The Linux way to Flickr


Author: Marco Fioretti

The Flickr Web portal allows people to publish and share online, grouped and tagged by subject, whole galleries of digital pictures. You can use Flickr with several GNU/Linux-based applications. Developers can also use the API published on the Web site to obtain an API_KEY and build new interfaces to download, upload, or process pictures in Flickr. What might be less known is that Flickr already is another place where GNU/Linux users can meet, as well as a potentially very useful advocacy tool.

Flickr contains more than 15,000 pictures tagged with “Linux.” Flickr can help introduce Free Software to non-geeks in a fun and non-intimidating way (“See Mom? We’re just like everybody else!”). Many Flickr users have already done just that, showing off their FOSS-related talents in many fields. Consider cooking: ask your aunt to try the Ubuntu Bun, the King Wafers, or the mouth-watering Debian Cake, whose recipe includes “lots of sugar and a little of geekism”!
If your friends are on a diet, no problem: just show them the geek way to decorate a Christmas tree or suggest that they read the adventures of the librarian who transforms into Linux Lass.

Flickr hosts many screenshots of popular FOSS applications and good-looking desktops, to silence those who still believe that Linux is an arid, prompt-only land. The versatility of Free Software is demonstrated by pictures of Linux running on everything from PDAs to airplane seats, Nintendo consoles, and Linux powered, two-inch Space Cubes. Last but not least, Flickr can advertise FOSS events from local installfests to world-class conferences.

Flickr front-ends

There are many good reasons to visit Flickr with your Penguin hat on. Let’s have a look at some Flickr interfaces for GNU/Linux.

Casual Flickr users may just go with a Firefox plugin.
The easiest and best choice for frequent, Penguin-enabled Flickr uploads is probably jUploadr, whose most recent version is also compatible with the Zooomr online photo service. Performance has improved from previous versions and the program runs on Windows, Mac OS X, and any modern GNU/Linux distribution without configuration problems or weird dependencies (OK, it needs Java). jUploadr is perfect for Flickr users who wish to migrate to Linux, or just try it, with as few problems as possible.

If necessary, jUploadr can work through proxies and limit the upstream bandwidth that it uses. The interface is simple, but does the job well. To tell jUploadr which images it should work on, drag and drop them from any file manager into its root window. You can upload multiple photos simultaneously and add a description and tags to each image. Besides autocompletion of tags names, the latest versions of jUploadr supports the definition of photo sets, which are groups of photos with a common description, making the process even faster. It is also possible to tell the tool to resize all images automatically in several ways before uploading, to save bandwidth and space on the Flickr server.

Configuring the program to access your Flickr account is a snap. First, from the Accounts tab of the Preferences window, select a Flickr or Zooomr account. This will load in your browser a Flickr page in which, after logging in, you’ll have to authorize jUploadr to access your account. After that, click on the Complete Authorization button in the jUploadr window. Next, enter your default privacy settings and tags in the proper tab, and you’re all set. All that’s left is to click on Upload at the bottom of the main window. While a transfer is in progress you can see how much has been done, because jUploadr marks the pictures already sent to the server. That’s it — next time you log into Flickr, your pictures will be waiting for you.

jUploadr may soon gain a powerful competitor in Flickrexport, an application for digital photo management which currently is available only in source code format via SVN or as a Digikam plugin. Flickrexport can export photos directly from a digital camera to a Flickr account.

Flickrexport’s developer is also the author of another interface called Qlickr, which is now abandoned but still worth mentioning. The Qlickr tarball contains one small executable file, which (on Fedora 4) worked out of the box. While the interface is pretty bare, it’s perfect for adding Flickr support to a portable Linux system such as a live CD or a USB pen drive. Qlickr would also be faster than a browser on an older computer, so it would be great if the software found a new developer or maintainer to keep it compatible with the latest distributions.

Another tool to consider, if you want to help with development of Flickr software for Linux, is FlickrUploadr, a simple Python/Gtk program, which at the moment, unfortunately, isn’t capable of accessing Flickr via a Yahoo! account.

When a GUI isn’t enough

All the tools presented so far are interactive ones. If you are a digital photo enthusiast, you may have tons of pictures already stored on your hard disk before you start using Flickr. Uploading them all by hand would take a long time, but you can automate the process.

To begin with, you can find Perl and Python modules that can be used for much more than just moving pictures back and forth from Flickr to your computer: you can grab and edit on the fly, either from a Web server or on your hard disk, temporary copies of those same pictures. An article from Linux Gazette explains how to do this, with a couple of interesting examples. The first consists of downloading a set of pictures and combining them in a montage. You could even embed the code in a CGI script driven by a Web form, to let users decide if they want pictures of their family meetings, holidays, pets, and whatnot. The other script creates an HTML image map.

Another application of the same Perl modules is a Flickr upload plugin for the Nautilus file manager; in order to use it, you must set the proper email address, password, Flickr tags and save it into the ~/.gnome2/nautilus-scripts directory.

Besides the modules, you might also want to try, which is basically FlickrUploadr minus the Gtk code, or a Ruby utility that does more or less the same job. A Spanish blog entry explains how to talk to Flickr with the cURL HTTP client.

What about backup? If you upload pictures from some Internet kiosk or a friend’s computer during the holidays, you’ll probably want to save them on your home machine or some other server as quickly as possible. In these cases, try the Java Download Utility for Flickr.

Marco Fioretti is the author of the upcoming Family Guide to Digital Freedom and contributes regularly to NewsForge and other IT magazines.