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August 31, 2006

Flickr added the ability to geotag your photos the other day. Being a big time map geek, I’m all over this one.

Two nights and 900 photos later, all but a few are now mapped. (As with all things Flickr, they made it easy enough to become a compulsion.) I have a few notes and a couple of suggestions.

First off, though this was perhaps an obvious move to many, I’m still thrilled that it’s here. Flickr’s implementation is nice and intuitive, and works mostly the way I’d have hoped. Mapped out photo locations is nice extra bit of metadata that will no doubt change how I view my photo archives.

Integrating Yahoo Maps was an obvious move, given the corporate overlord just happened to have a ready-to-go mapping tool on hand. But less-obviously, it’s a move that will get Flickr’s users more familiar with Yahoo’s map offering, which is a nice win for the company. The problem is, compared to Google Maps, I just don’t feel the love yet. Google is faster and feels more responsive, its keyboard shortcuts work better, and its data feels more complete. The data issue is a relative one, as Yahoo is more broadly comprehensive with at least major highways showing up for most countries, but it falls down on the fine details. (No street maps of London, for heaven’s sake.) Over time this is sure to change, but in stark contrast with Google Maps, Yahoo maps is a tad frustrating. (To be fair, they acknowlege it themselves.)

Then there’s the privacy issue. Sure, before allowing you to geotag your own photos, Flickr gives you a nice little warning that you’re about to do something that could have repercussions. But that only helps you avoid do something silly like give away your street address by posting a cluster of photos from inside your apartment. What about other people using your name as a tag on geotagged photos? There are some huge implications here that are going to make a lot of people uncomfortable. The immediate saving grace is that this is in no way realtime, but we’re bound to see some interesting discussion about this as people catch on.

The only thing that’s really bugging me though, is the way photos have been paged. A widget lives up in the top left corner that allows you to navigate through various “pages” of location-mapped photos. There are a few things going on here that might be a little subtle, and I’m going to make a few assumptions, so bear with me.

Let’s take it for granted that there are simply too many results to show on the map at any given time. This may be more true for some places than others, but in general, with 2+ million geotagged photos so far, we’ll assume it’s an issue. Representing that many photos on a map of the earth just isn’t going to work, you have to break it down into chunks.

Flickr chronological photo stream next to map view

A Flickr photostream runs in reverse chronological order, with newest photos at the top. A Flickr map’s pages work in a similar order, but the experience is not the same.

The solution they’ve hit on is to break down the photos chronologically into separate “pages”, almost exactly the same way your average photostream is broken down. But the disconnect comes with the fact that dots on a map don’t indicate chronology the same way photos in a linear stream do. It took me a lot of second-guessing to figure out quite what was going on here, and even now that I know, I still feel a sense of disorientation when I know there are many more photos in a location than are currently being shown. The load time in between when I click on the pager control and when the map actually updates isn’t helping matters either.

Recognizing the need to break photos down into more digestible chunks, I can see two possible ways of coming at this problem. The first is the way they’ve already done it. The second takes into account other inherent metadata that’s not immediately obvious, the cluster phenomenon. Popular places will contain clusters of photos, whereas more pedestrian places will have only a scattering of individual pictures here and there.

Instead of filtering by time the photos were taken, I suspect a more useful filter would be a popularity threshold where the default behaviour is to only show locations with large amounts of photos (large relative to the total number of photos within that area), but allow the user to manually change that filter. At a glance, I’d be able to tell which spots are hottest, and if I wish I can filter out those and look for the less-travelled paths. And the data that would drive this already exists, given that these number show up on the map as-is, they’re just not the main driving force behind the existing filtration method.

Here’s a pair of sequences, this first one showing a few pages of the chronological breakdown as it exists at the moment.

Map breakdown by chronology

This other one is a mockup for how a cluster breakdown might look. The latter is just my own thinking, but I sure hope to see something similar in the future.

Map breakdown by filtration

August 31, 22h

Amen; I was thinking the same thing in regards to the paged feature, and you solution actually makes a lot of sense to me.

As for the map coverage, Google Maps even has streets (in miniscule detail) for Copenhagen, Yahoo doesn’t :(

PatrickQG says:
August 31, 23h

Even for Vancouver Google has much better detail on the satellite imagery than Yahoo does (or at least this is true when I dragged my images on to the Vancouver map)

August 31, 23h

I’m beginning to love geotagging a little too much. I’ve started geotagging my blog posts :)

Roger says:
September 01, 00h

Does Flickr use a microformat for the geotagging?

trovster says:
September 01, 01h

Roger, yes they do. If you have a gander at the source of a photograph which has been added to the map, you can see class=”geo”.

Kerry says:
September 01, 02h

The mapping for the UK and Ireland is really pants. Not even a little placename let alone being able to identify a road.

So it will have a negative effect on promoting Yahoo Maps to the audience this side of the Atlantic, as Michael’s comment about Copenhagen signifies also.

September 01, 04h

I agree with Kerry. Sadly the poor quality and very limited detail of the Yahoo maps makes the Geotagging almost useless for use here in the UK.

I wanted to geotag some photos that were taken in Wardour Street London (a well known street in a major city) and was amazed that Yahoo maps had no street names at all for London and if I zoomed in to the level I could with Google maps I just got a grey screen.

Yahoo maps suck!

Ben Ward says:
September 01, 06h

Add me to the list of under-whelmed UK users. It’s rendered near-useless by a terrible lack of road detail, even in the cities. What’s more, the quality of aerial photography is so far below that of Google that you can’t identify things by hand; even when searching by postal code, I can’t be sure that the map is focused in the right place. Then to top it off, the drag and and drop performance on my iBook G4 was too painful to consider tagging lots of photos in one sitting.

A Flickr+Google Maps mash-up beckons I think. Maybe the mini-MashCamp at this weekend’s BarCampLondon could yield something, if someone with the skills and inclination is present.

Bill says:
September 01, 07h

oddly enough the town I live in, Huntington WV, has far better support from a satellite perspective on Yahoo Maps that Google (but in general I prefer Google’s Maps).

I really like your idea on the clusters and the filtering. I think that would make a lot more sense.

Maria says:
September 01, 07h

Hmmm… No photos in South America, huh?

trovster says:
September 01, 09h

@ Ben Ward re: A Flickr+Google Maps mash-up beckons I think. -

Dan says:
September 01, 11h uses Google maps to flag places with the option of adding photos.

Hari says:
September 02, 20h

There is no batch edit for locations using lattitude & longitude sets :-( That really is a bummer for someone from India. I travel around a bit with my GPS unit and always store locations where my photos are taken. The cool thing is that individual photos can be added the coordinates and they do pop up in the map automatically (no need to drag photos to the map), but no batch edit.

(I also use Flickr Uploaded. Even if there is an update to that utility with the batch adding of geotagging it will be great)

September 03, 01h

There’s plenty of software that will geotag photos from GPS tracks and store the information into the Exif. You can do this on a PC before up-loading to Flikr. I’ve just learnt how to do this

Of course, this doesn’t deal with photos for which there I have no GPS track.

Hari says:
September 03, 02h

Oops! Spoke too soon. My apologies ;-) All I had to do was to edit 1 photo to include the coordinates and drag the rest of them to the same location point on the map. Worked like charm.

Really should have tried it before posting the comment.

September 03, 14h

Yahoo’s sat photos are a bit on the aged side - my house, which was built 6 years ago, doesn’t even exist on there. The photo was taken at least 7 years ago, probably closer to 10 years ago. Whereas the Google sat photo of my area is about 2 and a half years old.

I’ve been having fun with geotagging my Flickr photos when I get to them. It’s a pretty cool feature.

Elaine says:
September 03, 20h

Like Bill, I find that Yahoo actually has vastly superior satellite photos of my town. (Olympia, WA in this case)

And, OMG so addictive. :)

September 04, 15h

You’re right – the paginating of the photos on the map is very irritating. I think they should display spots for all of one’s photos on one’s own map at the same time. I know they did this to perhaps avoid having to launch all those thumbnail images into the mappage at once, but I think they could avoid that by loading the thumbnails for a particular pinpoint only when one clicks on the pinpoint…

I blogged a bit about this as well, and I also noted that it’s irritating that they hide the long/lat geocodes within the page code (in microformat, as one previously mentioned).

Still, it’s a very, very strong implementation otherwise, and well worth using IMHO.

goodwitch says:
September 05, 18h

I noticed the “taken in Vancouver, BC” on one of your recent flickr photos and quickly found the cool new flickr toy!

Now…all I need is a camera with a gps…so it will auto record where I took the photo. Yes…I know…gps doesn’t work indoors…but hey…it could default to the most recent outdoor coordinate as a backup.

Mmmmmm….the intelligent environment vision…is coming true!

Alistair says:
September 11, 01h

What is most surprising to me is that you:

1) Noted down where you took 900 photos or;
2) You could remember where you took 900 photos

A damn fine effort either way!


jessica says:
September 24, 23h

I am big into maps to I am glad that Flickr keeps adding things to it service I was worried with Yahoo buying them it was going to take away from new stuff coming out, but I still love Google maps and hope to see something similiar for it soon.

Tottigol says:
September 27, 02h

I also prefer google maps. but, is it right that in France also some companies will develop a similar tool? any information about this project? thanks and greetz

October 02, 20h

900 photos! You’re like the guy, only you’re Dave not Matt

Guido says:
October 21, 11h

Yes, a few guys are working on it, but i donĀ“t know when it is published.

Nordic says:
November 05, 09h

You should try Panoramio (, they’re geomapping photos for a year ago, or more. Also using google maps, etc.
Aps, it’s a spanish iniciative.