In a move that proves that the people behind flickr are still channeling the Web 2.0 mass conscious, flickr announced this week  that they’re adding Geotagging features to their already-robust suite of image management products.
As you may recall, I previously blogged a bit  about the rise of geotagging, particularly geotagging of photos, and I had said that it seemed to be a really strong idea with a lot of potential uses. It’s gratifying to see that a service like flickr (and a company like Yahoo!) also believes that it will be strategically beneficial.
The number of people who have been geotagging or who even know about it is likely a relatively low percentage of the online populace, I’d guess (partly for the reason that most people don’t have a GPS device to tell them a location’s longitude and latitude). Now that a top-ranked photo site is supporting it expressly, droves of users will become educated about it, and experiment with it. By doing this, flickr is propelling the trend into the mainstream, increasing the likelihood that it’ll be more widely adopted.
Flickr’s new geotagging utilities were built by mashing-up their image management utilities with Yahoo! Maps, allowing users to drag pix onto a mapped location of where the image was taken in order to associate the photo with the geotag. Also, it appears that users could now use a graphic map as a navigational interface to browse geographic locations  and then pull up any publicly-available photos associated with that location. Read on for more info.
To use the service, you go under their Organizr and click on the Map tab. When I first went in, I was pleased to see a message appear that stated that they noticed I’d already geotagged some photos, and would I like those to automatically be added to the map. Beautiful! Acknowledging the existing geotagged photos and allowing the user to choose to associate them with the map is top-notch usability. Also, the interface allows the photo owner to decide the photo’s level of privacy — so, top marks on the photo privacy as well! No one should want photos of their home (or, photos of their gold coin collection, for instance) to be associated with a map marking their location, and have that info to be publicly available!
Adding photos to the map was pretty easy — just pull up a map of the location where you shot a photo, select one of your pix from the image catalog at the bottom of the page, then drag the photo over the map to pinpoint it.
Flickr hides the newly-added geotags in the code of the image’s main page like this:
<span class=”geo” style=”display: none”/>
Those span tags are part of a map link that they add to the “Additional Information” segment of the page — allowing a small thumbnail map to pop up showing the location pinpoint. In flickr’s blog they mention that it will no longer be necessary to add the long/lat to the Tags of the image:
As a bonus there will be no more need for the unsightly “geotagged/geo:lat/geo:long” tags cluttering up your photos – we’ll offer an automated way to remove them all once the development community has had a chance to make the necessary changes to their code.
I have to express a bit of mild criticism about this decision, I guess. I think there are compelling reasons to visibly display the geotags in the text of the page for various uses. There are offline appliances that people might wish to type those codes into, for instance, and hiding them in the code of the page seems to be a bad idea to me. Just display the longitude and latitude in that section of “Additional Information”. A user might also desire to copy the location codes into another online application — perhaps they prefer using Mapquest’s driving directions, for instance.
Another negative note: like so many newly-launched cool apps, flickr/Yahoo are obviously unready for the influx of traffic hitting the new system. Maps are pulling up excruciatingly slowly, and the AJAX tiling of the map images (to allow the drag-panning features) is funky for the moment with only some of the tiles pulling up for any given map. Hopefully they’ll resolve this quickly, though.
One recommendation for the Flickr team: I’d like to be able to send other people the precise URL of the map navigation location that I browse to. The map navigation utility  is great, but I can’t send folx a URL to the section of San Jose where I photographed and geotagged a picture of a church near the McEnery Convention Center, for instance.
For everyone else: I highly recommend trying out the new geotagging and browsing features at flickr! Local Search and Image Search have all converged with this evolutionary step, and we can expect to see new and interesting developments catalyzed by it.
If you’re curious, you can check out my geotagged pix on my personal map at flickr .