Flickr launches geotagging feature

As announced today on the Flickr blog (and as reported by TechCrunch), Flickr - the photo sharing site , owned by Yahoo! - has just added a 'geomapping' feature to their site. The move follows a fairly long period of community activity to promote geomapping, using third-party APIs and tools along with 'geotags' - codes embedded within the site's normal tagging functionality. So it's nice that Flickr have recongised a clearly great feature that's come from their community, and has a demonstrated need.

The functionality they've added means that geographical informaiton is no longer added to photos via the general tags, but with dedicated new fields. This allows them to treat the data a little more programatically, and do things like add a 'where this photo was taken' map link to geotagged photos. They've also added an 'import' feature which converts tag-based geotags into ones in their new system - which is great for all the people who have built up a library of geotagged photos.

One of the downsides to the new implementation though, which seems to be instantly obvious, is that the (Yahoo!) maps they are using are far lower quality to the Google maps that all the previous geotagging 'mashups' used. Even within London, the level of detail for streets isn't enough for me to be able to accurately tag my photos - rendering the feature kinda useless.

You can't blame Flickr for using Yahoo! based maps rather than Google - even if the Flickr team prefer Google maps, they'd be huge internal political pressures (I imagine) for them to use the maps offered by their own company.

It looks like I'm not the only one who has spotted this. Already within the GeoTagging Flickr group there is a thread in which people are making similar comments:

I live in Mexico and the level of detail makes this feature unusable. I'll continue to use YuanCC and loc.alize.us. Google et al supports a level of detail down to all but the most detailed level. Flickr dies at 5 levels up. Sorry Flickr, you'll have to do better. It's a big world.
- waywuwei

As neither Google nor Yahoo! are in the cartographical business, both companies buy their mapping data (and satellite imagery) from various third party providers. So the fix for this is obvious - Yahoo will have to invest in licenses for better mapping data. In the meantime, however, it will interesting to see if their is a backlash to the Yahoo! maps. With Yahoo! and Google now both offering mapping data - both with openly available APIs - they can now be compared side-by-side, allowing people to switch their affections between the two (and any other alternatives) pretty easily (at least in their own mashups and scripts). So the competition between these two to provide decent mapping data can only grow, and be a good thing.

Meanwhile, for anyone who hasn't already checked it out - the Open Street Map is an initiative to provide freely-licenced mapping data - by building maps from the ground up with the use of volunteers with GPS loggers. It's an interesting, and worthwhile, project (the blog is worth reading too), but perhaps somewhat ambitious, and likely to take a while for the data to be of good enough quality to really use.

Geo data looks set to stay, and this new feature on Flickr can only boost the popularity of being able to see a map of where your photos were taken. Having taken photos on my mobile phone for several years, and using Lifeblog to archive and store them, it's amazing to discover just what a difference it is to be able to have accurate time and date data for your images - no longer do you have to look at old prints only to wonder how old you were at the time. Geo-data is the obvious next step, and will add a whole new dimension to looking back at old photographs come the future...

Quick update: a side by side confirms that Google is indeed far better for London mapping data than Yahoo!