Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Apr 12 2008

The Great Flickr Video Debate

Flickr has either generously introduced a wonderful new useful feature or shoved an unwelcome, distracting irritant down the throats of its paying users, depending on your point of view. Like it or not, however, videos are slowly making their way into the photo-sharing site so beloved by a huge number of people.

My first reaction to this development was one of dismay. I knew that Yahoo! was out to compete with Google’s Youtube by introducing the videos into the photo community that it bought a while back, and it didn’t seem like a good idea to throw another medium into the mix. And the whole “long photo” thing is just inane. I considered immediately deleting any contacts who put video into their streams, but then I wondered if I was overreacting. I am a filmmaker as well as a photographer, after all. Is video such a bad thing to include into the flickr experience?

I think it could be, but for reasons that are difficult to explain. Most of the negative reactions on flickr itself have been basic, simple and repetitive entreaties against the move, without much explanation involved. What really surprised me was the vitriol, ridicule and animosity with which these objections were met. “Quit yer whining,” “Just deal with it,” “snobs!” “crybabies,” “Knee-jerk reactionaries,” etc. Flickr staff were, of course, siding with the pro-video groups and removed and remonstrated the more radical anti-video elements, while allowing the pro-video insults and YouTube-level confrontations to continue for the most part. It was a far cry from the civilized, friendly debate that used to characterize flickr’s forums, as if the entire site had gone into “DeleteMe Group” mode.

No yo videos on FlickrAnother thing that bothers me is how Flickr has implemented video, simply dumping it in among the pictures. It’s like a library had DVDs interspersed randomly among the books on the shelves. The videos are represented by small squares the same size as the photo icons, but with a tiny “play” triangle” in the bottom corner. They show up in Contacts’ Photos, Explore and Searches. Only by going into the settings can you make it so that they don’t all play automatically when you go to the page. Instead of photos, we now all have “content,” “things” and “items,” and the top of my page reads “Photos & video from Poagao” despite the absence of video. Also, the videos all have sound, which changes the Flickr experience quite a bit by itself. Long pictures with sound, perhaps the blurb on the intro page should read.

“Stop whining; All you have to do is not play the videos,” is a comment repeated often in the related threads. I suppose it may still be possible to maintain a semblance of the original flickr experience if you weed out all of your contacts who have video, but they’ll still pop up elsewhere. But what’s the real difference? Ah, this is where it becomes very difficult to put into words. When I browse a page of photos, I am in a certain mindset. My eyes see the small photo and instantly take it in, and I know immediately whether I want to click on the larger version. It’s a frame of mind that allows me to instantly process what I’m seeing and lets me browse through many photographs to find that one that gives me shivers down my spine, that emotional “oomph” that some photos kick you with you first lay eyes on them.

If video clips are interspersed throughout the page, however, I have to work harder just to differentiate and weed out the videos. Why? It’s not that I don’t want to watch the videos. They may be very good. But the little thumbnail simply can’t represent it; I have no idea what they are. It’s just one small frame, and I will have to click on it, wait for it to load, and watch it most of the way through before I even know what it is. It’s a whole different media and requires a different frame of mind. An equivalent would be mixing up Chinese and English words. I know both languages, but going back and forth from one to another all the time is difficult for me because I tend to have a Chinese-language mindset and an English-language mindset. Video pulls me out of my photography mindset.

This mindset is important to me; it’s the mode I use when I’m out taking pictures, seeing pictures and potential shots out in the ordinary world. It’s different from my film mindset, which I use when I’m directing a movie. In directing mode, I see motions, changes, progressive angles and many other things that are different from my photography mindset, which just sees composition and lighting, shadow and space. Before, Flickr was a place where I could envelope myself in this world, where I could safely stay in this mindset and appreciate the little surprises I came across within it. All of those wonderful photographs are still there, of course. I just can’t appreciate them from the point of view that I could before.

Now, to the vast majority of flickr users, the above is simply absurd, unintelligible at best and likely offensive to many, in that they feel that some lofty “mindspace” of mine shouldn’t get in between them and their ability to have videos of their children playing soccer next to their photos of their children playing soccer. This is probably the reason for the strange nature of the ongoing debate. Those of us who feel videos are taking something away are not only unable to express what it is we’re losing, even if we could, it’s an utterly alien concept to most of the people who use the site, one they’re not in the least interested in preserving, as they weren’t even aware of its existence in the first place.

As an experiment, I went to the streams of those who were pro-video and those who were anti-video, and while there were varying degrees of quality on both sides, it seemed that those most interested in video took pictures that could have been video stills, while the anti-video crowd seemed to take more all-encompassing works, photos that seemed better able to tell a story on their own.

When you come down to it, video is here to stay; Flickr is aiming to please most of its customers by adding it. For Yahoo! it’s actually a mildly encouraging sign after they raped and left for dead promising sites like Geocities and eGroups. What people say they want and what they really want, however, are often two different things. I wonder if anyone who clamored for video capabilities on Flickr will pause one day and think to themselves that, somehow, there’s something missing, something they just can’t put their finger on. Then again, probably not. It’s here to stay, and we might as well see what we can do with it.

posted by Poagao at 9:35 am  


  1. I’m in the “What’s the big deal” camp, but I can see your point about how it would alter the experience for some users. Perhaps Flickr will add an opt-out feature for pro-users so they can ignore videos if they want to. Quite possibly smoeone is working on a greasemonkey script right now which would do just that.

    I’m actually happy that Flickr now lets users upload video clips. I’m getting around to buying a new camera and short videos will complement photo sets quite nicely. Definitely worth upgrading to a Pro account.

    I also believe that some DSLR users will embrace the feature to introduce their photos. Give it time. It’s a new feature afterall. I just hope they don’t extend the 90 second limit. I’d be ok with 2 minutes but beyond that people may as well be using full-on video sites like YouTube.

    Comment by naruwan — April 13, 2008 @ 9:01 am

  2. I guess we’ll see. I don’t see myself “introducing” my pictures, though. Hopefully they can stand on their own. I’m also not sure how they could complement photo sets. The only thing I can think of for it is for all the little clips that I couldn’t fit into my larger video projects, but it would feel strange and somehow inappropriate to put those up there.

    Comment by Poagao — April 13, 2008 @ 11:24 am

  3. I think flickr’s attitude to the whole thing is summed up in the language they are now using on the site. It is now “bits” and “things” instead of photos.

    I think a lot of problems could have been avoided just by separating photo and video content into separate streams to allow users to choose what they want to see. The two forms of media don’t necessarily fit well side by side like you said.

    Comment by David on Formosa — April 13, 2008 @ 7:29 pm

  4. I’m just wondering what anyone can possibly accomplish with a 90-second video. I’d hate to see the service get clogged up with people putting up vids of their goofy looking kids blowing out birthday candles.

    Comment by Prince Roy — April 14, 2008 @ 9:48 am

  5. It sure would be ironic if Yahoo! started losing Flickr users to Google’s Picasa due to their grab at Google’s video users.

    PR said:

    I’m just wondering what anyone can possibly accomplish with a 90-second video.

    Ask and the internet will provide. You could teach people about binary numbers or how to go back and forth from Celsius to Fahrenheit. You could even do a rambling book review! I’m impatiently waiting for Zooomr to implement this crucial feature.

    Comment by Mark — April 20, 2008 @ 4:32 pm

  6. I’ve always found that there is a big difference between pictorial narratives and videography. I say if you are a purist then just upload photos on your flickr account and leave the videos for youtube. It is about choices.

    Great Photos speaks for itself!

    Comment by Hadi — April 21, 2008 @ 11:56 pm

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