Flickr/iPhoto Disintegration

The Bridge One of the new features in iPhoto ’09 was support for sharing photos on Facebook and Flickr.  This tied in with the new Faces and Places features, with the former syncing both ways to Facebook and the latter syncing both ways to Flickr.  It gave me an incentive to sign up to both these sites and for a while I was content.  In fact, I’m still content with Facebook which, although sinister, works well.  Perhaps because of the simplistic photo management.  Flickr is more sophisticated and it’s causing me problems.

The Promise

In both cases, what is offered:

  • instant uploads to albums/set
  • photo name, description, keywords and faces/place (depending on service) synced both ways (so if you update a name online it gets updated in your iPhoto library)
  • any new photos added to albums/sets online synced back to iPhoto

What you can’t do is add an existing album online to iPhoto to manage it from there.

The Problem

All this is great, in principle, but it’s all managed through albums in iPhoto (mapped to albums/sets online). But with Flickr your photos also appear in your photo stream, of course.  This has led some to believe that deleting a photo from an album in iPhoto is like removing a photo from a set in Flickr (it normally stays in your photo stream just as a photo removed from an iPhoto album stays in the library).  This is not the case: remove it from the album and it’s removed (together with comments and views) from Flickr.  (The workaround is to remove the photo from the set on Flickr, then delete it from the album iPhoto.

What happened with me is that for reasons I don’t understand the link between iPhoto and Flickr broke for some pictures.  The pictures stayed in the Flickr sets, but iPhoto somehow had lost them from its album, so it downloaded them into iPhoto.  This means duplicates in the library.  Not only that, but the metadata in Flickr is now being synced with the jpeg in iPhoto rather than the original RAW image.

I can find no way to fix this.

The Design Flaws

This all suddenly gets a lot worse when you start to think about things like having pictures in two of the sets that are synced between iPhoto and Flickr.  If you add a photo to two Flickr albums in iPhoto, it appears in both sets on Flickr, but twice in your photo stream.  iPhoto hasn’t figured out that you don’t want to upload the same picture once for each set.  Of course then any metadata you add to one on Flickr doesn’t appear on the other (I assume this gets synced via iPhoto eventually, but still).  On the other hand, if you add the photo to one album in iPhoto and then use Flickr to add it to the other set as well, it get synced back into iPhoto into the other album as a separate picture.  Now you’ve got a duplicate in iPhoto – there’s no way to avoid a duplicate somewhere.

The photo size you upload is determined on a per-album basis. So if I start and album before going pro, I can only choose the smallest upload size, but when I go pro not only can I not change the setting for that album, I can’t even add a new photos in a higher resolution.  Surely anyway we should be able to retrospectively change the resolution and have iPhoto do all the heavy “replace photo” lifting?

Photo Recognition

Given the relatively sophisticated algorithms involved in face detection and face recognition, it cannot be that hard to develop a simple algorithm to establish that two photos are the same (even if stored in different resolution) and sync intelligently based on this?  Apple sell their software based on usability, and the fact things just work (they usually do) so why am I even having to think about this?

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See for more...

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