060830_flickr_map.jpg

An official Flickr geotagging solution: Flickr Map

A built-in official Flickr solution for geotagging has been rumored for a while now. With the launch of Flickr Map two days ago it’s a reality. Simply navigate over to and start surfing.

Geotagging is done through the Organizr, which now has a new tab called “Map”. Pre-existing geotagged images aren’t automatically imported, you have to go into Organizr and request that your images be added. One truly great feature is the addition of a “Map” link on the pages for sets that have geotagged images. See a map of my recent New York photos for an example. This is probably the best way of looking at geotagged images right now, for reasons I’ll explain below.

Having a definitive supported solution should provide a big boost for geotagging, as well as make it a whole lot easier for the non-expert part of the community. But the implementation is still a matter of taste. The Flickr geotagger community is currently figuring out what to think:

Not everybody is happy about the Flickr / Yahoo link. Flickr Map now becomes a potential killer app for Yahoo Maps. Apart from political considerations, Yahoo and Google cover different geographic regions with varying levels of detail, and for some users geotagging using Yahoo Maps is impractical because their country is not covered. This is a well-known issue, and will hopefully be resolved by map services becoming more advanced.

Flickr Map eschews the established practice of geotag triplets (geo:lon, geo:lat, geotagged). Instead it stores the information internally. While this makes for a prettier Flickr interface without unsightly tags, it also makes the data harder to get to. While an expanded Flickr API will provide access to the geotag info, some prefer the old style. See this discussion for pros and cons. Personally I lean towards keeping the tag triplets, perhaps with the option to hide them from view.

Personally, I find the interface a little too clean and unexciting. That might seem like a frivolous comment, but is quite seriously meant. Flickr’s success owes much to it’s “it’s about the pictures” interface. But in Flickr Map they are strangely absent. Instead pink dots indicate locations where pictures can be seen, and clicking on them produces a small pop-up interface with a browseable stream of pictures at that location.

Photos are shown as tiny thumbnails, making them visually unspectacular. Worse, the “next / previous” browsing interface is clumsy and boring to use. It feels like a road-finding exercise when it should have felt like a magical new way to explore pictures. My two cents would be to include images in a more obvious and user-friendly way, for instance through popup thumbnails. Seeing a number on a pink dot on a map tells me that there are pictures there, but the lack of a preview means there is no way of immediately getting an idea of what they look like.

Presumably, the quality of the interface will improve over the next few months. For now, using the “Map” link on photo sets is far superior to aimlessly surfing around the global map. The set maps are already zoomed to the region given by the tags, and so provide a much better experience.

I would also like to recommend trying loc.alize.us as an alternative, it’s a great service which I’ve meaning to blog for a while now.