Uploading photos to the Internet is about the least exciting part of photo sharing that you could imagine, but Flickr believes a new tool for the task will improve the site dramatically.
The new upload tool, set to arrive this morning, replaces an interface that's remained largely unchanged for years: select multiple photos, watch transfer progress bars crawl across the screen, then add titles, tags, and captions.
The new tool, which runs in Chrome, Firefox, and Safari for now and will support Internet Explorer later, uses new standards such as HTML5's drag-and-drop so that you can copy image files or a folder to the Web page. The upload starts immediately and is 20 percent to 30 percent faster in the United States and a notch faster than that elsewhere, said Denise Leung, senior product manager for Flickr.
Meanwhile, you can add text such as titles, tag people in the photos, set privacy, add to sets, and reorder photos so the appear in the order you want in the photo stream. That includes the ability to select multiple photos to apply the same caption, titles, and tags. The ability to add photos to particular groups will come in the next few weeks.
Only when you're done handling your photos do you click the publish, at which point the photos become public.
An upload tool is kind of ho-hum, but Flickr has a point that making it better will make people more likely to use the site. It still has work to do shedding its reputation among some photo enthusiasts as a slow-moving site, but this improvement is smart.
Flickr, faced with competition from Facebook, the Google+-infused Picasa, and upstarts such as 500px, has figured out that it can't be complacent if it wants to preserve its pioneering place in the photo-sharing world.
"2012 is the year when we're going to quite fundamentally enhance the product," said Flickr director Markus Spiering.
It turned new Pro-level account holders into subscribers last January, a business move that could help cut down on churn. And for the users, it debuted what it calls the "justified view," which for some parts of Flickr fills the browser window with an larger photos rather than showing just a grid of thumbnails.
Justified view is a huge improvement visually, but it's not front and center yet. You can see it if you visit your favorites or contacts pages. Spiering promises that it'll come to people's main photo pages by the end of the year.
It's not trivial, given that Yahoo must process the photos as they're viewed to make the new view work, he said.
"It's going to be a phased rollout. Dealing with billions of photos and generating different photos on the fly is a big challenge," Spiering said.
But it's worth it.
"People consume four to five times more photos" with the new layout, he said. And he said there are double-digit percentage increases to activities such as marking a photo as a favorite, commenting, or looking at a large size.
One more new feature also is arriving tomorrow: Support for larger file sizes. For users of Flickr's free service, the top image size rises from 15MB to 30MB, and for Flickr Pro accounts, it rises from 20MB to 50MB.