Who on Earth uses Flickr?
August 12th, 2010 by David Bradley >> 3 Comments
Flickr.com, in case you didn’t know, is an online photo repository, it’s now part of Yahoo, but nevertheless remains an incredibly popular site for sharing photos and creating galleries. It also acts as a neat resource for finding Creative Commons images for use on blogs and other sites.
Flickr describes itself thus:
You take photos. Flickr is the perfect way to share them.
The Wikipedia entry thus:
Flickr is an image hosting and video hosting website, web services suite, and online community created by Ludicorp and later acquired by Yahoo!. In addition to being a popular website for users to share and embed personal photographs, the service is widely used by bloggers to host images that they embed in blogs and social media…it claims to host more than 4 billion images.
But, given the advent of Facebook and other social media sites that also allow image sharing, one has to wonder who is using Flickr?
In a scientific research paper entitled: “A cross-cultural analysis of Flickr users from Peru, Israel, Iran, Taiwan and the UK”, Amir Dotan and Panayiotis Zaphiris of the Centre for HCI Design, at City University London, UK, have taken a whirlwind world tour to try and discover what kinds of people use Flickr and how. Whether or not their analysis applies to equivalent sites such as Google’s Picasa Web Albums or Microsoft’s Windows Live Photo Gallery is a different matter.
The aim of the research was to investigate how the design of increasing popular socially driven websites, like Flickr, addresses new challenges with regard to cross-cultural differences and localisation. The team also hoped to bring cross-cultural usability studies up-to-date with the latest trends on the internet. People say that they use Flickr for a variety of reasons among them: simply storing content online, receiving feedback and photography related advice, keeping in touch with friends and family and for general social interaction.
As popular sites like Flickr, YouTube, and Facebook attract hundreds of millions of people from all over the world, it becomes ever more important to explore how culture impacts tagging, public and private content sharing, motivation, social interactions, participation, interface customisation and other emerging human-computer interaction topics.
The team studied 10,000 photos uploaded by 250 Flickr users from five distinct cultures. They analyzed the metadata (tags and descriptions etc) created by the users to describe their photos quantitatively (average number of photos per user in each culture) and qualitatively (frequency of certain types of content). The results reveal some fascinating differences and some equally fascinating similarities between the way people from different cultures across the globe use Flickr.
The account type analysis revealed that among the five cultures, the UK had the highest number of users with a Pro (unlimited) account (84%), followed by Taiwan (76%). There were fewest Pro users in Iran, not surprisingly, given that there is a state-sanctioned ban on Flickr!
The public photos analysis showed users in Taiwan to be the biggest sharers with an average of 961, Peru averaged 513, Israel 485, and the UK 198. The latter number is surprisingly low given the high number of Brits with a Pro account and coincides with Iranian users who also average 198 photos (just below the free/pro threshold of 200).
When asked about the main reason for using Flickr people in the UK typically report that they want to display their photos, connect with other photographers and to learn how to be a better photographer. Users in Israel refer more commonly to the social aspects and highlight sharing content with friends as well as strangers. The quantitative and qualitative data from the study suggests that users from the UK, Iran and Israel are more selective and place emphasis on quality and meaning rather than simply uploading photos in bulk.
Interestingly, users from the UK and Iran also have the highest number of tags in common, while users from Peru, Taiwan and Israel share very few tags. But, this also seems to reflect a cultural difference in what tags to use. People in Peru tag their photos with “Peru” and “Lima” at least 50% of the time, and people in Taiwan use “Taiwan”, “Taipei”, and “flower” most commonly. Brits in contrast rarely tag with UK, national names, or cities preferring a range of descriptive tags instead, including tree, sunset, church, water, flowers, beach, and bridge, flower, as do Iranian users (nature, blue, sunset, but some Tehran, Iran, and Persia too).
When examining the common tags across the five cultures it is interesting to note that all tags except four are written in English. Only users from Peru use tags in Spanish, the researchers point out. “When annotating photos, users consider their global contacts and the wider Flickr community, and opt to use English, which is less likely to exclude people,” they explain. They add that, “Users from Peru and Taiwan had few tags in common, which could suggest that they are less interested in sharing the content they upload with a global, perhaps unfamiliar audience.”
The team concludes that, “Flickr users are unique individuals that are affected by the culture they were born into and all are also affected by a greater and ‘Flickr culture’ that every user, to a certain extent could be seen to be a member of. The study showed that there are clear user preferences regarding annotation patterns and choice of language.”
Websites such as Flickr are not just for their users, it seems, they offer researchers interested in social and cultural aspects of human behaviour an incredibly rich environment with a multitude of data to explore to reveal the many fascinating facets of content diversity on the web, privacy attitudes, and the usability of web 2.0 sites across cultures.
Amir Dotan, & Panayiotis Zaphiris (2010). A cross-cultural analysis of Flickr users from Peru, Israel, Iran, Taiwan and the UK Int. J. Web Based Communities, 6 (3), 284-302
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