Photo 2.0 – Photophlow

Last night, Scoble mentioned Photophlow on Twitter. I went over to see the site and then begged and pleaded for an invite – and got it. Photophlow is kind of like an IRC customized for dealing with Flickr photos. There is a global chat room, each user has his or her own chat room, and there is a chat room for every Flickr group. Within a chatroom, people can search Flickr photos and the room can follow along to see what they are searching. You can select photo out of the search, which will be transmitted to the room. There are some other features, like turning off the following of other people’s searches and turning off people’s ability to see what you searched for.

The Photo 2.0 angle
People like David Hobby and Chase Jarvis have been talking about (and living out) “Photography 2.0″, where there is massive sharing of photographs and photographic information. One of the things that I’ve often wished for is the ability to talk (in real time) to someone to get/do a critique of a photo. I think that this is something that happens best in real time. You could do that via IM and hyperlinks. You might even be able to do that via IM group chats, if all the people in the critique were using the same IM system. (It’s 2008, IM vendors). The value that I see in Photophlow is having a realtime way of talking about photos in a group. It would be even better if there was a way to annotate the photo being broadcast at the moment, so that you could focus attention on particular parts of a photograph. We’ve been doing some interesting group photo stuff here in Seattle lately, and I definitely think that Photophlow is something that could really help with some of the things we have done, as well as some of the things we are thinking of doing. Besides annotation tools, I would also like an easy way to log/archive a whole chat session or parts of a chat session.

The Web 2.0 angle
Photophlow is technically interesting for a number of reasons. It’s an app that’s built entirely on top of another web applications’ API. And it’s pretty substantial. There’s a lot going on here – a lot of AJAX, and API calls to Flickr. The app feels kind of pokey because it’s pushing the limits of what can be done in Javascript. Indeed, if I run Photophlow in Safari 3 instead of Firefox, the performance is noticeably better. This is a situation that we also see in Chandler Server. It’s going to be interesting to see how well this is able to scale up.

Photophlow is also pushing the limits of how some people think of using a web application. It’s designed to be used a lot and in a highly interactive fashion. I know that I would probably keep chat rooms for my personal group, the Seattle Flickr Meetups group, and the Strobist group open all at once if I could. The designers have also built in bridges to IM notification and to allow you to Twitter from within Photophlow. Too bad their isn’t a way to get a Twitter stream instead of an IM notification – but that’s more a limitation of Twitter than of Photophlow.

I bet that you could do some of what Photophlow does with a custom IRC bot. But I also bet that it would be substantially less accessible to people who are photographers first and computer users second (or third, or what have you). Then again, maybe here’s another opportunity for VOIP…

If you haven’t gotten into the beta yet, there’s a short tutorial video.

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3 Responses to “Photo 2.0 – Photophlow”


  • Ted – thanks for the writeup, and good meeting you on photophlow last night. Re: pokiness – agreed, but I wouldn’t say that’s an inherent limitation of the technologies we’re using. The app is certainly usable as is but we’re doing some really inefficient things on both the browser and server sides. We’re more focused on stability and scalability at the moment, but you should start seeing better performance soon as well.

    We’re very interested in hearing how people would like to use photophlow, and if there are features we can add to make it more suitable for things like tutorials and critiques please let us know.

  • Neil,

    I didn’t look at the JS code at all, but the FF/Safari speedup was very noticeable to me. I am the engineering manager for Chandler Server, which is also a highly AJAXed webapp, and we see similar perf characteristics. Of course, we are also pretty sure that we can make our app go faster, but I do think that we are all pushing the browser pretty hard

  • Everything old is new. In Flickr’s early days, one of their major selling points was Flash based IM discussion around photos. I think it was cut due to lack of user interest, I believe.

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