I was just checking out Flickr’s “interestingness” filter again, and once again I’m disappointed. This is not new, with the occasional exception of del.icio.us popular I’m always disappointed in any service that purports to find things everyone will like. I refer to this as the “your favorite band sucks” (YFBS) problem. What Flickr’s filter considers interesting is almost exclusively high-contrast single subject images in brilliant colors with a striking depth of field. In other words, images suitable for inspirational posters. I almost expect to see a proverb of hell in white script along the bottom edge. No one could say they’re bad pictures, in fact they’re beautifully photographed. But interesting?
When I worked in the wine industry, we periodically held comparative tastings of other wineries’ wines to see how we stacked up. We’d get a good cross sampling of, say, California Chardonnay…a couple high end Napa ones, some mid-priced Central Coast ones, maybe a couple lower end ones too. Then we’d add our own in, blind taste them all and see how we did. What we found was that anything unique, no matter how well-made or expensive, would lose. This is the YFBS problem in a nutshell. The least unique, least potentially off-putting one would win. The unusual one would get a couple very high scores, but also some really low scores, and it was the slightly above average one that got the win every time. If you think about it, this is how our political process is designed too. Inoffensive and pleasant will win out over taking a controversial stand every time.
What does this have to do with Flickr? My point is that what I like best is not going to be the winner of the popularity contest. We’re all going to like different things, so why not cater to that? Why not create a “uniqueness” filter to catch all the most unusual images uploaded to Flickr? Now THAT would be interesting. Maybe not as popular, but interesting for sure.