Using Flock of late, my experience has been at times as follows:
- Browse a bit.
- Oh, the orange photo button just lit up. Let's see what we've got.
- Ah, another out-of-focus mobile phone photo of Jimbob's dog rolling around on the rug.
- Browse for five more minutes. There goes the orange button again.
- Nice, another picture of Jimbob's dog.
- Read email and come back to the browser. Hey, the photo button's orange again. I hope it's not…
- Hmm, well, it's not his dog, but it is another out-of-focus shot of something yellow. Maybe a closeup of a pencil? Or a traffic light? Ok, back to work.
- Three minutes later, Jimbob's dog again.
Don't get me wrong. I like the photo notification functionality. Before I had it at my disposal, I never thought to go look at my friends' flickr photos, and so the feature will probably help me keep abreast of what my friends are doing. (And once some issues are ironed out on Linux, it'll probably entice me to begin using Flickr to upload my photos.) In its current form, with some of the contacts I happen to have on my list, the photo topbar provides more of a distraction than a benefit. It provokes me far too often to stop what I'm doing so that I can look at photos of little consequence. It's not that I don't enjoy seeing pictures of Jimbob's dog and inadvertent abstract shots, but I wish I could set the frequency with which the topbar notified me of new photos.
This is no easy user interaction to figure out, however. For example, some people will want to get a notification of every photo uploaded. Others may want notifications every 10 photos unless one of them is from friend X, in which case an immediate notification is given. And if there's a difference of that sort, it might be useful to be able to distinguish between different types of update (ie, one for urgent friend X should stand out from a standard "10 photos in aggregate" notification). Add to all of this the fact that most people aren't going to want to bother managing photo thresholds. We've taken away the need to manage favorites; we shouldn't replace it with the necessity to manage photos in complex, tiered ways. So we'd need sensible defaults.
I don't know if implementing anything like what I'm trying to get at here will even make it onto a priority list, but just in case it does, I'll explain the interaction I'd personally find useful. (Maybe.)
- By default, any time five more photos appear in my aggregate stream, I get a notification.
- There's an easy way to increase or decrease that threshold.
- On a per-friend basis (or perhaps by context-clicking any photo in a stream in the topbar), I can set an individual threshold. Options might include the following:
- Any time X photos are uploaded, alert me.
- Set a color or short status bar notification blurb of some sort that will let me differentiate this alert from others I may have set (including default notifications).
- Maybe I can also set alerts by tag within the photo streams I've subscribed to. So any time Jimbob (or anybody) posts a photo tagged "flock" (or say I set it to alert after 5 photos tagged "flock"), I get an immediate alert complete with blurb or coloring as noted above.
Maybe all of this would be overkill. Conceptually, it seems as if it could be useful. In practice, I might find that managing my contacts' photos would too involved a task to keep up with and wind up just setting the default threshold at 10. The problem I'm trying to solve is that, while I'm interested in seeing Jimbob's dog, I don't need to see every picture as soon as it's posted. However, I am interested in immediately seeing every picture my wife posts of my kid while I'm out of town. I wish I could strike a productive balance between the two.