Ayman may finally be able to go out for sushi, well, as long as he improves the quality of his pictures. The Times reports that Flickr and Getty Images have reached an arrangement where Flickr photographs could be licenecsed via Getty Images. Here is the Flickr blog post and FAQs, and the lively discussion that’s already happening between Flickr and its users on the topic. Some users suggest the Flickr’s Explore feature would be prime target for recruiting from Getty. Explore is the feature that brilliantly uses the wisdom of the crowds (for real!) by exposing photographs that enjoyed significant activity: favorites, comments, views etc. that are merged into the “interestingness” metric. This metric turns out to be a great proxy for quality.
But Naaman’s guess that there’s much more to that relationship than the Explore photographs. Here’s what Getty gets from the Flickr agreement:
- Coverage. Flickr’s sheer size and number of contributers means that it has better coverage in terms of topics, subjects and even locations and events than Getty. Think of the London Bombing – Flickr had more content faster than any other news service. And I bet Flickr has more recent photos from, say, Timbaktu than any other service, private or public.
- Annotation. This is the big fish. I bet Getty spends millions of dollars a year in archival costs, laboriously adding metadata to images they acquire. Here they have an enormous self-annotated set of photographs where people annotate their images, motivated by various reasons (come on, I’m not linking to THAT paper again), but without a cost to any other party. Of course, the coverage mentioned above is only relevant when good annotation is available.
- Curation. Flickr’s “interestingness” measure mentioned above means that there is an easy way to find the highest-quality photos on each topic or location. While both the annotation and interestingness measure might not be perfect, they can quickly point a Getty searcher to some of the best photos in the world on any topic (see Timbuktu link above).
- Authenticity. Getty Images sell images for promotion as well as news organizations. Both have recently become attracted to the proposition of authenticity – either depicting real people “doing their thing” or captured by the “person on the street”. Flickr is certainly a good source for that.
What does Flickr get?
- Money! Money! Money! (part of the commission that Getty Images get for each photo transaction).
- Perhaps more engagement. Photographers might be drawn to Flickr for the prospect of actually making money of their creations.
- Fewer Creative Commons images? (not a good thing) I don’t know what Getty Images would feel about licensing Creative Commons images, who are becoming a significant part of the Flickr culture (most of Naaman’s images are available under a non-commercial CC license). If Getty Images would not like to use those, will users change their behavior, making the photos less available for the general public’s use?
- More Spam? (not a good thing). When monitary benefits are on the line, will users tend to Spam more by using various means to get attention to their images or add irrelevant tags?
Knowing the brillliant folks at Flickr, I am pretty confident that they’ll do it right so that CC and Spam stay where we all want them (up and down, respectively).
Finally, what do the users get?
- Money! Money! Money!
- Protection for their photos, perhaps? This has been a thorny problem for any photographer that publishes work online. I can imaging Getty Images protecting the license of photos they purchased. But maybe there will be a bigger incentive for Flickr/Getty to actually protect the rights of photographers, for any of their photos, all over the web? The technology exists… although it may be hard to apply for physical sales of prints that is done offline.
- Attention and bragging rights – that’s what it’s all about, right?
Most improtantly, what does Naaman get? Pick me, Getty!
* Reminder: the post above does not represent the views of Yahoo! or any Yahoo! employee – not even Ayman’s views.