Why Flickr Rules Even if You Don’t Share Photos

I love Flickr. It’s one of the original Web 2.0 poster-children for good reason.

Beyond the API and the tagging and the sharing of images, Flickr has become my go-to resource for awesome pictures.

Everyone knows that images make boring, more interesting. You know, that whole picture is worth a 1,000 word aphorism?

When you install a new O/S, how long before you change the background image and the screensaver?

Do you add images to your blog posts to make them more interesting and underscore your points?

Do you add images to your presentations to spice up the content?

I do all these things, and I know most people do too. Flickr is a goldmine of great pictures, many of which you can use in your presentations and blogs with only attribution.

Most people who blog add images to their posts, and I’ve been asked by some how do you know whether you can use an image or not. By “can” I don’t mean “able to”, but rather “are allowed to” by the licensing terms. The answer is simple and tough all at once.

You need to read the terms of use, if any are provided. For example, Dilbert rules, but you can’t reproduce it on your blog. Check the terms. Again, “can’t” means “aren’t supposed to because of the terms”, but since it’s the Intertubes, enforcing the terms is on Scott Adams and his posse of lawyers.

If you’re like me, your path of least resistance means you don’t want to dissect the terms of a site to determine if you can use its content. Frequently, you won’t even know where an image originates because it just shows up on some random blog.

Back to Flickr. Flickr allows its users to provide their photos with Creative Commons licensing. This allows a photographer’s work to spread virally, and it provides a giant repository of pictures you can use. As an example, the Ubuntu eyecandy I blogged last week uses an image from Flickr shared with a Creative Commons license.

Sure, I know personal use on my desktop doesn’t require a license (technically), but blogging about it and showing the image does (technically).

I’ve been using Flickr’s Creative Commons pictures for a while because: 1) they’re easy to find, and I understand the terms and 2) there are a lot of really gorgeous photos out there. My slides for OpenWorld feature images from Flickr all used under Creative Commons.

So, what is Creative Commons, and how do I find images?

According to Wikipedia:

Creative Commons (CC) is a non-profit organization devoted to expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share. The organization has released several copyright licenses known as Creative Commons licenses. These licenses allow creators to easily communicate which rights they reserve, and which rights they waive for the benefit of other creators.

By adding Creative Commons licensing to user photos, Flickr opened up thousands of images by thousands of users to share both on and offline. Sweet.

Finding Creative Commons licensed images isn’t too hard. On any photo page, you’ll find the licensing terms in the right-hand column under the tags. You can also constrain any search on Flickr to include only Creative Commons licensed work.

Navigate to the Search page, then choose Advanced Search and down at the bottom of the page, you’ll find the option: “Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content”.

When you find a photo, clicking on the “Some rights reserved link” will show what the content owner has licensed. Here are the terms for “lightning at sunset”. Even if an image does not require it, I always attribute via the alternate text and link to the original so the content owner gets some credit.

So, this is why I love Flickr. I don’t share many of my own photos, and I have many family members or friends who use Flickr. So, its main value to me is as a source of beautiful photographs.

Did I miss something or make a mistake? Was this helpful to you?

Let me know in the comments.




  1. That's news to me. I never realised you could do that – I've previously used http://www.sxc.hu/ for free photos, but now I know you can use Flickr to do the same (with attached conditions), I think I'll try that in future as the photos are much better. And the flickr site is rather very slick indeed.
    Thanks for the tip

  2. I also love the idea of searching photos for images to make my point. I love having visuals but am not always good at thinking of “what” they are. Searching the photo libraries often give me excellent ideas I would never have thought of myself to visually represent my ideas.

  3. Me too, I used to use Google Image Search to find keywords, but that's not as useful as searching Flickr because the images are tagged and described, not just near a keyword on a web page somewhere.

  4. Jake–Nice posts on Flickr…both this one and the newer one. My employer (ahem) doesn't provide a lot of RF stock photos for use in PPTs, etc., so the ability to use CC-licensed images is nice. Thanks for the explanation. One concern: will Yahoo! continue to invest in Flickr given its ongoing issues as a company? That's more a rhetorical question than one specifically for you.

  5. Yahoo has very little cred in 2.0 aside from its acquisitions of Delicious, Upcoming and Flickr. These sites make Y! more attractive to potential buyers, Flickr especially because of its large user base and their rabid support of the site. Remember how they reacted to the MSFT offer? Flickr (and the others) aren't going anywhere.

  6. Yahoo! may have little cred in 2.0 now — but I see this growing over time. Especially if they position their flagship properties to harness the “semantic web.” I hate to drop buzz words like that, but just check out the potential of Ubiquity from Mozilla. I see Ubiquity functionality as an evolution of web 2.0 — web 3.0 if you will. Ref: http://labs.mozilla.com/2008/08/introducing-ubi

    – Multiple APIs & Web Services that connect their properties: http://developer.yahoo.com/
    – Yahoo Social API's (Member of OpenSocial): http://developer.yahoo.com/social/
    – Yahoo OneConnect for iPhone: http://mobile.yahoo.com/oneconnect/iphone
    – Mashups: http://pipes.yahoo.com/pipes/
    – Yahoo User Interface Library tools: http://developer.yahoo.com/yui/

  7. They've definitely made some smart moves lately, especially opening up a lot of data, but let's be honest, acquired properties like Flickr, Delicious and Upcoming gives them way more stroke than all those others combined. Oh and you forgot Fire Eagle, also acquired.

    I'm still waiting for a strategy to emerge.

    I like Ubiquity too (blogged about it when it was released), but it has failed to stick as a must-have for me. Good idea, not compelling enough yet.

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