The Secret to Hitting Yesterday’s Explore on Flickr

Note: While this is primarily a tongue-in-cheek article, all the facts presented are accurate to our knowledge. [Sean]
Both Bryan and I recently had images featured in Flickr’s Explore. Bryan’s image was a view of Pittsburg during blue hour and mine was a shot of the Tybee Island Pier with stars shining above it. As such, Bryan and I had a brief discussion about the formula that Flickr uses to determine each day’s most interesting – and thereby Explore worthy – images.
If you’re not familiar with Flickr, the Explore feed is basically a gallery that Flickr uses to feature the most “interesting” (their term, not mine) images that have been uploaded recently.
I mentioned to Bryan that while I was unsurprised that his image made it to Explore, I was very surprised that mine had. Why? It was never posted to a single group (which can garner a lot of views) and didn’t seem to have much activity after being on Flickr for almost an entire day. When I went to bed, I the picture had about 50-60 views and one favorite. But when I woke up the next morning, I found the image had been viewed roughly 3,000 times and had garnered almost 50 favorites while I was sleeping and the stats continued to rise. For some reason, the activity from my contacts alone had pushed the image into Explore (but what that activity was, I’ll never know).
The algorithm used to determine Explore worthy images (via an “Interestingness” calculation) is proprietary to Flickr and, by all accounts, top secret. There’s no doubt that the formula is tweaked from time to time, but what is known is that views, favorites and comments are all positive factors. But if your image is posted to a large number of groups, that can count against your image in the calculation. So that’s basically all we know. But does Flickr actually weigh the actual subject matter into the Interestingness equation? Or to put it anothe way, are some subjects more likely to boost your image into Flickr’s Explore?
Then Bryan sent me an email around 7:45pm last night. It read,

“I just figured it out. Buttons are the key subject to get into today’s Explore pool. Why???”

I wish someone could have seen the look of confusion on my face. I had absolutely no idea what Bryan was talking about. Buttons?? What are you talking about, Bryan?
Then I took a look at Flickr’s Explore feed. My jaw dropped. Buttons were seemingly everywhere. Shirt buttons, coat buttons, pants buttons, political buttons, computer and game controller buttons…
That’s when I decided to collect some data.
I captured a screenshot of Flickr’s Explore feed and analyzed the first 50 rows containing a total of 145 images. Of the set, 26 of them featured buttons as the main subject, or very nearly 18% (17.931% to be exact).
Now, I would completely understand if 18-20% of the images in Flickr’s Explore featured landscapes, animals, people or buildings as the primary subject matter. But buttons?!
Which begs the question – do specific subjects get more weight on any specific day in the Interestingness equation (allowing for an image theme), or was the surprising number of buttons shown in Flickr’s Explore yesterday just a really big coincidence?
The world may never know.

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