You know I’m a big fan of Flickr. The online photo community has, for me, been fun, useful, amusing, educational and immensely interactive. Flickr helped popularize the whole concept of folksonomy tagging. And their secret formula for calculating ‘interestingness’ has an uncanny knack for surfacing truly amazing photos.
What exactly is interestingness? Well, it’s a method of calculating which photos are the most interesting, using information such as the tags used to describe the photo, how many times it’s been viewed, how many comments it’s received, the age of the photo, how many times it’s been saved as a favorite, and by whom — and probably a few other factors. The combination yields delightful results. Whereas Google’s image search reveals what you expect (the mediocre stuff), Flickr’s interestingness factor delivers the exceptional. Tim O’Reilly recently described a perfect example of Flickr’s interestingness in action.
The beauty of interestingness, as explained by Yahoo!’s own Bradley Horowitz, is that it exponentially expands the pool of participation within a community. People participate in the process of establishing interestingness without necessarily doing anything. Which is exactly what community builders want; a way to get the lurkers and the consumers to share their knowledge and insights.
Ok, so interestingness is a good thing, right? Well, now Yahoo has filed a patent application on interestingness.Â Now I can understand that Yahoo! wants to protect their secret sauce, but isn’t that really limited to the weight factor they give each variable in their interestingness equation? If they are awarded the patent, does this mean I can’t take usage metrics to derive results in other arenas, like serving up the most interesting/salient/relevant knowledge? And really, is the concept of relevancy (however it’s defined) really new?
I love Flickr, and I like Yahoo! But this patent is too broad and filled with “uninterestingness.” Let’s hope it dies quietly.