Digital Focus: Have Fun With Flickr

I'm like a little kid: I like to play. I love to discover new programs and Web sites that do something useful, yet are also fun. I've recommended Flickr several times, and I hope you've already tried the service--either to share your own photos or to browse through other people's images.

This week, I've rounded up a handful of clever Web sites that build on what Flickr started.

Get Around Flickr With Flappr

Let's start with Flappr, a Web site that lets you browse the photos at Flickr using a novel interface that's fun to use and pretty to look at. Instead of Flickr's tabbed, multipage navigational system, Flappr puts everything on the same screen, with an array of animated windows that keep images at your fingertips. (Note: The site uses Macromedia Flash 8, so you'll have to download it if you don't already have the program.)

Flappr's interface is gorgeous: The little windows have rounded corners; captions overlay the pictures in semi-transparent banners; and navigational aids pop out of windows when you hover the mouse over them. It's a peek at how your computer would work if your programs were engineered with a strong sense of modern design. Using Flappr probably won't completely replace the experience of going to Flickr, but it's a nice change.

Add Text to Pictures With Captioner

As the editor of my high-school yearbook, I spent a lot of time writing humorous thought balloons for photographs. Of course, when I was 17, I thought that every photo of a soccer game with the ball frozen high in the air was funny if you added the caption, "It won't come down!"

If you can do better than that--and I'm sure you can--then you will enjoy Captioner, a site that lets you add thought balloons to photos you find on Flickr.

Don't worry: the text never appears on any photos at Flickr. Instead, your handiwork is rendered in Captioner's Web page. You can save the picture with the caption embedded in it to your own computer; bookmark your creation and visit it again; or send the URL to friends so they can see what you've done.

Play Sudoku With Photos

I can't decide if this version of Sudoku is clever or just bizarre. No matter what it is, it's very addictive.

Sudoku, of course, is the Rubik's cube of the 21st century. It's a classic puzzle game that challenges you to complete a 9 by 9 grid by ensuring that the same number doesn't appear twice in any row, column, or 3 by 3 subsection of the overall puzzle. And you probably already know that, since the game has become a major phenomenon.

What you probably didn't know is that you can play Sudoku with pictures from Flickr instead of numbers.

At first, this version of Sudoku will seem fiendishly hard, because our brain is wired to look for patterns in simple symbols, like numbers, but not in visually complex symbols like photographs. Stick with it, though, and you'll find that Flickr Sudoku is a blast. You can customize your puzzles by specifying the difficulty level, the Flickr tag to base the pictures on, and the size of the pictures.

Circles of Tags

My last site for you this week is one that lets you explore photos at Flickr in a whole new way. For me, the key to exploring Flickr is browsing tags and seeing where they lead me. Tagnautica, which also requires Flash 8, takes the premise of tag browsing to entirely new levels.

You start with an unbelievably simple interface: the command to "click here." When you click the page, you get a flashing cursor, where you type a tag. Instantly, your entry is surrounded with a ring of the most closely related tags. The result looks like a necklace, since each tag is depicted in an adjacent bubble. Each bubble is filled with a representative picture, and the bubbles are sized to reflect the relative number of photos associated with each tag.

Here's the fun part: Click any bubble in the ring to switch the focus to that collection of photos. The tag you clicked on moves to the center and a new ring appears, showing you the photos with the most closely related tags. You can keep doing that, moving around the deep and rich Flickr tagging system to your heart's content. If you ever want to see actual photos instead of just tag rings, click the tag in the center and you'll go to that tag's home on Flickr.

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