Friday, 21 November 2008

Flickr: The Book

I've learned so much about online communities and interaction from the Daily Post's Flickr group. I've written about it before and I'm fairly sure I will in the future, as I think Flickr is a wonderful example of collaborative story-telling.

But the reason I've been immersed in Flickr this week is because a group of us are working on a new book featuring the work of the group. It's being designed by Trinity Mirror's SportMedia department, and will feature several pages of work by the Post & Echo photographers, followed by substantially more pages of seriously wonderful images from the Flickr group.

The aim is to capture the essence of European Capital of Culture Year, and all the usual suspects are there (La Princess, the Tall Ships, Brouhaha, Macca at Anfield) but the UGC element gives it more depth, more... heart.
I think the difference is that the Flickr photographers weren't running to a tight schedule, covering the event for two papers, up against a deadline and with another job to get to. They were immersed in the event, spectator and recorder (sometimes participant); they were capturing the essence of the performance, rather than faithfully portraying an event.

So we have, for example, a beautiful shot of a Tall Ship sailing past the Liver Building taken by a Post & Echo photographer whose brief was to show readers what was happening.
Alongside it is a Flickr photo of a father and his young son, grabbing a five minute sit-down amid all the excitement of the day and sharing an ice cream. This image was uploaded the Flickr group and sat amid other photos of flying pennants, the Mexican ship's maharishi band and throngs of visitors. It was a part of a multi-dimensional tapestry that comprehensively depicted an exciting day on the Liverpool waterfront.

The Flickr photographs are not better than the professional photographers, nor is the reverse true; they compliment each other. We use Flickr photos in the paper every week, credit the photographer and link back, but the book feels different. We couldn't have done it without the co-operation of the Flickr members, and that makes it special.

The book will, I think, bring pleasure to a lot of people and - perhaps more importantly - raise money for our Liverpool Unites charity. We contacted the Flickr group for permission (via a posting on the discussion board and, once photos had been selected, individually) and the warmth of the responses to the idea was really something. Interestingly, everyone chose to be bylined under their 'real' names, not their Flickr names.

For me, this project has offered some clue to new, exciting ways newspapers can work with communities to create something new, lasting and valuable for readers. We could have produced a book of 2008 using staff images only and it would have been a quality publication. But collaborating with the Flickr group to tell the story of a special year feels so much more satisfying and is, I think, a more appropriate tribute.

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