How does Flickr Explore work anymore anyway?

As far as I can tell, the last time Flickr included one of my photographs in its daily Explore feature was on Dec. 31, 2019. When one of my photos is Explored, I usually get a deluge of comments saying, “Congrats on Explore!” I then check Scout at Big Huge Labs, which shows you all of your Explored photos.

My photos on Explore in 2022.

Recently Flickr sent me an email looking back on 2022, and is showed that I had one photo in Explore. I was surprised to learn of it, because it got no congratulatory comments, and Scout doesn’t include it.

Flickr has changed Explore since SmugMug bought the service several years ago. It is said to always have been driven by their Interestingness algorithm, which evaluates interactions with images to determine which ones Flickr users think are interesting somehow. But there have been some themed days in Explore, such as photos of birds, or photos by artists of color.

Between 2013 and 2019, my work was featured in Explore 32 times. In 2020, they “fine tuned” (their words) that algorithm — and to my knowledge, my work has not been featured in Explore since.

When my photos were still getting Explored, it was a lot of fun because of all the views and interaction an Explored photo received. I gained a lot of followers because of Explore. My photo that was allegedly Explored in 2022 received none of that goodness: a meager 343 views (as of the day I’m writing this) and only one comment, which was from someone who followed me already.

A long time ago I wrote an article here about what I learned about improving your chances of being Explored. Forget everything I said in it, because I’ve been doing those things all along and they haven’t worked since the end of 2019. I’m not sure how Explore works at all anymore. Maybe you know, and can shed some light.

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26 responses to “How does Flickr Explore work anymore anyway?”

  1. Nigel Kell Avatar
    Nigel Kell

    I have had the same message from Flickr, saying I’d had three pictures in explore, when, as far as I can see, I haven’t. Perhaps the tinkering broke it……

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Weird. I wonder what is going on.

  2. P Avatar

    I think the answer is, it doesn’t…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Something’s broken, for sure.

  3. Marc Beebe Avatar

    That still exists? Why? :D

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Well, it used to be fun when I got Explored all the time!

  4. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    I’ve had photos in Explore a few times. It was interesting to check some of the people viewing my photographs had no photos posted and no information about themselves.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes! I think there are people with Flickr accounts who just like looking at photographs.

      1. bodegabayf2 Avatar

        And I am not certain all of the accounts are real people.

  5. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Once again, too late to the party…never joined Flickr, and by the time I was thinking about it, the kids were telling me: “…oh, Flickr is way over…”. Who can keep up?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s surprising to me, but my photos get WAY more views on Flickr than any of my posts on this blog do! And I work hard on this blog and just dump photos onto Flickr.

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        That’s an interesting stat!

  6. seatacphoto1951 Avatar

    I did a cursory glance of my posts and noted that there were at least 3 images that were featured in Explore in the last 2 years. Each had over 100 likes and at least 7000 views.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I wish they notified you when your photo is chosen!

      1. seatacphoto1951 Avatar

        They did let me know by email at the time but I did not remember specific dates so I checked flicker account.

      2. adventurepdx Avatar

        I’ve basically notified that I got a photo in Explore when I get the invite to add said photo to the “In Explore” group.

  7. Johnny Martyr Avatar

    I checked and have 31 Explored photos since 2010, so you beat me but I’ve continued to get in Explore up through 2022 even more than I used to get when I uploaded to Flickr as my primary social media site. My latest four Explores were just from October, then November and December and before that, April.

    And I still find out as a result of the flurry of comments and favorites. However, I really don’t pay much attention to any of it and found two images on the old Big Huge Labs site that I didn’t realise were Explored.

    I don’t really do anything deliberately to get into Explore and they used to pick some of my dumbest photos but the selection, has by and large gotten better. Your previous blog was interesting though and they certainly seem to have picked some of your nicer images. I remember reading years ago somewhere that they often choose images that contain circles.

    I sure miss when Flickr groups were active. Had some good times and met some fine folks there. It remains the best social media site for photography, at least on a technical level.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It really is fascinating to see which photos Explore chooses. My first Explored photo was the dumbest thing, a quick shot I made on my kitchen counter of a couple rolls of 620 film to use in my blog. It features my sugar jar and a bottle of ibuprofen.

      I missed out on the golden era of Flickr forums. A shame.

  8. adventurepdx Avatar

    Like you, Jim, I’ve had several photos “Explored” through the years, but never really understood the logic. My most popular photo (98% of which due to being on Explore) is a very, very boring photo of pizza on a table.
    It was a pic from a bike tour, more an excuse to tell a story. Maybe that triggered the algorithm?

    And like you, the number of Explore pics went down over the past few years. I thought it might be a bias against film pics, as this is when 98% of my stream became film (besides drawings/comix/art I post.) But I’ve gotten a few fairly recently.

    There’s definitely a culture of folks who are all into Explore and will “Congrats” basically any pic that gets explored. Many of these accounts will have names like “Jocque Sock, thank you for the 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 views!” I think to them Explore is a game, and maybe if they comment on every photo that gets Explored, it increases their chances with the algorithm. Maybe they’re right? Even if they are, I don’t care. But it’s nice to get Explored every once in a while. But I’m not going to do anything to “increase my chances” or somesuch.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I was willing to put my best photo in first position when I did an upload, which seemed to help. That was as much as I was willing to play the game.

  9. Darts and Letters Avatar
    Darts and Letters

    I was on Flickr from 2004 (beta!) to 2011 and now since 2019 and I’ve never had a picture on Explore so I guess that makes me pretty (not)special? :o) Appreciate the thoughts in your essay above, Jim. I love Flickr, I think it’s a really fun way to look at photography. I’ve learned so much studying the work of other people on there. In the past six months, I’ve started trying harder to not just be in the background and instead use it more actively, to connect with people. There are so many amazing photographers on there (and I’m not even talking about explore).

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I joined in 2006 – I guess I didn’t realize that the site was still pretty new then!

      I love Flickr, too. I’m also horribly bound to it, as I host 95% the images for this blog there. When its ownership was in flux I was biting my nails hard. If that site ever goes away, this blog will be a hot mess.

  10. Steve Mitchell Avatar

    There is a group on flickr who devote all their energy into trying to figure this out. For some reason the landing page is not showing me all these group discussions or I would be able to name it….. I don’t really understand it, I have been explored a number of times, certainly not always images I would expect. I don’t post often on Flickr as I have only the free membership and I am getting near the magic 1,000 images, but an image I posted last week was explored. Yet a very good photographer I know has never been explored. It is a mystery to me :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Explore is another version of Fake Internet Points — ultimately, it has no value. But it’s fun to be Explored nevertheless!

  11. Rickard G Avatar

    I’m an occasional participant in a Flickr-group where a theme is posted on Mondays, you shoot during the week and everyone post and chats about the images on Sundays. Those images get explored at a remarkable rate, even the ones that are rather ordinary hobbyist images.

    My theory is that Flickr are serious when they say they emphasize organic interaction and that it matters who interact with the pictures (user that post ‘real’ comments have more weight than those that copy-and-paste). If I would try to game the system I’d ask a few of my friends to use my images as a chat-room for a while, it’d at least be a fun experiment.

    I also really like Flickr, even with the tumbleweeds in the groups. It is the only social media (if you can call it that) that seems to care about photography. I gladly pay for my Pro-account just to keep them alive.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      They’ve always said that, and the level of interaction I was getting was enough to be Explored at least once a year. But maybe they’ve tightened that up.

      I love Flickr. I hope it lasts forever! Or until the end of the Internet, at least.

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