Monday, December 19, 2005

Taking Root in Flickr

Now that the busy fall semester had ended, I have some time to get back to this blog and other adventures in cyberspace. Over the weeks to come, I'll probably be writing some posts about Flickr, the very popular photography-sharing community that I've been exploring - and, more generally, about what it's like to join a new online community.

My initial reactions to joining Flickr were similar, in some respects, to those I've experienced when entering other groups. Of course there are those "how does this work?/what do I click on?" questions that come up whenever we try out new a new environment. Fortunately, Flickr is well designed with easy to understand and useful features. So that part was no sweat. It's also quite a comprehensive environment, including the ability to set up your own space along with message board, email, social network, and notification features that enable you to connect to others. The online communities that thrive nowadays seem to be the ones that offer this "all-in-one" package.

But then comes the more challenging task of trying to figure out where to go and what to do in an extremely large community with many thousands of members and millions of photographs. Will anyone be interested in communicating with me? Will anyone even notice that I'm here?

As is often the case, it's a good idea to create a home base that does a good job of presenting your identity, so you have some kind of stability in the community, a place where people can visit you. So I created my profile, started uploading pics to my photostream created some sets of photos... and waited to see what would happen.

I was actually surprised when quite quickly the "views" count on some of my images indicated that a few people were looking at them. No doubt some of my pics appeared briefly in the ever-changing stream of newly uploaded images that Flickr displays on everyone's home page. A few of my images must have caught the eye of a few people, they clicked on the thumbnail, and Suler had some visitors.

Within a week, someone actually posted a comment on one photo... then someone else selected a pic as one of their "favorites."

In learning theory, a "reinforcement" is anything that increases the frequency of a behavior that it follows. Clearly, for me, those rising view counts, comments, and favorites were a powerful reinforcement. I spent more time uploading photos, creating sets, and visiting the photostreams of those people who were visiting mine.

This is how people get hooked on Flickr. In fact, this is one important factor that determines how people get hooked on any online environment. Does it give us those little reinforcements that keep us coming back for more?

Just in case your wondering, my photo that so far has received the most number of views is "Bagatelle for the G5." I guess there are more than just a few computer geeks in Flickr.