Flickr Explore is a mystery. How do they choose the 500 photographs each day? What criteria is used in the selection? Is it the number of views a photograph gets? Is it the faves? Is it the tags? Is it the groups it is submitted to? Is there a photography guru in Flickr headquarters trawling through the millions of photographs posted to Flickr each day and whittling it down to 500?
No, apparently it is an algorithm they use. An algorithm is ‘a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.’ Now, I can see how selecting 500 photographs to represent a cross section of interesting photographs is a type of problem that needs solving, but photographs are taken by people, viewed and enjoyed by people, yet somehow a computer employing an algorithm can calculate and select for us interesting photographs.
I find it bizzarre.
But I find it fun. I love when an image of mine hits Explore. Your views rocket. You gain new contacts (or followers as Flickr wants us to know them as now). It brings out a competitive nature in us all. We want to see how high our photograph can climb in the ranking in Explore. Ya, it is just good fun. Photography is the greatest hobby anyone can have and hobbies have to be enjoyed. Fun! And Flickr’s Explore is fun. Nothing more. It sure as hell is not a judge of how good a photograph is. A lot of dross make Explore, but you will find interesting photographs on there.
When I joined Flickr first back in 2007, I was intrigued by Explore. It was mysterious and exclusive. The photographs chosen all seemed so much better than mine. The photographers so much cooler too. Try as I did, I never could get a photograph in Explore. But then towards the end of 2009 my photos started to appear in Explore and man was I delighted! I posted each day and each day my shot hit Explore. Back then they had the extra bonus of choosing a select few for their Front Page and when your shot hit that, you were a Flickr King or Queen for a day. But then suddenly it all changed. A new algorithm came in, an algorithm that cast its calculating eyes far from my photographs. I was out, banned from Explore, crestfallen. I looked on in envy to those new photographers whose photos were pleasing this new algorithm. And again, try as I might, I just could not get back in. Ya, there were a few occasions when a shot would gatecrash in when the algorithm was busy recalculating, but the days of hitting the heights on Explore were gone.
In 2011, when I got into mobile photography I opened up a new account for my iPhone images and in late 2012 a few shots began to make it to Explore. It seems to come and go in cycles now. I will get about 7 or 8 shots into Explore in succession and then months with nothing. The past few days have been exceptional in terms of Explore. The three shots below all made it to the main page of Explore. The first one actually made it to Explore number 1, but then fell to number 2. My views have gone through the roof. Absolutely ridiculous stuff, but fun. That is all it is, really.
So, there you have it. Photography for algorithms. That is how low, how shallow I have become. Shame on my photographic self.
Fantastic post, Brendan. My partner remarked today that even though it’s an algorithm, at least it is not some judge who decides a great photo based on their own personal tastes. Somehow seems more fair in a strange way.
I have come to love the algorithm even though it has fallen out of love with me. It feels totally random now but once you are in, you know you might get a good little run going before it turns it’s back on you for another lover. As you say, it’s fun.
Finally, no matter who picks the images for Explore, “Always Leaving” would still have made number 1. It’s that good.
Keep up the good posts and the great images.