Matt Haughey from Creative Commons (and the creator of Metafilter) and Stewart Butterfield (Flickr’s big cheese, grand poobah, janitor etc.) did an interview in which he explained what Flickr is about and how it works with Creative Commons licenses. The second question was so good, and goes so far in clarifying what we are trying to accomplish with Flickr, that I reproduce it here in its entirety:
Creative Commons: Flickr has many interesting features surrounding the idea of putting photos on the web. Can you talk about what sorts of goals you have for Flickr, and where the application might be headed?
Stewart Butterfield: There are main things we’re setting out to do. The first is helping people make their photos available to the people who matter to them. That might mean they want to keep a blog of moments captured on their cameraphone, or it might mean that they want to show off their best pictures to the whole world in a gallery or they might want to securely and privately share photos of their kids with their family across the country.
To fulfill this, we want to get photos into and out of the system in as many ways as we can: from the web, from mobile devices, from the users’ home PCs and whatever software they are using to manage their photos. And we want to be able to push them out in as many ways as possible: on the Flickr website, in RSS feeds, via email, by posting to outside blogs or ways we haven’t thought of yet. Making it easier to get photos from one person to another in whatever way they want is a big part of what we do.
Our second big goal is to enable new ways of organizing photos. Once you make the switch to digital, it is all too easy to get overwhelmed with the number of photos you take. Albums, which are the principal way people go about organizing photos today are great — until you get to 20 or 30 or 50 of them. They worked in the days of getting rolls of film developed, but the metaphor stretches to the point of breaking in the digital age.
Part of the solution is to make the process of organizing photos collaborative. In Flickr, you can give your friends, family, and other contacts permission to organize your photos — not just to add comments, but also notes and tags. By capturing the conversations people have about photos anyway, we can safely give up on structured metadata and still have a rich index to search on, so you can still find just the right photo years from now. In a way it’s like the difference between Google and Yahoo, back when Yahoo’s approach was still focused on getting human beings to do the upfront organization of the web into a hierarchy.