Making connections: Using your flickr more effectively to build networks

Flickr (and other photo sharing applications such as Facebook) are very interesting examples of web 2.0 interaction.  Pictures are quite emotive, interesting and personal, but can be equally creative, informative, descriptive or simply abstract. Web 2.0 is built on the concept of user generated content, where the people who populate and use the site are the people who make content.  Sure, we can discuss issues of copyright and ownership, which are important and shouldn’t be ignored in the way I am just about to!  But, what I would like to focus on with this post is the notion of connections, and the roles we play to facilitate and support the connection between audience and maker, between producer and consumer and between us and other people 

Flickr represents the simplest way to transition from being a consumer of culture to a producer of it (a process that has been called prosuming, where the same person can participate in the production and consumption of arts and culture, facilitated in part by the interactivity and engagement of web 2.0 technology- for more info see, which is a great article written by Ellie Rennie).  We as a logged in user of Flickr can browse other peoples photos, we can search for images that have tagged or given a title, we can share those pictures with our friends or contacts, and in some cases we can use those pictures for our creative and generally non-profit purposes (note: some pictures have all rights reserved meaning, look but do not touch).  However, we can do something as a user.  We can upload our own creative content and allow others to consume it in the way we consume.  We can go back as many times as we want to the content we like, we can make certain pictures favourites, but equally other can become ‘fans’ of our work and do the same.    

So, how does flickr link creators and ‘fans’?  If you just upload your own photos on flickr, sharing them with others, tagging them with labels that help people find them and then letting your friends and colleagues know that the flickr photo stream is available and running, then flickr serves the same purpose as say Facebook in terms of photo sharing. flickr can offer the user/producer a lot more however.  It allows you to post your photos to albums of shared interest and content.  It allows you to comment on people’s photography, whether this is the image, the technique, the subject or simply to make contact and say what you think. After you have made contact with people through being in the same group, sharing their work or even having a conversation with them through commenting, you can make them your friend and share their new uploads.

A really interesting example of this occurred on a street art project from Sydney.  A mural artist decided to take an anti-burqa stance in a wall mural in Sydney last year.  An artist using her own artistic medium of posters responded to the work, which she then took a photo of and posted to flickr.  What resulted was a dialogue between users of flickr (including myself) about the controversy, the area the work was exhibited and the whole issue generally.  Blog content was linked and a conversation established between an artist and her ‘fans’. 


How did I spot this part of art from amongst the millions of photos?  It was a street art group that aggregates or collects photos of street art in a particular suburb in Sydney (where I used to love).  I comment regularly on other peoples pictures, whilst also adding pictures of my own (when I get to go home to take them!).  I spotted the picture of the work in the group’s photo album having been recently added.  Aside from the benefit of interacting with artists, I had an immediate and sustained interest in my photos, jumping from 10 views a day to 150 views a day.  

Like most web 2.0 applications, flickr relies on the sharing of user generated content, interaction between users and a commitment to maintain that contact, perhaps using mediums other than flickr (such as a twitter feed or through a blog) in order to be an effective tool of networking.  So, if people don’t engage by sharing content, commenting on content or aggregating their content in groups, then no-one will see the content.  If a tree falls…

So, search some groups that might be related to the pictures you have posted and post some of your photos to that group. Look at other peoples photos and make some comments on their work. Perhaps blog some of the groups you have found on flickr.  Here are some interesting flickr groups I just found that you might wish to have a look at, or share your photos on…

A final suggestion might be to embed your flickr photo stream into your blog. How you do this varies from blog site. However, there is a simple how-to guide located here

And to complete the circle, here is my flickr photstream, which you may find of interest.  Be warned, it does contain strong language and adult themes, and is not suited to people under the age of 18…street art can be a rude and politically charged medium to work in J

…I need you to get up for me up on that stage – collaboration in a web 2.0 world revisitied

Collaboration is perhaps one of the lost arts of participating in a web 2.0 environment.  There is a lot discussion about some of the other aspects of web 2.0 platforms.  We can find plenty of popular media and/or discussion about processes such as aggregation (friends, content etc) and sharing.  There is an interesting sideline into the ability to utilise other peoples work for commercial or other artistic uses (see Creative Commons – an article for another day).  There is even a well explored discourse on the nature of the interactions and interactivity that evolves from web 2.0 platforms. 

Of course, there have been lots of column inches written about collaboration, usual in the same held breath as sharing and interaction, but what does collaboration actually mean.  In the simplest sense, a wiki space represents collaboration.  People working together to develop, edit and present a document, sometimes in real time, others in an asynchronous fashion (where users log in and out at different times).  However, whilst this example harnesses the ability of a web 2.0 environment to empower people to work together, does it explore the process of creativity and innovation in collaboration?

I have found the notion of online collaboration one of the most difficult to engage with, yet one of the most rewarding when it actually occurs and results in something.  In some ways it is connected with the notion of professional networking.  We can decide to become more involved in a professional network.  We can identify the platform, the community, and the people we wish to network with.  The conditions however of our interactions are neither automatic nor standard.  The ability to effectively communicate with the gatekeepers, information holders or influential people in the network is sometimes the barrier to our intentions of being part of that network.  Collaboration often bears the same problems. How do you find people to collaborate with? How do conduct the collaboration?  Our blogs are a good start, but there are hundreds of thousands of new blogs being formed each week. 

I want to talk about two sites I have discovered this week, that address one of these issues in terms of ‘breaking through’ and identifying potential collaborators.  They are not solutions to the problems, just different angles with which to approach it.

The first is the Johnny Cash project (  The site was launched as part of the promotional campaign for the final Johnny Cash album.  The aim of the project is to allow you to design your own video for the song ‘ain’t no grave’, the title track from the album.  From a library of material, you can adapt, reconstruct and edit a variety of images simply, and then place them within a video, which you can then share on the site.   When the frames you design are included in a final video (that is released to the media), your name will appear in the credits.  You can access constructs such as ‘most popular frame’ right through to ‘most abstract frame’.  Each of these allows you to take someone else’s work, develop it and then share it on.

Taking a different approach was Canadian band, Arcade Fire.  Called the ‘Wilderness Downtown’ project ( the site uses cutting edge web programming, that engages with a number of google enhines such as google maps, but effectively developing a collaborative movie between you and your history, the band (who supply the music) and the film maker who controls the images and constructs the shell that allows your work to fill in the gaps.  It is very hard to explain, the best suggestion I have is go and try it.  It kind of blew my mind!  What is interesting here is that our/your collaboration with the music and the film is more about your/our imagination and how you/I see the film representing a story relevant to you or I.    


What is interesting about both of these sites is that you become part of a community either explicitly (in terms of the Johnny Cash project where you can sign up and share with other users) or implicitly (in terms of the Arcade Fire, where you can the collaboration is perhaps more limited to the expansion of possibility or the exploration of your role in a film about your life).

In terms of where we started, both of these are a long way from what we might traditionally understand to be collaboration.  You may not know who the person is you are collaborating with.  The relationship might be entirely passive as the Arcade Fire or it might be active enough to produce collaborative works similar to those made by in-person collaborations.  There was interesting example of this a few years back in Australia, where the Arts Council who provide significant funding for the arts, issued a call for funding to support a collaborative project on second life, which is an immersive on-line social network, where you interact through a character you create (called an avatar).  The three artists were Adam Nash, Christopher Dodds and Justin Clemens who variously were composers, writers and computer programmers.  Their completed work called ‘babelswarm’ takes the words of users, makes them into shapes and constructs a virtual tower of Babel from the word and phrases of the users, with each word triggering a phrase or piece of music that forms a long musical work.  Have a look at the video of the work; it may explain it a little better!

The fascinating aspect of collaboration here once again is that we as the users can be a part of an artwork, determine the creative patterns of it, and even contribute in a lasting way to an artefact, without directly meeting or engaging with the artists involved.  It makes us think about the nature of collaboration and where it may evolve into the future. 

The Digital Stranger: Participation, social networking and creativity


There is a long, controversial and interesting debate in articles, book and literature about what it means to interact on line.  This is supported by a number of contested and contradictory ideas about the skills we need in order to conduct different forms of digital communication.  In my last blog post, I talked about the ability of web 2.0 users to simply absorb or be exposed to knowledge in whatever context they choose to use the web, as opposed to creating and consuming that knowledge.

However, if we treat the web as a passive form of information access then the benefits of user generated content, of collaboration and of interaction may be lost.   In order to participate in something, some authors such as Guy (2007) argue that we need to take part in it, which might imply some aspect of action and commitment (as opposed to passively letting the information pass you by, as you may do skimming a newspaper).  Taking that logic one step further, the nature of social networking tools seem to provide ready instruments to allow people, in whatever form they comfortable, to take part in a variety of collaborative and creative processes.

Clay Shirky argues that there is a place online not just for individual promotion or mindless consumption, but for initiating and sustaining creative action.  Collective action is the ability of groups of people working collaboratively and together to make changes in society or in their community and is a well explored concept in a number of theoretical fields like politics and activism.

In his book ‘Cognitive Surplus – Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, Penguin 2010), he makes the case that instead of viewing usage of the net (or consuming media) as a time waster, where we randomly surf our way through web pages, endless youtube videos or as some of us are well aware, waste time on facebook, we can see it in a different light.  He states that our consumption or absorption of this content doesn’t often result in tangible, creative outcomes.  He states some of the data that suggests that the current generation is consuming less television per week than their predecessors and becoming more involved in activity on the net (a practical example of this might be that whilst we are consuming youtube videos, there are easily accessible and simple to use technologies that encourage us to also make our own, respond to other peoples and engage with a community of fans and makers of each video.  We can also aggregate the videos we watch so that we can share them with our friends).

He goes onto say that perhaps we can harness this time we spend creating and sharing, in small or more substantial ways to impact on our world and our community.  He talks about the use of a blog to initiate and co-ordinate crisis responses (the site is called and you can hear the full story in the video linked below) and at the other end of the spectrum he points to the development and distribution of LOLcats (those cute cat pictures with funny slogans).  His argument is starts with the idea that ‘even the stupidest possible creative act is still a creative act!”  And perhaps the way we define action in a digital world is different to that of the non-digital one.

Now, what does this have to the idea of the digital stranger?  Much of the interaction that occurs on the web can happen without us even knowing who the person is or people we are interacting with actually are.  We might see comments they have made, or we might be replying to something they said.  We might be sharing our opinion on a person’s youtube video, or contributing to a discussion on a board.  It may be that we are collaborating on a document, or creative piece through a wiki

The interaction that occurs between these people is sometimes asynchronous (ie: happens not in ‘real time’) and is often text based with little visual stimuli like a camera or sound.  We are communicating without knowing very much about our colleagues in the digital environment.  How many of your fellow learners you have met on the BAPP course?  We may have their photos, or perhaps a little insight into the bio, or at best we have seen their youtube video (or perhaps met at a campus session.  Does this level of knowledge about them impact on our interaction?  In many ways, of course it does?  It might make our communications less targeted or perhaps less personal.  It might increase misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

But in understanding, managing and adjusting to these limitations (if they even that) we are able to continue to collaborate and create in this environment.  Recognising the nature of these relationships is an important step.  Perhaps these people are what we might call digital strangers.

Digital strangers are people we interact with, people we are inspired by, people we understand (even a little) about their views and their position in a specific network, but know very little about.  We may not even know their true identity (just their avatar or nickname).  Yet, we can still learn from and with them.  We can create and share.  We can innovate and solve problems.  We can increase awareness and affect change.  We can engage, entertain and provide comfort or inspiration.  All without knowing the things we might want to know if those interactions occurred off-line.

Is being a digital stranger with someone a bad thing?  Malcolm Gladwell in his New Yorker article entitled “Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted” stated that whilst web 2.0 has increased peoples participation in collaboration and relationship building, it has not developed the strength, quality or capacity of that relationship to increase motivation or action.

‘Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires. The Facebook page of the Save Darfur Coalition has 1,282,339 members, who have donated an average of nine cents apiece…Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice.’

I argue that being a digital stranger is not a negative, as Gladwell might argue.  Building on Shirky’s idea that any act of creativity is positive simply because it is creative and that the actions of a digital strangers banding together represent an action that might otherwise have happened,  could we argue that in the case of Darfur as given by Gladwell, that there are now 1.2 million people aware of the horrible events of Darfur? Is it good that there is now over  $115,000 more money being used to support the political campaigns to bring awareness? And that through the facebook page, there are over 25 different aggregated calls to action including youtube videos, notices of rallies, news stories, petitions and photographs.  The formation of this community of digital strangers has arguably resulted in some form of collective action.  Gladwell typifies these actions as a failure, actions of people who couldn’t be bothered to do something in ‘the real world’.  I would argue the opposite.  These are actions of people who are making a commitment to increase awareness and share that with people they don’t even know.

Now, let’s look at this in terms of our interests as professional arts practitioners.  We as a collective network of BAPP people are a group of people, some digital strangers, others acquaintances, maybe some friends and colleagues.  What our social networking participation has done for us is to provide the environment and the commonality to begin to interact, to aggregate content (like videos and photos on flickr) and then to produce and create content.  Is that process harmed by us being digital strangers?  I would argue that it has been supported and perhaps even enhanced in that the social network (and the use of it as part of the course) has provided all of us, both staff and students with the medium in which to engage, interact and construct meaning.  It could be easily imagined that these outcomes, had they relied on more traditional forms of interaction may simply never have happened.