One day late! I’m sorry Flickr, your 20th Birthday was yesterday but I have been thinking about this for a while, I promise. My love is real! Okay, here are 20 special things (there are more) in no specific order except when they pop out of my head, well actually as I am blitting them out, they are naturally leading one to another.

1. Twenty Years And Still Going

That anything is on the web after twenty years, has not been enshittified, and still pretty much maintains functionality, is it.

It was in fall 2003 while at the Maricopa Community Colleges, with an early interest in web publishing through blogs, I learned about a photography teacher at Mesa Community College, Robert Burget, who was planning to use a “photoblogging” platform called Buzznet for having his ART177 students post and share photo assignments. I’d been following what was called “moblogging” or quick posting from mobile phones basic short posts built around photos. It must have been submitted as a proposal by December 2003, a presentation I did around his concept on April 20, 2004 for the TCC Online Conference, called “Publish and Build Communities Around Digital Images” (dead Macromedia Breeze format and lots of dead links, but my site stands up).

I built the presentation around the Buzznet tool Robert was using and also another early social networking site called FotoLog. I was aware of Flickr, as I mention in the PhotoBloggingTools links and include a link to my own account. It’s briefly described “post by email, drag and share images”. I must have decided it was still too new? I would have made my account in March 2004 and uploaded my first photos to test it out.

So it’s ironic that Flickr, the tool I skipped, is the one left standing 20 years later.

This my first photo uploaded was an image of a tree and the mountains in the Superstition Wilderness area, most likely scanned from a 35mm film image likely taken with my trusty Olympus Stylus.

Moon Over Supes
Moon Over Supes flickr photo (posted March 30, 2004) by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

and here we are, 71,075 photos later, rather striking in similarity? Nice bookends.

2024/366/41 A Grand Simplicity Theory
2024/366/41 A Grand Simplicity Theory flickr photo taken Feb 10, 2024 by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

2. Detailed Metadata: Camera Models

Flickr ingests and stores a boatload of information stored by digital camera. That’s rather handy. I first months were sparse, more photos of cacti that looked scanned versions of printed photos. I find from meta data my first one taken with a digital camera, September 23, 2004, whereI was doing some kind of cool tools workshop called Rip, Mix, Learn in Phoenix for some expo at the conference, an image of a participant volunteer name Rudy where I was showing them easy it was to send a photo to flickr by email.

From Rudy;s photo the metadata suggests it was an Olympus C750UZ. The links shows all flickr photos taken with that camera, right up to now (another flickr telltale is the place for a missing image, where it says in a joking voice “No product image available. Boourns.”, see also flickr Bad Panda tha shows up when there is an error)

I am fuzzy on my memory for that model, but because I can search all my photos easily (cough–,try THAT on the site that rhymes with “Spinstaflam”) I find that I did have an Olympus D40 digital camera purchased in 2000 for my first long time visit to New Zealand.

I did have some tricks I found for searching for all my photos taken with a certain camera, which seems to work for my newer ones, and even if you dig around, I found ways to search my photos for ones taken at f/1.6 or less.

This also made it possible for me to create my own (not recently updated) photo gallery site Barking Dog Studios where I hacked a WordPress theme for generating posts merely by uploading one flickr photo (everything in the post is extracted from flickr metadata)

All of this is possible because flickr stores so much metadata and makes it available (at no fee) to use (see later for API love).

3. Post By Email (no longer there)

Two photos following Rudy from that September 2004 workshop is one of an exit sign posted to my flickr account by someone named Jason. You can understand why (it rhymes with”ham” but tastes worse) this is no longer available. But this was sure a great activity in workshops for showing people easy sharing to social media.

I can see a second account I made with, still standing now, a collection of over 220 photos that came from a series of these workshops I did in my 2007 visits across Australia.

4. Annotate With Flickr Notes

That detail about Jason in the Exit sign photo is not in the caption, but this fantastic feature obviously built into flickr since its first year, that anyone with a flickr account can add a hyperlinked note to part of an image.

Sure annotating text became big with educators much later with tools like and people can do this now with tools like H5P, but kudos to flickr for being so early with it. I can’t think of an interactive tool like this that has so many potential educational uses. And its built into flickr.

One of my most viewed photos (71000+) is this volcano types image I made in October 2004. You won’t see the hotspots here but you can explore it directly in flickr where mousing over parts of the image displays a pop up short note where I include hyperlinks to outside references.

Volcano Types Diagram
Volcano Types Diagram flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

You can see I tool it farther in 2006 with part of a bit I did for “I Didn’t Know You Could Do That with Free Web Tools”, a presentation for the 2006 K-12 Online Conference, where all my activities are not trapped inert in slides, but out on the living web. The What Can You Do With Flickr activity starts with an image (viewed even more, 123k) full of interactive hotspots leading to more flickr pages with stuff to explore.

Informational hotspots are of course useful, like labels on an anatomy diagram, but I always thought that with ability to hyperlink, it opened a door for interactive fiction, choose your own adventure style. I did a version of this as an one example for 50+ Web Ways to Tell a story.

Somewhere in the Bad Yahoo Era, maybe 2014, the flickr notes feature disappeared from the public pages. The data must have been there as some patchwork solutions emerged, bu flickr itself fixed the gaffe. Party on flickr.

5. License to CC License

My fuzzy memory says flickr always offered built in features to apply Creative Commons licenses to your photos. Their web page says this was offered in 2004 so that counts like the beginning to me. There is a setting in your account to set a default licenses.

I’ve bounced through decision points, starting I believe wih using CC-BY, then a quick period flip to CC BY-NC then CC BY-SA before making the counter usual choice to go totally public domain CC0 in 2016.

I’ve blabbed much about it around these here blog parts, but for me experience, I have gotten more personally and rewarding by not trying to use licenses as some shield or cloak of protection, but in pure giving away something I never saw as a source of income. Or

6. Behold the Flickr Commons

Speaking of public domain, what is maybe my favorite portions of flickr is the Flickr Commons, which started in 2008 as a means to collectively offer/share works from museums and arts organizations. There has been a joyful re-energizing here with the creation not long ago of the Flickr Foundation.

Yay, celebrate.

I bump or fall into the commons on a regular, serendipity basis. It starts with this really nifty Library of Congress Free To Use browser extension that does one magical, and distraction causing trick– whenever you open a new browser tab, what do you see? Blank white? Google search? Boring. Whenever I press command-T from this extension I see a random public domain image from the Library of Congress. It often just grabs my attention.

This just happened, I open a new tab and see this curious old traveling double level bus full of happy people, I can click the caption and end up on the LOC entry for R.R. Conklin’s auto bus where I can learn “Photograph shows the “land yacht” double-decker bus of Roland R. Conklin, who traveled from Huntington, Long Island to Chicago in 1915. (Source: Flickr Commons project, 2013)”. Now this indicates the image is in the Flickr Commons, but offers no direct link.

I found I could get there with a bit of copy/paste search, but ended up building my own little bookmarklet tool– I can merely highlight the text in the LOC page title “R.R. Conklin’s auto bus”, click my tool, and boom! I have a search that leads me right to the image in flickr.

What I love about the commons is that most nearly every time, there are multiple comments with additional historic detail, corrections, links to related content. Sometimes you find people have used the flickr note feature above to augment the entry. Or even sometimes a bit of Three Hour Tour humor.

Pugh of the "Disturber"  (LOC)
Pugh of the “Disturber” (LOC) flickr photo by The Library of Congress shared with no copyright restriction (Flickr Commons)

This to me is my favorite part of commons, the community contribution aspect.

7. API Gloriousness

Maybe a top love feature of flickr is the geeky and lovely API, who cares what the acronym means? It says there at the top, “The Flickr API is available for non-commercial use by outside developers. Commercial use is possible by prior arrangement.” This means any developer, even admitted hacks like me, can build something that does something with the flickr platform.

My longest running gizmo,and something I use several times a day, is my Flickr CC Attribution Helper. Remember the Creative Commons licenses above? Using them calls for including attribution statements, and when you start doing them, each one is maybe a 6 trip back and forth copy/paste to write. My tool does it in one click.

That Flickr Commons image with the Gilligan’s Island annotations? Its in my browser tab, and if I click my bookmarklet tool, I get a window with 3 variants of attributions I can copy/paste -one for embedding photo and attribution for WordPress, one plain text, and this HTML version

Pugh of the “Disturber” (LOC) flickr photo by The Library of Congress shared with no copyright restriction (Flickr Commons)

This evolved over a long span, starting in 2009 as a Greasemonkey script.

It’s overdue for a makeover, but just keeps chugging along (the flickr API is used to get photo, license and author info to credit).

Another long lived web tool I have mad and been able to sustain since 2008 is Five Card Flickr Stories a riff of the Five Card nancy game I learned about long ago from Ruben Puentadora.

Play a round of Five Card Flickr Stories

Mine is a creative exercise to make a story out of 5 random flickr photos, chosen in 5 rounds of 5 images dealt. It uses the phpFlickr library to draw the random photos taken from some 10,000 tagged 5cardflickr. The use is non-stop, just spotted over 30,000 five photo stories created. Like Communication Breeds Victory or Duck Day or Sonnet (just keep clicking random!).

The old site could use a new modern template and some underlying fixes to deal with the naive way I built photo links, but still, with my self-taught coding I have a creative story tool running for 16 years, requiring no ads, fees, logins. I must be doing something wrong.

My favorite favorite thing built as a bit of a follow up is an improv/group activity that mashes up Powerpoint Karaoke with pecha kucha, using random images from flickr. Meet (and just try) pechaflickr

Try the “Heather” mode (named for an Alaskan teacher that suggested it) to guess the tag for 10 random flickr photos.

All of thes long running things I built are possible by th flickr API which is rare among peers for not having broken itself, or turned it into a money slot. Flickr’s API is a thing of beauty, inside and out.

8. Albums or Sets of Flickr Photos

Very simple and sensible, not that you see this in MinstaBlam, is the flickr feature to create collections of photos as sets or now called albums. I have a truckload of them, for each year of my daily photo habit, special trips like the month I got to house sit in Iceland, the best day ever, the best dog ever, photos friends have used for their social media avatars, presentations based on old Star Trek characters, my photos that have been reused.

And in writing this 9000 pound post, I made one for showing why I love flickr.

There are small features I don’t find in other platforms, like using the Organizr to set up the order of images, even in a random order.

9. Albums of Albums? aka Collections

I’m not even sure you can find this little feature without knowing about it- You can basically make an album of albums, or collections, found my slapping /collections on the end of a flickr account URL- see my collections. The most sensible use I have found is to have a collection of each of my yearly daily photo archives (each an album).

You know when you are in some of the far corners of flickr’s back rooms when the page design looks right out of the 2007 era. I love that too.

10. Turn Albums Inside Out with Galleries

I don’t see too much use of flickr galleries, but it flips the approach of albums, where you curate your collection of your own photos, to one where you make collections of photos created by other flickr users. I’ve not done too many of these, but one example is a gallery of those fun old highway signs for places in Arizona (all or many from the flickr commons).

11. Groups And Interesting Interests

Flickr groups are another of the social media features they pioneered. So more than just offering a place for people to build their own photos, it enables any flickr user to create a place for people with a common interest, for sharing photos in a group pool and offering group discussion in basic forum style

The biggest one I manage is for people doing daily photos (of which there are countless other similar groups), but the Flickr Daily group I tend has been going since 2008 with over 1900 members who have shared some 350,000 photos.

There are tons of big groups but its the small weird ones that give me joy.

Cactifitti flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

This photo I spotted in Hawaii of cactus marked with graffiti like marks, got me invited to a vegefitti group. Who knew there was a thing?

And a comment on another photo led to to find the passion of a group for a guy who collects photos of Rusty mailboxes.

The breadth of these small pools of interest is fascinating. I can say I have created a super obscure group, I am the only member. But it was from my long ago travel days when I got a bit curious about the prevalence of ugly hotel carpets. Please do not join this group!

13. The Big Time of Flickr Explore (and getting explored)

The opposite end of these niches are Flickr Explore, the process shrouded n mystery that result in photos being highlighted in the most visible space. When you get that message that your photo has been added to the In Explore group, it will floor you. I’ve been quite fortunate to have been floored 30 times. You can’t predict or expect it (and actually it’s been 5 years since it happened last).

One of the earliest was a bicycle shape atop a shelter on the Thompson Rivers University campus, at the time I posted it I felt it was pretty good, but not all that special. It’s often unexpected, like when I bent down to capture the backlight on a colored leaf. I almost did not bother to lay low on the gravel to capture this.

2016/366/150 Tiny Wonders
2016/366/150 Tiny Wonders flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

The funny thing was as I was down on the ground, I found a $20 bill. So there are rewards.

14. Tagging Photos

Flickr had a long run at offering a wide range of connecting amongst photos by free form tagging (remember when it was called folksonomy?), long before some bird site put pound signs on them.Tags are way to organize informally your own photos.

Or in my case, disorganize! Look at my tag pile.

The beauty of tags is that you can say gather all my photos tagged desert (116) or see the entire scope of all people in flickr tagging desert photos (302,000+). From here flickr’s powerful search tools, let me winnow down to 118,000 photos tagged desert that are creative commons licensed.

15. Amazing Things Happen

Tags lead to crazy acts of serendipity. To cut short a story I have played out many times, I had noticed long ago if I posted to flickr a photo of a wild flower from where I lived then in Arizona, if I tagged it “unknown” sometimes a random person would comment with a suggested identification. I had maybe 10 of these, and a 2007 workshop in Hobart Tasmania, I pulled up one the audience picked, and orange flower.

Unidentified Flower Object
Unidentified Flower Object flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

After pointing out that someone named Kirsty had commented, “I suspect it is a ranunculus,” a hand wen up in the back of the room. A woman stood up and declared, “That was me”. Flickr and a wild dose of serendipity made that possible (the rest of the story).

Want more? Try how a flickr photo of my Dad’s drafting table I restained ended up as part of the cover art of a leading biology research journal.

I would need a bigger blog to write all these stories.

16. My Flickr Photos as a Life Timeline

I’ll leave this as just a link, but Flickr’s film roll and the ability o explore forwards and backwards in time from a single photo has been invaluable for my own work. I use it all the time.

17. The Flickr File Name Trick

Many times I download images from the web that have long string alphanumeric goop names, that are as meaningful as a Google Doc URL, just some hash of a database key. But the images you download flickr have a very special structure that comes in handy.

So you have an image file floating in a project folder, or a student uses an image file in declaring it their on work, or you find an images used on aweb page but they have not credited the source, what can you do to find the original? Sure a reverse image search might work, but that’s can be a mess to sor through.

Once you are familiar with flickr file names if you come across some image with a filename like 4238580321_6288648762_k.jpg you can guess it’s from flickr. The first set of digits 4238580321 is the key, it is a flickr photo ID (the second set is a “hash” portion used in the database for private photos, the letter denotes a particular file size.

It’s the first string of numbers to grab. You then put at the end of this url or for this example

See where that takes you.

This works for any flickr photo. Once you perform this for a friend or colleague, they will salute you as a techno genius.


18, 19, 20 I’m Running Out of Steam

I could drag this long flickr love out but I’ve gone far enough. Believe me, I have more I could dredge up. See you for the 21st? 30th?

I will always bet long on the flickr run (ask my pal Roland, he thought it would die in 2018. I won the bet and still need to collect on that lunch he offered).

Thanks again for the first 20 years, flickr.

Featured Image: A combination of my first flickr photo posted March 29, 2004 Moon Over Supes flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0) and my 71,076th one taken February 10, 2024 2024/366/41 A Grand Simplicity Theory flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0), also borrowing the flickr 20 logo from their website

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as


  1. I’ll be back to read this all more slowly (school beckons) but I was curious about my first Flickr post, and found it was in 2005 and, no surprise, it was of our family dog, Bella (love ya, pooch! I hope your chasing chipmunks in the sky!)

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