Blogs and Flickr

Jugal Kishore Sastry

Blogs (also known as web logs) have become lightweight, general-purpose platforms for publication, self-expression, and collaboration. Bloggers push the limits of new media production, especially in the area of integration, because they want ultimately to blog about anything that they can see or think or hear -- without any effort, of course. Because you can directly tie blogs in with other systems -- often without any programming on your own part -- we now study how to combine blogs with other applications and data sources. In this article, we look at end-user functionality that lets you publish content to a blog from a website or a desktop application.

Integration Scenarios for Blogs

To a first approximation, blogs are online journals about a topic, a theme, or a person written by one person or a small group. Here are other general patterns:

* Blogs are made of entries that are typically displayed in reverse chronological order
* These entries are often classified into categories.

Sending Flickr Pictures to Blogs

As we have seen in previous article Flickr provides excellent functionality to display and add narration to your photos: slideshows; sets; the ability to tack titles, descriptions, and tags to photos; and groups to collaborate with others with similar interests. Yet, it is natural to want to present your photos outside of the world of Flickr. If you have a personal blog, would you not want to display your photos on your own blog and tell stories around them? As a Flickr user, you can automatically post a photo to your blog, provided you:

* Configure Flickr to work with your blog
* Hit the "Blog this" button for the desired photo Below are detailed instructions on these two steps. Before we look how to use the automated process, let's look how you would manually present a photo from Flickr on your blog.

Generate the appropriate HTML for the photo in question. For this to work, you would need to know the URL for the actual image, as well as the URL for the photo page. You could grab the URL of the image from the web browser (through right clicking the image and copying the image URL for instance). If the photo in question is your own, Flickr provides some help in this department. For a given picture, hit the "All Sizes" button. For a given size of the photo, you can copy and paste the HTML given under the "Copy and paste this HTML into your webpage" title. 2. With the HTML now in hand, you would go to your blog to create a new post and then paste that HTML. Flickr helps automate this process by making use of blogging APIs. Let's see how.

Configuring Flickr for Integration with Blogs

Before you publish your photos from Flickr to a blogs, you need to tell Flickr about the blogs you plan to use. Here are step-by-step instructions for configuring your blogs for access by Flickr: 1. Go to . You have to be signed in to Flickr first. 2. Hit the "Add another blog" link (). You will see a list of weblogs that you have already configured. Note the list of types of blogs supported by Flickr:

* Blogger
* Typepad
* Movable Type
* LiveJournal
* WordPress
* Manila
* Atom Enabled
* BloggerAPI Enabled
* MetaWeblogAPI Enabled
* Vox
* (none of the above) Depending on the type of blog you want to integrate with, the parameters you will need to fill in differ.

If all you are interested in is setting up Flickr to enable you to send a photo to your blog, you do not need to understand why there are so many blog types listed. If, however, you are interested in the mechanisms behind blogging integration, it's useful to ponder what we see here. For instance, why does Flickr ask about the type of blog you have? It's conceivable that Flickr would not have to ask that question all if all blogs were the same in terms of mechanics of integration. The fact that this question is asked indicates that there is some sort of dependency on the blog type affecting how Flickr connects to the blog. But if your blog type is not on the list, what are you supposed to do? What exactly are those dependencies and can they be formulated in terms of parameters of the system? We'll come back to this later.

WordPress
To add a WordPress blog to your Flickr configuration, do the following:

1.. Make sure you have a WordPress blog that you own to use for this example. You can either install your own WordPress blog on your hosting service or make use of the free WordPress service

2. Select "WordPress Blog" in response to the question "What kind of blog do you have?". Note that with this choice you end up at the URL -- which suggests that WordPress is accessible through the metaweblog API.

3. Enter the following parameters:
* API endpoint -- for WordPress blogs, the URL is . So, for example, .
* Username.
* Password.

4. After you hit "Next" -- and assuming that you entered the correct combination of API endpoint/username/password -- you have the choice of storing the password on Flickr, and changing the URL or label. After you have entered your choices, hit the button "All Done".

5. You are given the choice of choosing a template for your blog and customizing it (if you know HTML and CSS).

6. You can test the blog configuration by issuing a test post. To do so, go to , select the "Test Post" button that corresponds to the blog. If things go well, you'll get the message: "A test post to [name of your blog] has been sent. Feel free to delete it once it's gone through." and you should see a test post on your blog.

Blogger Blogs

Blogger.com is another popular host of free blogs and is owned by Google. To add a new style blogger blog to Flickr, do the following:

1. Select "Blogger Blog" from the drop down menu at . Make sure you have a Blogger blog, which you can sign up for at .
2. At this point, you may be asked to head over to google.com to authorize Flickr's access to your blog.
3. Over at Google, if you are not already logged in to blogger.com, you will be prompted to log in. (Notice that it is Google/Blogger asking for the login, not Flickr here.) Once you are logged in, you'll be asked to grant access rights to Flickr. Note the comment, "Flickr.com will not have access to your password or any personal information." There is a fuller explanation of how the authentication scheme works available on the Google website.

If you grant access to Google, your browser will be redirected to a page presenting you a drop-down list of the blogs available at blogger.com. Select the one you want. 5. Verify the settings (you can change the URL and label). Hit the "All Done" button. 6. Test your settings by making a test entry to your blog. Do you see a test entry on your blog? If so, your parameters are correct. Notice that you never enter your username/password for your Blogger blogs to Flickr at any time during the process.


Blogging a Flickr Picture

Once you have a blog configured for blogging from Flickr, you are now ready to write a blog post based on a photo directly from Flickr. Here's how: 1. Go to a specific Flickr picture and hit the "Blog this" button located above the picture. 2. Choose from the list of the blogs which blog you want to send the picture to. 3. Fill out the title and your post; I often find it helpful to copy and paste the description of the picture into the "your post". Hit return. If everything goes according to plan, you'll see the message from Flickr saying "Your blog entry has been posted!" and a URL to your blog so that you can check out your new post.

We have just seen how you can send HTML encoding a photo and description from Flickr to a blog. It should not then be surprising to find out that you can send data to blogs from systems other than Flickr. Indeed, there is a whole genre of tools that let you compose and post blog entries in a more convenient environment (such as a desktop app) and then send those posts to your blog instead of having to use the native blog post interface.

Combining Feeds and Blogging to Generate Feedback Flows
In blogging there is often tight coupling between reading other people's blogs and writing one's own blog entries. If you happen to be reading other blogs through an feed reader, you might even be able to easily drop pieces of other people's blogs (that are coming in as RSS or Atom items) into your own blog editor.

For example, on Windows, using SharpReader8, combined with w.bloggar9 and the w.bloggar SharpReader plugin10, you can directly write blog entries based on items coming into your SharpReader news feeds (in a proces that has been called "reblogging").

.Since reblogging can often produces nothing more than trivial republication of other people's words, it's easy to forget that this flow of content is actually undergird by a feedback loop of reading and writing. When you use Flickr's blog functionality, content goes from Flickr to a blog, but there's no easy flow of content from blogs back into Flickr. In contrast, the combination of weblogs that syndicate their contents through feeds and feed aggregators that are also blog clients means that what you read can flow easily into what you write. In the next section, we look at Flock, a web browser that facilitates this flow between reading and writing by building in greater integration with blogging and various social media websites .

Flock: Bringing Together Blogs and Flickr

Flock () is advertised by its creators as the "social web browser". Built upon the Firefox codebase, Flock incorporates within its own interface:

* Flickr, Photobucket, and YouTube integration
* Blogging integration (including Blogger, LiveJournal, Typepad, WordPress.com, and various self-hosted blogs)
* Integration with your social bookmarks at del.icio.us and ma.gnolia.com.
* Drag-and-drop functionality that allows you to drag Flickr photos into a writing toolbar that then connect to your blogs

RSD: discoverability of blog APIs

If you configure Flock for blogging, you might wonder why some blogs can be configured by simply entering the URL of the blog only, while in Flickr, you sometimes need to enter the URL to the specific API endpoint. How is Flock able to find the URL endpoint from the URL of the blog

You won't be surprised then to discover that someone invented an autodiscovery mechanism for the existence of blogging APIs: For detailed technical information on the mechanism, read the RSD specification: Here I point out how RSD has been implemented at least two major blog publishing services: WordPress and Blogger.
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Linkbacks
Let me mention a type of communication flow that you might notice from studying blogs (though not directly from how Flickr interacts with blogs). Among comments listed for a given blog posts are often entries that come from other websites. How is a blog able to track links that come from the outside? Weblogs use linkbacks, a family of methods for receiving notifications of inbound links to a website. As documented at there are three major protocols for linkbacks: refback, trackback, and pingback. It'd be useful to know which of the protocols are supported by various blogging software so that you would know which of the protocols to support if you set out to use linkbacks. Why might linkbacks be useful for mashups? You may want your mashup to either notify websites that it links to or receive notifications of being linked to.

Wiki Integration at an Early Stage

Wikis are also websites for bringing together user contributions, though they are designed to be more radically collaborative. According to the Wikipedia, a wiki is:

  1. "a website that allows the visitors themselves to easily add, remove, and otherwise edit and change available content, typically without the need for registration."
  2. The ideal scenario for wikis is allowing anyone to edit pages, combined with a lack of broken links. That is, when a user follows a link to a page that doesn't exist, the user is not given a 404 error, but rather the opportunity to create that page.

Blogs and wikis are brought together in this article because they are siblings. Indeed, there are hybrid blogs/wikis -- or at least experimentation to bring them into hybrid structures.13 There are other similarities between blogs and wikis: both are used to publish websites, both can have APIs that facilitate integration, both tend to have plug-in infrastructures that make them more like platforms than simple software. This combination of APIs and plug-ins makes for mashup opportunities.

We have seen some complicated ways in which the tools and data involved in blogs aren't being mashed up. Although the potential for wiki mashups is great, there are a lot fewer examples of such mashups. Much of the technical foundation is in place: for instance, many wikis have APIs and plug-in frameworks.14 However, the uptake of wikis is less than that for blogs. The closest thing to a mass phenomenon we have in the world of wikis is the Wikipedia. It's not surprising then to see some mashing up of the Wikipedia, though not as much as I would have expected. Let's look at one example of a remix of the Wikipedia , FUTEF, a custom search engine that draws content from the Wikipedia. (): 1. Go to  and type "Bach" into the search engine. 2. Study the search results that come back, their order, including the categories listed.

3. Compare what you see in FUTEF with what you get from the same search in the Wikipedia. In the Wikipedia, you get an immediate redirection to the article on Johann Sebastian Bach. For other Bach-related terms, study the Bach disambiguation page.

Curiously, FUTEF has built its own API that it has invited others to use. Why, for instance, would anyone use FUTEF's API to access the Wikipedia when the Wikipedia provides its own? Once FUTEF fulfills its plans to offer content other than Wikipedia, I can see a good reason for trying out the FUTEF API. At this point, I'd say FUTEF is useful primarily as a demonstration of how you can repackage Wikipedia. Other places to look in terms of integration with the Wikipedia is in authoring tools, akin to blogging clients and in bots that have been written to support the editing of the Wikipedia. A list of such editors can be found at: while a discussion of Wikipedia bots is at:

A few points to remember as we conclude this article

* Flickr lets you blog a single picture. From this function, you can see a specific instance of data being sent to blogs.
* There are many types of blogs and they require different type of configuration schemes.
* Flock tries to envision a future in which a whole bunch of tools are integrated together: a Web browser, Flickr, blogs, social bookmarking.
* You can generate a feedback loop using RSS, news aggregators, and blogging and the fact that most blogs automatically generate RSS.
* Blogs represent a type of remixing in a narrative, in contrast with the data-oriented remixing via tags and straight RSS so far discussed.








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