Online Collaboration Borne From Multiplayer Game

Flickr, new social networking-meets-IM-meets-collaborative workspace software unveiled at ETech, strives to make online groupware more fun as it draws on code from the gaming world.

SAN DIEGO—A startup companys online multiplayer game has spawned a new way to share and collaborate on the Web that melds elements of instant messaging, group chat and social networking.

Ludicorp Research & Development Ltd. unveiled its Web collaboration application, called Flickr, during a preview this week for attendees of the OReilly Emerging Technology Conference being held here. The Vancouver-based company plans to launch next week a public beta of Flickr.

Rather than focusing on making connections, as in many social-networking sites, or simply on real-time communication, Flickr embraces the idea of instant media sharing, Ludicorp President Stewart Butterfield said. Its initial focus: real-time photo sharing and collaboration.

The idea for Flickr grew out of Ludicorps online gaming work. The company initially began developing a multiplayer game called Game Neverending, which it expects to launch this summer, and realized it could leverage much of its functionality in an online groupware-type application, Butterfield explained. Flickr, in fact, shares about 75 percent of Game Neverendings code in common, particularly code related to event distribution and messaging.

"The point is to allow people to communicate and collaborate and to experiment in real time," said Butterfield, who dubs Flickr, "Groupware for play."

Members join Flickr through its Web site, where they also fill out and manage a profile and settings similar to those on social networking sites such as Friendster. But the heart of Flickr isnt its profiles or its main Web site but its Flash-based application.

Once members launch the Flickr application, they are brought to what appears like a collaborative workspace. They view their list of friends, driven by the social networking, from which they can launch an instant-messaging session.

Members also can join and create groups organized around interests or relationships, which the software treats as objects just like individuals, Butterfield said. With a click, members can join and launch chat sessions among those present in the groups or set up ad hoc ones.

What makes Flickr different than just chat, though, is its media sharing. Members can store as many as 50 images and a maximum of about 500 kilobytes on their own "Shoebox" that lines the bottom of the window, then drag and drop those images into an IM or group chat session, where others can view them and tinker with them.

The social network determines the level of access members receive to other members photos. While some photos can be made public and accessible to all, members also set permission levels based on their network and the level of friendship—from acquaintance to best buddies, Butterfield said.

"For us the social network is not the purpose of this," Butterfield added. "The social network is a feature, not an application."

The sharing of images is only the start of where Butterfield hopes to take Flickr. He envisions members sharing video and audio clips and even collaborating to create new music and sounds that also could be exported.

Flickr is using Web services APIs to extend its reach. Third-party developers are able to create applications that Flickr members can access as well as applications that can access Flickrs social network and presence information. Butterfield wants to be sure members arent trapped in Flickr but eventually can push photos outside the system and bring in content such as Weblogs.

Joining Flickr is free, but Ludicorp expects to add premium services, such as larger image storage space. As part of its business model, it is embedding text ads into various parts of the site and considering other marketing possibilities, Butterfield said.

/zimages/2/28571.gifCheck out eWEEK.coms Messaging Center at for more on IM and other collaboration technologies.