Last week, photo-sharing website Flickr announced new features that let people easily assign a location to a photo and search for pictures on a map, an activity called “geotagging.” Its latest offering is enhanced by advanced search technology that Flickr leverages from Yahoo–its parent company–which allows newly geotagged photos to be searchable within a minute.
Adding location information to pictures has broad social implications, says Stewart Butterfield, founder and chief executive officer of Flickr. As more people geotag photos and more Flickr applications are built to take advantage of geotagging, he says, people will use the service in novel ways. For instance, geotagged pictures could complement traditional Web searching: a search for designer jeans might include the picture of a local boutique with a sale that day. For travel, he says, geotagged photos could let a person check on a destination before a flight is booked. And location-based search could redefine local news to include, say, an active construction project in a neighborhood.
A number of websites already allow users to add location information to their pictures and to search geographically, including Zooomr, a photo-sharing site; Mappr, which maps Flickr photos; and Platial, an online atlas built with user-generated pictures, video, and comments.
Flickr’s geotagging feature may distinguish itself, however, in its ease of use and efficiency. To tag a picture with a location, a user simply drags the image from a panel to a location the Yahoo map. Within about a minute, internal search-engine technology at Yahoo updates the photo and tag database, allowing the picture to be searched.
Because it’s so easy, says Jason Wilson, co-creator of Platial, “I think a lot of people will start using it to geotag their pictures.” Already, Flickr stores roughly a quarter of a billion photos, and around one million are uploaded to its servers on a busy day. Two days after its geotagging tool was released, more than two million photos location tags were added. As the number of geotagged photos increases, more applications will emerge, Wilson says. To stimulate this development, Flickr has released a kit that allows software engineers to build their own applications that include Flickr’s geotagging tools.