Flickr takes next step in its year-long overhaul

Uploading photos to the internet is about the least exciting part of photo sharing that you could imagine, but Flickr believes that a new tool for the task will improve the site dramatically.

Flickr's new upload site is a much more advanced and versatile tool than its basic predecessor, letting people tag, title, caption and sort photos before they're actually published.
(Credit: Yahoo)

The new upload tool replaces an interface that's remained largely unchanged for years: select multiple photos, watch transfer progress bars crawl across the screen, then add titles, tags and captions.

The new tool, which runs in Chrome, Firefox and Safari for now, and will support Internet Explorer later, uses new standards such as HTML5's drag-and-drop, so that you can copy image files or a folder to the web page. The upload starts immediately, and is 20 per cent to 30 per cent faster in the United States, and a notch faster than that elsewhere, said Denise Leung, senior product manager for Flickr.

Meanwhile, you can add text such as titles, tag people in the photos, set privacy, add to sets and reorder photos so they appear in the order you want in the photo stream. That includes the ability to select multiple photos to apply the same caption, titles and tags. The ability to add photos to particular groups will come in the next few weeks.

Only when you're done handling your photos do you click publish, at which point the photos become public.

Flickr's justified view shows off photos much better than its historic grid of thumbnails, but so far it's only on the periphery of the site. Flickr is spreading it to new area, though, and will bring it to members' own photo pages in 2012.
(Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET)

An upload tool is kind of ho-hum, but Flickr has a point that making it better will make people more likely to use the site. It still has work to do in shedding its reputation among some photo enthusiasts as a slow-moving site, but this improvement is smart.

Flickr, faced with competition from Facebook, the Google+-infused Picasa and upstarts such as 500px, has figured out that it can't be complacent if it wants to preserve its pioneering place in the photo-sharing world.

"2012 is the year when we're going to quite fundamentally enhance the product," said Flickr director Markus Spiering.

It turned new Pro-level account holders into subscribers last January, a business move that could help cut down on churn. And, for the users, it debuted what it calls the "justified view", which for some parts of Flickr fills the browser window with larger photos, rather than showing just a grid of thumbnails.

Justified view is a huge improvement visually, but it's not front-and-centre yet. You can see it if you visit your favourites or contacts pages. Spiering promises that it'll come to main photo pages by the end of the year.

It's not trivial, given that Yahoo must process the photos as they're viewed to make the new view work, he said.

"It's going to be a phased roll-out. Dealing with billions of photos and generating different photos on the fly is a big challenge," Spiering said.

But it's worth it.

"People consume four to five times more photos" with the new layout, he said. And he said that there are double-digit percentage increases to activities, such as marking a photo as a favourite, commenting or looking at a large size.

One more new feature is also arriving: support for larger file sizes. For users of Flickr's free service, the top image size rises from 15MB to 30MB, and, for Flickr Pro accounts, it rises from 20MB to 50MB.


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