Go exploring!

The whole subject of the Explore feature on Flickr is a bit of a loaded one. Ask a question about how to get on the Explore page in the Discussion area and you’re likely to get a thousand of those “why do you care about getting on Explore you should just love taking photos” responses. Not to mention the fact that there is no set criteria for hitting Flickr’s Explore page and the whole process is supposedly a well-kept secret. Except that it isn’t, kind of.

A link to the photos I’ve had on Explore since 2011. Some of them really suck, by the way – but I’ll explain that later.

I read up on Explore after being on Flickr for awhile and having one of my photos suddenly get a lot of comments from people who were not followers of mine. I found it odd that so many strangers were suddenly showing up, and then someone left a comment that said “Congrats on Explore!” and I had to go look the whole thing up on Google.

My first Explored photo – this one landed at #39 out of 500, so not too shabby.

So what is Explore, first of all? To my very basic understanding of it, Explore is Flickr’s determination of the ‘most interesting’ photos uploaded each day – I believe the number of photos that hit Explore each day is 500, but don’t quote me on that. What determines a photo as ‘interesting’ is not some group of people checking out what’s being uploaded; it’s a constantly changing computer algorithm that assesses a photos’ activity – basically, if an uploaded photo gets a lot of chatter in the form of favorites and comments in a certain period of time, it’s chances of being considered ‘interesting’ by Flickr are upped. Once a photo hits Explore, it moves up in rank as it collects more views, likes, and comments. A photo can hit Explore and then drop off quickly if it doesn’t continue to get any love – I’ve had this happen a lot, too. 

I guess you could call this my ‘most Explored’ shot – it reached #6.

There are some other standard bits of advice I’ve seen about getting photos on Explore: tag your photos well so they will be found by lots of people (I used to be good with this but have gotten progressively more lazy as time goes by), do NOT put your photo into too many groups (no more than 5 is the general rule, but honestly I can’t remember the last time I put a photo in any group; again, I’ve been lazy lately), avoid the groups that have rules about commenting on other people’s photos (I hate those groups anyway), and be an active Flickr member who comments and favorites other people’s photos regularly so they return the favor (got this one down).

Now, with random rules like this, and remember, with no actual PEOPLE checking out your photos, it’s inevitable that some of your crap photos are going to hit Explore also, and I have been no exception to this:

There’s no way this should be called “interesting” – I was literally just showing off a new wig to friends here.

Here are a few more observations I’ve found about hitting Explore, that may or may not be truthful, accurate, and/or useful. For some reason, most of my photos that have made it to Explore have been ones I’ve uploaded right after midnight, Central Standard time.Even though I haven’t read anything else out there that states this is a factor, if I have a photo I’d like to see on Explore then I am sure to upload around then. For this one, which is one of my favorite photos, uploading at 12:01 AM Central time worked:

Really wanted this one to get higher than #179, but again, out of 500 that isn’t bad.

Also, after the Explore bots find you once, they’ll hit you two or three more times in close succession. This has always been the case for me, and it’s another way I managed to get the above photo on the page – Explore had hit me twice recently so I knew the chances were good I could get that one to hit too.

Another fairly uninteresting photo Explore deemed ‘interesting’ – it made the page a few days before I managed to get the previous shot to hit.

You also need your photos to be visible to everyone, and they need to have a ‘safe’ rating. Anything marked ‘restricted’ will not hit Explore, and I’m not sure about the ‘moderate’ setting. All my photos are very safe so I’ve never had to worry about this one.

After Explore has had its way with you a few times and you’re starting to feel like the two of you have a good thing going, it will abandon you without so much as a phone call. It sucks but it always happens. Explore is a fickle little bitch, and apparently the algorithm is always changing slightly to keep things, well, interesting. I might have 4 or 5 photos go Exploring in one month, then not have another one make the page for 6 months or more. And as I already mentioned, it’s not like it’s always my best shot, or even a good one, that makes the bot-cut. It’s pretty random stuff.

So essentially, there’s very little rhyme or reason to the whole thing. Follow some basic rules and eventually you will get lucky though. And by the way, if you want to know which of your photos have hit Explore, you can go here, type in your Flickr username, and the Scout will pull them all up, along with their current numeric status. Photos that hit Explore but fall off the top 500 at some point, however, will not show up. Give it a whirl – you never know, you might have already been featured on Explore and not even known about it. The first time I put my name in there, I was surprised at how many I found. But then I went back to the pics and looked at how many views they had and it made sense – they had loads more views than my average photos. 

All of my photos that made it to Explore since I came online in 2011. Kinda fun. To check out yours, go here.

So there you go, my tips for hitting the Explore page on Flickr. Not that it really matters whether you hit Explore or not, because all you should be caring about anyway is taking good photos. Or something like that.