Lane and Nadav have been posting thoughts about Flickr, and I couldn’t help but throw my voice into that echo chamber.
Lane is right when he says it’s about the pictures. He’s wrong that the network is simply the plumbing. That is, depending on his meaning of “network.” Those sites that truly succeed on the web do so because of a fundamental appreciation of what “the network” brings. Amazon, eBay, and Google being the biggest, shiniest examples. They get that the network, with its constituent elements of people doing things, and through those activities, somehow connecting to each other (whether it’s direct, as in items on eBay, or indirect, as in different people buying the same product on Amazon, linking to the same page in Google), they get that that connection is meaningful, exceedingly meaningful, and if you can leverage that behavior, you can provide an experience orders of magnitude more interesting than when you ignore that connectedness.
Nadav is onto something when he compares Flickr to a massively-multiplayer online role-playing game. And for identifying the importance of play in Flickr. (This is the point at which it might be helpful to explain that the name of Flickr’s developer, Ludicorp, comes from the word “ludic”.)
But the comparison doesn’t strike me as wholly apt. MMPORGs are about the players. Flickr, as Lane pointed out, is about the pictures. More than the people. No, really. Obviously, the pictures are taken by people, and the primary connection that a member of Flickr has is with other people.
But Flickr starts and ends with the picture. My most viewed photo is of my color-organized bookshelf. People viewed it because of what it is, not because of who I am.
Also, an MMPORG must have some kind of economy. Some system to measure risk and reward, to incent people to achieve more, do better, etc. Such an economy would run contrary to the Flickr ethos… If people tried to, I don’t know, game the system by filling it with photos whose only point was to engender popularity, well, it would make the system much less interesting.
Also, I think, an MMPORG must be escapist. Allow for leaving this world and entering a place of fantasy. Flickr, being about the photos, being about the snapshots, really, is firmly grounded in our world. It provides joy through it’s multiple perspectives on reality.
Anyway, this isn’t to detract from Nadav’s post. His points are insightful, and valuable. It simply is to push and poke at this thing we all love, to better understand it. Though, I wonder: is this analysis of Flickr like dissecting a pet? Yes, you know how it works, but, well, you kill this thing that you love?