Showing posts with label flickr. Show all posts
Showing posts with label flickr. Show all posts

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Me v. Ze Frank (not so much…)

Gordon Luk has a really interesting post that I'll use as a launching pad to clarify a point I often make in public lectures... In the interest of saving you a click, see below.
This reminded me of Umair's article "Why Yahoo Didn't Build MySpace..." which basically suggests that the pyramid of participation I reference is a Yahoo "strategy." Nothing could be further from the truth. Destroying that pyramid is our strategy. The pyramid is more of a forensic, backward-looking empirical observation. The very next slide in the deck is also shown below.

Lesson: Of course, I take full responsibility for these misunderstandings. Gordon and Umair are brilliant guys. So as I'm dishing out soundbites, maybe I need to slow down and make sure that I'm clearer...

Gordon says:

Do you ever have posts sitting around in wordpress for months at a time, delayed for one reason or another? This is one of them, and after re-reading it, I think I’ll go ahead and post it, but remember that it’s kind of a warp back in time to October 2006.

Yahoo! Open Hack Day was a massive, massive success, and i’m glad to have been a part of it. Now that i’ve had a few days to rest and reflect upon my experiences, I want to discuss an observation of Bradley Horowitz’s that has stuck in my mind.

Bradley’s one of the foremost advocates for social search development here at Yahoo. He’s one of the brightest minds around, and always makes my head spin a little bit when I talk with him. You can check out his Keynote presentation here (warning, this was 4GB to download!). Around the end of minute five, Bradley says some really interesting stuff. First, he showed the famous grainy video clip of a monkey trained to perform martial arts kicks in the context of what the worst-case scenario behind user-filtered content could produce. Then he went on to show some beautiful photographs from Flickr’s Interestingness, as a way to demonstrate the better side of what can be efficiently extracted from collaborative participation. His point that these photos bubbled to the top because of implicit user activity is key; as he mentions, the aggregate human cost of photo moderation borne by the user community on Flickr dwarfs anything possible by simply paying employees to review and rate them.

Ze Frank, seen in this video speaking at TED, a design conference, seems to also think hard about the new culture of participation on the Internet. Ze often invites his viewership to participate with him on various flights of fancy, including making silly faces, creating short video clips, playing with flash toys and drawing tools, etc. During his TED presentation, and also at various times on The Show, Ze talked about the hold that various groups have on the perception of art, and how many people are able to participate and create in a new culture without being ostracized by an established hierarchy. He seems to hold that the “ugliness” which seems to permeate MySpace is, in fact, a manifestation of participation outside of the boundaries of hierarchical editorial control. Thus, his position seems to be that the silliness and ugliness of the huge amount of web “design” on myspace depends heavily on perspective. At the minimum, he seemed to believe that participation culture removes barriers to experimentation that could lead to an overthrow of traditional design aesthetics.

These perspectives seem to be at odds. On one side, Bradley appears to be advocating the harvesting of social participation to come to results that select traditionally valuable content. In other words, using New Media platforms to efficiently perform the job of the Old Media publishing empires (Kung Fu Monkeys should be buried!). On the other side is Ze, who seems to be advocating not only a disruption of Old Media distribution through mass publication, but also seems to be leading a charge to disrupt traditional aesthetic values (Kung Fu Monkeys are beautiful, and should be encouraged!).

I think it’s an interesting contrast, and I worry that i’m mischaracterizing the arguments of each.

My personal viewpoint is a bit more nuanced. I believe that one day, web platforms will also be able to efficiently cluster their users based upon interests or tastes, similar to how Flickr can cluster tags to disambiguate meaning. These clusters will probably be designed not around user surveys or self-reported demographics, but instead will most likely be extracted through efficient methods of recording implicit participation information over the long term. There may well be a cluster (which I would belong to!) of folks that do enjoy Kung Fu monkeys, and there is almost definitely a cluster that find it degrading and offensive. The difference here between traditional preference filtering and clustered audiences is similar - one requires a great deal of potentially inaccurate user feedback about their preferences, whereas the latter acts more on implicit activity, and is thus more likely to produce the desired effects.

Not only would such a model be able to try and target clusters of preferences among users, but it would also allow for users to participate in cultures in which they feel welcome from the beginning.

I responded:

My argument is not so much that Kung Fu monkeys = bad, or that they should be “buried.” But in a world where “anyone can say anything to everyone at once”, our most precious commodity becomes attention. I remember sitting at the Harvard Cyberposium Conference a few years ago when someone said… “It’s getting to the point where every moment of our life can now be digital recorded and preserved for posterity…. [pregnant pause…] Unfortunately, one doesn’t get a second life with which to review the first one.”

Coming up with the right tools to help me get to what matters to me becomes essential. But I don’t want to get prescriptive - what matters to the fans of Kung Fu monkeys is… Kung Fu monkeys! And we should be providing tools that help that community as much as any other…

Another way of putting it… I’m disinclined to subscribe the a Flickr feed for the tag “baby”. Just not interested in seeing random babies, thank you very much. But my brother’s baby? My neice? Cutest baby ever! I want to see every picture of her that exists!

Death to the monoculture and long live the long tail! Long live low-brow humor, stupid pet tricks and mentos and diet coke! And Ze Frank…

My point is that tools like Flickr interestingness allow us to leverage aggregate attention for the benefit of each user. I love interestingness, and use it as a sort criterion for just about every search I do on Flickr… But Flickr also uses a social graph with varying coefficients (me, family, friends, contacts, public) to provide another dimension that helps direct my attention to the right babies. ;-)

I think my thesis is simply that in democratizing the creation of content, we’ve created a high-class problem… There’s too much “on”… 500 channels, maybe. 500M channels? Never. The flip side of this wonderful revolution in publishing, destroying the hierarchical pyramid of participation, is that we (our industry) have a burden to provide people the means of actually getting to the content they want to see… (Perhaps sometimes, even before they know they want to see it.) This ought to keep us busy for a lifetime or so…

I think you captured my view pretty much in your closing paragraph. I’d guess Ze Frank agrees with us mostly too.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Breaking: Stewart playing with Sonnet, taking fewer meetings

Stewart responds to the Valleywag post:
Aaaaaaaactually, I'm going on paternity leave, not leaving Yahoo! (I took some of my leave in July and found that I rushed back a little early.) I am actually going to be changing more diapers and coaxing more burps for a while (thanks for getting that right - I do love her!) but have no plans to give up the paycheck just yet -- and I even have an uncomfortable number of meetings planned for when I'm supposed to be out on leave :)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Flickr is stupid, and late… but redeems itself.

I love Stewart Butterfield.

This is why I am in Berlin right now btw...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Why the famous get famouser…

Kottke points to a great article by Columbia's Duncan Watts...

The social context of content has everything to do with it's meaning. It's one of the reasons that I think that a purely pixel-based algorithmic approach to, say, image recognition is doomed. In optimistic moments, I've said that the computer vision community may produce a 98% reliable dog detector... But what we really want is a "funny" detector... or "cool" detector... that's gonna be a long-time coming... or maybe it's already here but involves analyzing people's actions around the pixels v. just the pixels in isolation.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Cool Flickr Geotagging Examples

Stewart recently showed me some very cool (and in some cases surprising) Flickr geotagging examples. Here's a few I loved.

Where is the neighborhood in Manhattan known as Tribeca?

Get your kicks, on Route 66

Food tour of Asia

What I love about the "tribeca" and "route 66" examples is that they show emergent knowledge in the system. Collectively, the efforts of many photographers map out a geographic element... Neat.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Interesting(ness) post from O’Reilly

Chad told me that Tim O'Reilly posted about interestingness today. I've been contemplating another post about interestingness for a while, and I was glad Tim beat me to the punch! Some of this I hope to discuss at the Adaptive Path UX conference Wednesday too.

I've been starting out most talks that I've given lately by showing two examples of "user-generated content" back-to-back. First I show the numa-numa kid:

Then I say something like, "As amusing as this is... does anyone else find this kinda depressing? If stupid human tricks, pratfalls, fratboy pranks and skateboarding dogs are the future of media... let me off the bus!"

Then I say, "But fear not. This is also 'user-generated content'":

Originally uploaded by Sevenof9FL

Originally uploaded by Caleroalvero

Originally uploaded by anetbat

And I fire up a slideshow of the 100 most interesting photos on Flickr. It's hard to describe the unfailing impact that these photos have... they are alternately moving, funny, disturbing, provocative... I go on, "What's cool about these is that they are not only user-generated... They are also implicitly 'user-discovered'... It's not as if I spent a couple hours finding the 'good stuff' myself. The Flickr interestingness metric percolated the 'cream' to the top of the pile. By 'implicitly' I mean that there's no explicit 'rating system'. [I talk more about the value of implicit v. explicit means of deriving value here...] To be clear, Flickr is filled with plenty of junk. In fact, we like it that way. There's not just a low barrier to entry, there's virtually no barrier to entry. Got a camera? Bam! You're a 'photographer!'"

"So Flickr is a system that accommodates taking a 'worthless' picture of a hangnail, or a breathtaking Ansel Adams-like landscape. The cool thing is that while creating a frictionless environment that serves both scenarios, we can also determine which of the two is likely more 'interesting' to the community at large."

The ability to seperate wheat from chaff, or more accurately personally interesting from collectively interesting, is subtle but huge. And it does so without the use of link flux (i.e. PageRank) but rather uses 'in system' heuristics.

Usually after invoking the Flickr example, I transition to Y! Answers. If there's a complaint I hear about Y! Answers is that there's a lot of noise in the system. Admittedly, "Umm.. my boyfriend caught me sleeping with one of his best friends?", or "Why is the sky blue?", or "What's up?" do not necessarily resonate with the "expand all human knowledge" meme. But what's cool is that we can create a system that accommodates everything from the ridiculous to the sublime... but knows the difference between the two! (Or perhaps more accurately is taught the difference by millions of users.) This is the power of interestingness!

At this point I usually drop in a dry remark, "At Yahoo we have spent a fair amount of time and energy focusing on systems that are noisy, where anyone can say anything at anytime, etc. One of the most popular datasets and testbeds for these kinds of conditions is popularly known as... [prepare for punchline] the web... and we've been working on it for about a decade..." ;-)

I'm not sure why this post took on the flavor of a running commentary on my own talk, but that's how it came out!

I want to also remind folks that my relationship to the products I often invoke in this blog is best characterized as awed bystander. All hail Serguei, Yumio, Stewart, Tomi, etc!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Bug (and other) identification services

"Better Search through People" applied to image search? Or Yahoo! Visual Answers?

BoingBoing references a "bug identification service" called "What's that bug?" that allows folks to send in photos of bugs for identification. (Looks like Yahoo featured this three years ago too...

Based on a cursory glance at the site, this isn't exactly what I'd imagined. Folks don't actually upload photos directly but rather email them to the curators who do the identification. I was envisioning a site where folks actually upload content directly, and the community (presumably of entomologists) identify the critters.

There's a group on Flickr called "Guess what this is!". This is more of a guessing game. Then there's "What flower is this?" I've also seen geographic scavenger hunts on Flickr, i.e. the "Guess where ______" meme... There's also "Name that _____", featuring "Name that music video" and "Name that movie".

This theme, i.e. getting folks to help me name that plant | part | flower | etc. definitely scratches an itch. This is all coolness!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Flickr as “Eyes of the World”

The Elephant's guides
Originally uploaded by Phil Gyford.

Stewart has referred to Flickr as the "Eyes of the World"... This is a totally apropos vision, but also a not so veiled reference to Stewart's hippie roots.

While I was a grad student, colleagues Ted Adelson and John Wang created something they called a plenoptic camera. The basic insight was to use a lens array, a flexibile piece of plastic that had dozens of micro-lenses etched into it, yielding an effect much like an insect's compound eye. Each lens imaged the scence from a slightly different point of view. This camera was able to derive shape, i.e. depth, from analyzing the resultant image. Think stereo parallax but in 2 dimensions and with many more samples. Also, since the "baseline" of nearby lenses was so short there was no course "feature matching" needed.

That's the insight as I recall it, and hopefully someone closer to the research can correct any errors I've made. I see that folks at Stanford have continued and extended the research.

In addition to the practical applications of this work (as demonstrated by the Stanford team the ability to change depth of field effects in a photograph after the fact), I remember hearing Ted Adelson talk about how they came up with the name "plenoptic" for the research. Plen from the latin plenus meaning "full", and optic from the Greek optikos relating to vision or "eye". The idea was that while a normal camera captured the scene only as rendered at one point in space-time, the plenoptic camera captured a "fuller" representation. (Actually if you think about it, space-time is completely packed with potential vantage points. While fuller than a normal camera, the "plenoptic camera" is still just imaging a few dozen points out of the innumerable possible ones!)

So what does this have to do with Flickr?

When I was visiting London recently, a colleague there told me a neat story. The "Sultan's Elephant" visited the streets of downtown London and shut down traffic for days. A Yahoo took his kids to see it, and he tried in vain to get a picture of the kids in front of the elephant. Unfortunately,because of the crowds, he couldn't get back far enough to get a decent perspective. From 10 feet away, it didn't look like "The kids in front of the Sultan's Elephant" but rather "The kids in front of some brown plywood."

Bummed, he went to Flickr to upload and tag the photos. While doing so, he discovered that by happenstance another Flickr user had taken the perfect shot of his kids and the elephant. This person must have been another 20 feet back in the crowd. How cool is that?! I thought this was a nice "eyes of the world" (and plenoptic camera) story.

(I will try to contact the parties involved and link to the actual photos in question.)

Relating back to the previous post, I recall soon after Flickr joined Yahoo asking Heather if there was a way I could solicit more photos of Westbeth. (A building in NYC I'm fond of...) She said, "Sure! I can make that happen for you!" But Heather, being the community manager of Flickr, had the means to rally the troops toward any cause... But I said, "No. I'm not interested in how you would do it... I'm interested in how one would do it..." And she suggested finding a relevant group (in this case maybe this one) and just sending up a "Would someone go take a picture of Westbeth for me?" flare.

(By the way, I never did this. 15 months ago, there was a single photo of Westbeth. You can see I lamely called to the photographer herself "More pictures of Westbeth please!" Now, there are dozens of photos... including exactly the shots of the courtyard I wanted like this one and this one. I did my part and contributed a few...

Heather's suggestion, leveraging the community to help "invoke" pictures is quite effective within Flickr. In fact, many of the group photo pools are calls to action to create "knowledge" on demand. In this respect, it's a lot like Yahoo! Answers... but instead of "knowledge" being a textual response to an explicit query, "knowledge" now becomes pixels...

By the way, if anyone has a line on how to get a flexible lens array like the one referenced above, please let me know! Turns out these are hard to come by, unless I want to have them manufactured by the gross.