amazing internship, with them helping me understand the mathematics of diffusion on networks, and me helping them understand technology. Besides my published work, I did some fun projects looking at search traffic to their sites, correlating logs with seasonal outbreaks of various diseases (e.g. herpes and syphillis). I also showed them a little SEO to get their herpes information onto the first page of search results. And I learned a host of knowledge about sexually transmitted infections, which many of my friends find useful on occasion (please send your questions over email).

5. For a little under a year I co-ran a show on MIT’s radio station called electronic experiments. It had the brazen goal of being completely live, and mostly improvised electronic music every week. It was a hell of a lot of work, but ended up introducing Dan and I to just about everyone producing music in the Boston area. As for our music (Tek Fu), which was always improvised, I think someone once compared it to free jazz: “hours of monotonous garbage punctuated with (brief) moments of brilliance.” That led to the creation of our local music crew unlockedgroove, and eventually to the creation of our label under the same name. All of our vinyl is creative commons licensed, and Dan’s most recent record with Ben Recht is pretty dang hott.

My turn:

  1. Maciej Ceglowski
  2. Andy Baio
  3. Ernie Hsiung
  4. Justin Foster
  5. Michael Buffington

Likelihood of getting transmission? Low. But if I did it, they should have to as well…

LinkedIn to launch answers product

LinkedIn logoIn a marketwatch story and online video interview, Keith Rabois of LinkedIn revealed that the business network is planning to launch a question/answer service similar to Yahoo! Answers, but directed at business intelligence. The service will take advantage of the identities LinkedIn users have taken time to construct, and utilize the existing social relationships as an incentive to get people to answer questions. From the interview with the head of business development:

Rabois: One of the things we’re doing is transcending the traditional value propositions of LinkedIn. Historically we’ve been focused a lot on hiring, recruiting, and finding new jobs and opportunities. We’re going to be using LinkedIn exploring new opportunities for people to conduct research, business research. One of the most important uses of a professional network is to get intelligence and get business information. For example, if one wanted to know what three changes are going to occur in patent law in the next five years, LinkedIn is a perfect tool to find that answer. Or, what venture capitalists are most appropriate for investing in a sports medical device. So we’re going to have a LinkedIn answers. You can sort of envision a useful version of Yahoo! Answers tied to people’s professional credentials and profile so you can assess the validity and credability of people’s answers.

Francisco: And how do you get the incentives? How do you provide incentives for people to actively participate in that?

Rabois: Principly social capital. It’s going to work within two degrees, and that means a friend of a friend. So if someone I know is asking a question and I know the possible answer, I’ll be willing to respond because I know the person in common. So I’ll earn some social capital as well as develop a professional set of expertise and reputational devices on our site that allow you to market yourself as an expert in a particular topic.

Answer sites have been coming out of the woodwork lately; after the overwhelming success of Naver and others in Asia, Yahoo! Answers opened a free, public question/answer site in America. Microsoft followed shortly afterward with Live Q&A and then Amazon with Askville. Each of these sites has a slightly different take on the incentives and social dynamics that make up the system, and each hoping to find the magic arrangement that creates high-quality content for its users. Of course the holy grail for these services is to achieve what Naver did, namely gaining the #1 search market share for search a year after launching their Q/A product.

LinkedIn presents an interesting player in this game, specifically because they have a substantial amount of information about their users, and because these profiles represent serious, professional concerns. Their opinion of Yahoo! Answers is obvious (“imagine a useful version of Yahoo! Answers…”), and they believe the users of LinkedIn will participate in something much more serious than the current competition. The interview does not mention when they plan to launch the system, but I would expect it to be soon if the head of BD is talking to MarketWatch.

How many taps in a URL

Since I’ve started using my mobile phone more often for web browsing I have become painfully aware of how many damn key presses it takes to enter some of my favorite URLs. It’s great that so many sites are offering stripped-down versions for quick mobile browsing, of course with the added expense of entering the URL. This sort of thinking led me to ask, how many taps does it take to get to a website?
Multi-tap is the method by which many mobile users interact with their phone. Each letter is entered by tapping a given key a number of times corresponding to the letter on that key. For instance, the letter ‘S’ would be entered by pressing the 7 key four times. I have developed a system to calculate the tappage for an arbitrary string. You can find it here:

In addition to the standard tap semantics, I add an extra tap for each time a key is repeated. This is because a repeated key requires that you either press a forward button (painful), or wait for the letter to register (painfully long). Also, since the tap dynamics for symbols vary from phone to phone, I set ‘.’ to one tap and everything else to 4 taps. So of course everyone is asking at this point: who has the shortest URLs?

After playing with this (highly addictive) tool for a few hours, I find the results to be really non-intuitive; some short things are long, some long things are short. I guess this is yet another dimension to consider when you are looking for a domain name.