Photography is becoming an ever increasing social event with the onset of digital cameras, widespread Internet access, and great new websites springing up every time you turn around. Flickr has been a pillar community for photographers across the globe, and it’s an amazing place to share your work, view the work of others, and communicate with other photographers. But social media and other social websites have given us a taste of what it really means to connect with people who share common interests, and Flickr just isn’t cutting it (socially) for some of us.
This is where photophlow comes in to play — adding a whole new level of social interaction to Flickr. Developers and visionaries Neil Berkman (founder of Oortle, the company behind photophlow) and Bryan “striatic” Partington (photophlow interface designer) have been working around the clock during the beta launch of this new social experience. These guys are real down-to-Earth, they interact with the site users, they listen to those with feedback, and they actually use that feedback to improve the site.
What IS photophlow?
photophlow is a mixture of several concepts and existing services (a mashup of sorts). The basis of photophlow is Flickr: the photo-sharing website that is popular amongst many online photographers. photophlow uses the Flickr API to interface with Flickr users and photos. The interface is somewhat of a skin that allows for added functionality and new features. The main feature photophlow adds to the Flickr experience is the use of chat rooms and real-time interaction with the other photographers.
These chat rooms give users the ability to “speak” with their friends, contacts, and new acquaintances. But the rooms offer something beyond chatting and messaging — photos, of course. Users can browse through and search for Flickr photos, display them to the group, chat about them, and even leave a Flickr comment on the photo right from the photophlow room. It’s an interactive social experience hinged around photography.
In addition to the chat and photo features, there’s also some basic Twitter and Tumblr functionality for those who use the services. With all of these pieces coming together in one clean interface, it makes for a very high-paced and addicting experience. But because of the nature of this website, it takes some getting used to and there’s a bit of a learning curve with the interface and user controls.
Also be sure to visit the photophlow home page to see a quick video overview of the site functionality and features.
A Guide to the photophlow Interface
Once inside of a photophlow room, there are a number of options and commands available to the users. Here’s a basic overview of each section in a photophlow room:
- Options and Settings
These links and buttons allow you to customize your privacy settings, notification settings, site navigation, and browsing preferences. You can choose from different methods of browsing photos (manual and/or private), and you can even step away for a bit and let others know that you’re out for the moment.
- Browse/Search for Photos
A drop down list gives you access to several avenues of photo browsing and searching. You can go through all Flickr photos, Explore photos, group photos, your contact photos, and even your own photos.
- Photo Results
After selecting a set of images to browse or search, your results are displayed in the left sidebar. You can scroll through the results, sort by most relevant/interesting/recent, hover over thumbnails to get a preview, and select an image to be displayed in the main photo viewing area.
- User List
This is a list of all photophlow users currently in the room with you. Hover over their icon and you’re given options to view their photos, their favorites, see their Flickr profile, add them as a contact, or send them a private chat message.
- Chat Area
This is usually the busy part of the room. Basically anything that happens is posted in the chat area — people chatting (obviously), image searches, image posts, who’s coming and going, and photo-emotes. Also worth noting is the fact that relevant keywords and phrases are automatically turned into links that activate a search in the photo results. So if you type “I like puppies”, the word “puppies” becomes a searchable link — click on it and you’ll see results for “puppies”.
- Photo Viewing Area
Similar to what Flickr displays, the image of choice is shown large enough for a quick view along with some of the extra photo information. In addition to the photo title, description, and tags, you also have the option of adding a fave, commenting, viewing it on Flickr, and magnifying it within the photophlow interface.
- Site Links
Overall, the design is both elegant and functional. Every feature, button, link, and image has a purpose and using these things comes quite naturally after just a few short sessions. The photophlow help page is also packed with loads of information regarding the site functions and the interface.
Creative Uses of photophlow
As an extension of my weekly PhotoDump blog posts, I’ve been experimenting with photophlow as a means to get people involved with the photo selection process. Prior to photophlow, I had been personally selecting photos from our Flickr pool to display on the blog each week. With photophlow, I invited the people submitting photos to the pool to also select the photos that would be displayed on the blog post.
This interactive setting allowed my readers to connect with each other beyond the bounds of the blog or Flickr comments. Many of the people involved are very photo-savvy, and several great discussions came about. It also put the burden of selecting the “best” photos for the blog feature (I say “burden” because it’s a very tough thing to choose and reject photos from loyal readers and online acquaintances). What I found was that, as a group, my readers are more critical of their own photos than I am!
To select the photos, we use photophlow’s new “Leader Mode” function to keep the group on track with the photos in the pool. I post a photo, people discuss for a little while, then the voting begins. At this point, we’re using an informal voting system whereby I “ponder” a photo and everybody else casts their votes with an “approve” (as shown in the screen shot above). This has been working out well for us, and anything that gets over 50% of the votes I’ll add to my favorites so I can come back to it later.
Here are some other creative uses of the photophlow environment:
- Live Critique: The photophlow interface is perfect for real-time critiques, as a group or with an expert running the show.
- Presentations: Utilizing the “leader mode” allows people to show images as a presentation to those in the room.
- Games: There are all sorts of games you could play with search results, search links, topics, themes, you name it.
Neil Berkman has set up a Flickr discussion thread that shows some examples of these interesting uses of photophlow.
Coming Soon: New photophlow features
Aside from working on any bugs and basic functionality improvements, the guys at photophlow are working on a bunch of new features at the request of the site’s users. As I mentioned above, the “leader mode” was something that came about because of user feedback. This was something that our group was in need of, but other people had also requested this feature.
One other thing I know they’re working on is a voting system of some sort. It’s something that we requested a short while ago, and Neil has indicated that they’re looking into it. This feature could be hugely beneficial to my own Flickr group, but I could see many groups and users utilizing this feature for their own purposes.
There’s also a Flickr group discussion around suggested features, and it’s clear that many of the photophlow users are thinking up great ways to use the site. I’ve seen things ranging from basic functionality and usability improvements, out to larger features such as “invite only” event capabilities.
Ultimately, it’s up to the guys at photophlow to decide what to work on next, but they are definitely influenced by user feedback.
So if you think photophlow looks like an interesting place, try to get yourself a beta invite through their main website or through one of your Flickr contacts who’s already in. It’s quite an interesting environment and it really brings a new meaning to “Social Networking”.
And for those already involved with photophlow, what’s your experience been so far? What works and what doesn’t? What would you like to see added or fixed?