Flickr and Interestingness

Recently, I was looking for a photo to illustrate a talk I was giving at a company meeting. I was telling the old story about three men working. A passerby asks them what they’re doing. The first man grunts “working” and goes back to his stonework. The second man says, “I’m building a wall.” The third man stops, gazes off into the distance for a moment, and says, “I’m building the most beautiful cathedral in Ireland.”

I wanted to remind people what we’re really doing each day. Not just working, not just building a wall, but focused on what Jim Collins calls a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. (O’Reilly’s is changing the world by spreading the knowledge of innovators.)

So I needed some good pictures as visual bullets. I first went to Google image search, but while the photos were good, they were all somewhat “expected.” After paging through the first four sets of results, still hadn’t found anything suitable. So I went over to flickr, set my search to “most interesting” rather than most recent or most relevant, and soon had a fabulous selection of unusual photos of cathedrals.

Google made a breakthrough in web search with its original idea of links as citations (i.e. PageRank), and they are still the undisputed leader in general web search, but they haven’t done as well in searching rich media. I think they have some things to learn from Flickr. More specifically, web search innovators all need to think through what makes results “interesting” for a given domain. I like what flickr has done in calling out “interestingness” as a quality worth searching for, and leaving it as a playground for exploration.