Thursday, January 04, 2007

The marvelous mayhem of Flickr and YouTube

In the olden days (a few years ago), posting photos to the web was a bit of a chore. And when you did post them, the images lived on your separate web space -- far from other photos posted by other folks around the world. Just those few years ago, posting videos was a distant dream, as bandwidth (the speed of your internet connection) and storage space was expensive.

Two web phenomena of the past few years have addressed both challenges, adding a whole new world of opportunity, connection, and social interaction in the process.

Both sites, Flickr and YouTube, are well beyond mere dumping grounds for photos and video content. They are social networking systems, designed to encourage users not only to post their content and browse the content of others, but to connect, comment, and cluster the content of others in a hundred different ways.

Flickr is a photo-sharing site with both free and ''pro'' account options. An upgrade to the "pro" account gives you unlimited storage, uploads, and the like for about $2 per month. Best to try the free account until you know you need more. Essentially, Flickr is a bundle of software and web scripts that help you upload digital photos to your account (through a web browser, by e-mail, or even from your photo-ready mobile phone), and then add elements to those photos like captions, text, tags, and keywords. You can invite anyone to view your photos, or you can limit access to a select group.

The cool part comes once the photos have been posted. Flickr has features to help you share your photos with friends and colleagues, and to view the updated photo streams of your friends as well. If you open up your photos to the world, then a whole world of users can find your images, comment on them, subscribe to your photo stream, or add you as a "buddy."

Having such a large user base contributing and browsing images makes Flickr an addictive place to visit, with photo galleries of the ''most interesting'' images on the site ("interestingness" is determined by how many links, comments, tags, and visits an image gets each day), and connections with amateur and professional photographers.

As a socially active site, Flickr is also an obvious ground for marketing people, events, shows, and other entertainments, which makes it a natural place to advance your organization, your artist, or your events. Imagine creating a Flickr account for your performing arts venue or your artist agency, posting promotional photos as well as images from the most recent events and performances. Flickr offers easy ways to include your evolving photo stream in your own web site, on weblogs, or anywhere else on the web. And the effective use of image tags ensures that your events or your artists show up on major search engines like Google.

For an example, check out the Flickr account of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.

On the heels of Flickr came YouTube, a web site and system that does many of the same things, but with full-motion digital video. Users can post digital video to their free account, adding captions, descriptions, and keyword tags, and also view and connect the videos of others.

The synergy of this idea made YouTube the site to watch in 2006, as user-generated videos flowed in surrounding major news stories (London bombings, Hurricane Katrina), often with more speed and depth than network news could manage. The low barriers to entry also made YouTube a massive cultural phenomenon, with the rise of "video bloggers" (individuals posting video diaries of their lives, their opinions, and their creative expressions) and social networks built around favorite funny videos or long-lost film -- think America's Funniest Home Videos, on steroids.

For the arts presenter, manager, or artist, YouTube offers opportunities that were, until recently, too expensive and complex to consider. With a YouTube account, any arts presenter, manager, or independent artist can post videos for the world to see -- demo songs, performance excerpts, guided tours of a facility, video interviews with artists, and on and on. And as with Flickr, once content is posted, it can be dynamically included on your own organization's web site, promoted through e-mail, and linked to a larger world of arts lovers, business colleagues, or enthusiasts.

Already, Hollywood studios are posting movie trailers on YouTube, encouraging fans to spread the word about upcoming releases (remember Snakes on a Plane?...sorry if you do). Imagine a similar network of artist performance excerpts, interviews, and documentary footage, all connected to performing arts organization web sites at no cost to the agent, the artist, or the presenter.

A Caveat about Copyright
As Flickr and YouTube have grown, so has the challenge of protecting copyrighted creative work. Still images and moving images with sound often have complex ownership issues. And just because you have a digital copy of something, doesn't give you the right to post it for the wider world to see.

So, as you dip your toe into the content-sharing worlds of these two sites, be sure you have the rights or the express permission of the various owners of the content to post their work (the composer, the artist, the designer, the producer, the union, and anyone else who played a role in creating the image or video content).

Sharing is a wonderful thing. But you can only share what's yours.

[Ed note - for those visiting YouTube for the first time and wondering where to start browsing, Terry Teachout has compiled a wonderfully absorbing index of hundreds of amazing performances uploaded onto YouTube including Maria Callas, Louis Armstrong, Blossom Dearie, Edward Elgar, Leadbelly, Astor Piazzolla, Frank Zappa, and Stevie Wonder, among many many others. Just follow the link and scroll down nearly to the bottom and look on the right.]

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