Going Off the Flickr Grid

When I started this site in 1998, one of the first things I posted was a set of pictures I took on a walk through Downtown Lincoln, Nebraska. The gallery is a bit clunky (both the photos and the design), but I put it together by hand and it worked. Over the years I've posted numerous galleries here, as you can see on my photos page. In 2003 I set up a way to automatically publish pictures from my cell phone to the web: Mophos Moblog. (It still has my old design.) In 2004 I set up a separate photoblog (2004 archive, 2005 archive) where I could easily post any photo without interrupting my text blog or without having enough photos for a full gallery of related pictures.

Even though I have all of these home-grown tools for posting photos, almost all of my photo activity here at onfocus.com stopped in 2006. (The last photo on my photoblog is from July 3rd, 2006. And the last gallery I posted is from February 27th, 2006.) Part of the problem is that I'm simply not taking as many photos these days. And the other problem is that I'm using the fantastic photo-sharing application Flickr (my Flickr photostream). Every photo that I want to share online goes directly to Flickr where I know it will be seen by my Flickr pals. And if someone isn't yet a Flickr pal and I'd like them to see a photo or two, I just send them to my Flickr photostream. I love Flickr so much that I even wrote half of a book about all the cool stuff you can do with it called Flickr Hacks. My online photo life has moved entirely over to Flickr.

Unfortunately, my inner geek isn't completely thrilled with my move to Flickr. As much as I believe Flickr is a revolutionary application, a part of me is sad to see onfocus.com go without photos. And another part of me thinks that all of the awesome stuff that Flickr enables (community, conversation, collaboration, cataloging, aggregation, and so much more) should be done in a distributed way across the Web. The Web geek in me feels that photo sharing shouldn't be owned by any one company, and photos themselves should ultimately be under the control of individual photographers.

I know this vision of distributed photo-sharing doesn't seem realistic right now, but it is happening. Photobloggers post across servers and domains with widely varying software and somehow aggregators are able to pull their photos together in unique ways thanks to standard feed formats. (I still use blogging software I wrote myself, yet I can join in the larger blogosphere because any news reader can pick up my feeds.) Of course enabling ad-hoc groups is impossible without a centralized application—and identity management/access control (photos for friends/family only) is next to impossible in a distributed fashion. But I believe the tools will get there. And I'd like to start living in my distributed-photo-utopia once again.

I realize that not everyone has the means and ability to manage their own server space. But as a do-it-yourself Web guy I have both, and I'd like to get back ultimate control over my photos. Over the next few weeks (months?) I'm going to re-write my personal photoblogging software from scratch. My first task will be to gather the 500+ photos I've already uploaded to Flickr, because their API makes it possible to export my photos. I'm hoping to document my progress along the way, in case my steps can help anyone else out there who wants to go the DIY route. Going off the grid (so to speak) won't be easy, but I just need to remember that I've been there before.

Progress so far:

Comments

Right on! I've been thinking along the same lines for a couple of years (yeah, I've been fairly busy): I want to host pictures on my web site. I even went so far as to buy an old PC and try to host pictures from my own house, the thinking being that I could have high resolution pictures right on the web server without having to store them separately, but then the old PC fan was way too noisy and I gave up that approach. Anyway, good to know you're working on the problem, I'll keep an eye on the progress. Cheers!
And while you're rewriting your photoblog software keep an eye on the weblog as well: it munges UTF-8 characters :-)
"I'd like to start living in my distributed-photo-utopia once again"

Hmm... I definitely understand this impulse, but what about synching? As I've been playing with having my Movable Type blog post into Vox, kind of the the text equivalent of photos being on both my site and on Flickr, that seems like an ideal compromise.

Because I think things like privacy and the real community features are going to be hard to do in a distributed way, no? Aren't you presupposing that all the pictures you post will be public?
heh, thanks Antonio. Time for me to move into the Unicode world as well. :)

Anil, I see what you're saying about synching, but that seems like wasted effort. Why would I want to manage five different copies of a photo on five different servers? This is the Internet! Everything can be interconnected. The only boundaries are artificial based on infrastructure. If we can overcome the problems of closed infrastructure, we can share photos with different communities without compromising on control. And on the privacy front, what could be more private than my own server space?

I have high hopes for OpenID, and I think that's one promising area that can help with access control down the road. Right now I'm planning on hosting public photos on my server, but I'd like to move to friends/family photos on my server. Maybe forcing myself to make the move will help me think about these problems.
Just stumbled across this. Great project, pb; I'm glad you're documenting it for the world. Finding ways of doing the things Flickr allows outside of the boundaries of a single site is something I'd love to see happen.

Not that I'm a photographer, but my family has collected some 10,000 digital photos over the past few years and I've been worried about what happens if we lose our home PC hardware through some disaster. So I've been going the opposite route and backing up all our photos *to* Flickr (marked as private, of course) to use as a secondary backup to a (notional at this point) tape or hard drive backup stored in a secure location. Keeping under the 2GB/month limit has made the project last four months so far, but I've automated the process so 50-100 photos get uploaded each morning at 3am, and as we save new photos, they get added to the backup list. We should be in the home stretch now.
Thanks, dave, that's definitely an unconventional use of Flickr. I tend to think of Flickr as a "presentation layer" rather than a "storage layer", but I can see why you'd want to use the tagging and set features to help find photos. I guess my only concern with using Flickr in that way would be my trust in Yahoo! for the long haul, years down the line. I don't have access to Yahoo!'s decision making processes, so it's hard for me to judge what they'll do with Flickr long term. That's part of why I want to post photos here instead, beyond forcing myself to "think distributed".
I just hope that Anil Dash will continue to follow this. I don't come here regularly, but I am definitely interested in this idea.
I'm by no means a web geek but I am a bit of a control freak and I've never quite caught on to Flickr. I have an account and I have photos loaded but 99% of them are copies of photos I've put up on my web site and have available on my server. It's a bit of work and seems silly at times, but I do like the community aspect of Flickr so I don't see myself deleting my account.
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