Put Flickr to work
Your photos hosted, Flickr toasted
Comment May 27th, 2008
By Roger Howorth

A free lunch may not exist, but sometimes if we’re lucky we can find a free ride. After all, if someone provides a free service, why not use it? Firms are beginning to integrate their web sites with those of industry leaders such as Google and Yahoo. I’m not talking about providing better search facilities, or even putting maps on your site to help customers find your office. Useful as they are, such gadgets probably won’t make much difference to your budget or bottom line.

One of the most interesting projects I’ve seen lately is an extranet that allows users to draw routes on top of Google maps, and a public web site that uses Flickr to store the photos that appear on its pages.

Although image storage is something that most of us could handle with only a small amount of additional code, we still have to ask “why am I doing this when someone else would do it for me?” Obvious problems are the cost of backend storage, and the complexity of the software needed to allow members of the public to login and upload photos. Although it’s not a huge problem in terms of software development it raises questions about privacy, security and copyright. So while the development cycle may be small, it’s a major project to keep going once it’s up and running.

In contrast, Flickr’s business is to let people login and store photographs on its servers. Obviously, using Flickr as external image storage for a third party site removes almost all of the complexity for the smaller site. Those sites simply tell their users to upload pictures to Flickr and tag them with suitable key-words. Flickr handles the storage and logins, and it takes responsibility for privacy and security. Meanwhile, with the help of some simple JavaScript the third party site automatically finds photos tagged with the appropriate keywords and puts them in the right place on its web pages.

The routing extranet uses the same idea of building on the foundations laid by industry leaders. In this case, the organisation needs to allow various people to layout road routes that can then be viewed on its public web site. The solution is an extranet site with some clever client side code that allows users to click on Google maps to create route maps. The maps are stored on a server so it’s easy enough to make a new URL for the public website that leads to a non-editable version of the map.

Of course, one of the best things about this solution is that Google’s maps are free to use, but they can also be easily zoomed and printed, and users can switch between the normal views of Google maps, including the satellite and hybrid map/satellite views. There’s a special prize on offer to anyone that can do any of the above using in-house developers in under than a year. I’ll leave you to wonder about the budget savings. Meanwhile, a peep at the source code for any web site will tell you if they are plugged into such free resources yet.

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