OTFG Step 6: The Trouble With Comments

The next question I asked myself in my Flickr move: should I take comments with me? Flickr is built for having conversations around photos. Every photo entered into Flickr is also a place for discussion, and those places never close. As you add more photos into Flickr, there are more and more opportunities for discussion to monitor. I'm always surprised when a photo I uploaded in 2004 has a new comment on it, and I frequently miss comments on older photos because I don't check my "recent activity" page enough. But casual conversation about photos is what makes Flickr so much fun. Sometimes the comments are better than the photo people are discussing, and often photos are posted just because they'll generate comments.

There was no question in my mind that photos, titles, captions, and tags are mine, and I have no trouble taking them away from Flickr and sharing them somewhere else. But comments exist in gray area for me. The people commenting on my photos expected their comments to be at Flickr and nowhere else. At the same time, the comment wouldn't exist without my photo prompting it. Another complication is that Flickr doesn't expose comments via their API. I'm not sure why, but it could be for the very reason that people expect their comments to be at Flickr and nowhere else. (Though photos seem far more personal to me and they're available through the API unless someone specifically requests that they're not.)

I decided to compromise by downloading the comments but not displaying them on my site. That might seem odd, but I'd like to be able to go back in a few years time and see comments that people I know made on my photos. (Even those silly "please add this photo to the chickens being used as phones group" might be fun to read again someday.) If my Flickr Pro account lapses, that won't be possible. Or if I move off the grid, that won't be possible. So I downloaded the comments on my photos via screen scraping, and I'll keep them in a database for my private use. When I start my photoblog here at onfocus.com, I'm going to want comments, so I'll use the same table but flag the Flickr comments as unique (not for display).

Here's the table I set up for comments: otfg_tables_3.txt. The FlickrID field notes the internal Flickr ID of comments I scraped from the site. There won't be any entries in the IP field for Flickr comments, but this will eventually hold the IP Address of people who add comments here. (I figured I might as well include that now.)

And here's the script I used to import comments: import-flickr-comments.php. This is how it works:
  • Grabs the FlickrIDs of photos in the photos table, and starts looping through.
  • Logs in at Flickr (old skool only) and sets a local cookie for subsequent requests.
  • Grabs the photo detail page of that particular photo.
  • Picks through the HTML to find the comments.
  • Calculates the approximate date of the comment.
  • Throws the comment, username, Flickr profile URL, and date into the comments table.
  • Rests for one second.
Figuring out a comment date isn't an exact science. Flickr doesn't include an exact date/time for comments, instead they use a friendly format such as "30 days ago" or "2 hours ago". This script takes the current time the script is running, and then uses the PHP date_modify function to come up with an approximate date/time. It won't be close, but it should come up with the right month and year for that particular comment.

If you want to try this out you'll need to add your photostream URL and your Flickr username (most likely your email address) and password. The script logs in as you so it can grab comments on photos that are marked as friends/family only. But it's important to note that this login only works for pre-Yahoo!-acquisition Flickr members. I have a so-called old skool ID rather than a Yahoo! ID, so I didn't need to log in via Yahoo! If you want to run this under a Yahoo! ID, you'll need to fiddle around with the login stuff around line 17. As with the other scripts I've posted, this runs in your browser.

After this script ran, I had 260 comments in a local table. Even though they might never see the light of day again, at least I have a record of what friends and random Flickr folks said about my photos.

Coming up: A note about notes.
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I hate missing comments on my photos so I subscribed to this feed:


Replace YOUR_ID_NUMBER with your Flickr account number. You'll be able to keep up on all comments posted to any of your Flickr photos.
Thanks for the tip, Stephen. If you need to find your Flickr ID and you're not sure where to get it, check out idGettr:


Gotta love those clever Flickr users.
Hi! You're reading a single post on a weblog by Paul Bausch where I share recommended links, my photos, and occasional thoughts.

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