A Night at the Opera

La Traviata being performed by the Royal Swedish Opera

When I finally succumbed to the sweet, pixel-based obsession that is Flickr a very wise fellow told me, “Your life as you know it is now over. You will find yourself buying better and better cameras without knowing why.” Indeed. Little did I know it would get me hauled up on stage too.

A little while ago I got a random e-mail from a stranger with a business proposal. Here’s the catch—it wasn’t shilling a questionable medical augmentation device or entreating me to consign my life savings to unlock the hidden fortune of a wayward politco. The very real person on the sending end of this note turned out, in fact, to be a pleasant photographer from Denmark—a person who had spotted one of my photographs on Flickr and wanted to know if she could hang it on her office wall.

Turns out her office wall is the backdrop of the Royal Swedish Opera.

Specifically, what looks to have been a fun production of La Traviata. An inhabitant of another era might even go so far as to call their staging “saucy.” Sorry to say I couldn’t be there in person, but they were kind enough to send back some images of my pixels making their big stage debut. All in all a very cool experience that I could never have possibly imagined back when I was first setting up my user account and asking, “Just what the heck is this Flickr thing all about anyway?”

Images of 30 Rock photo as it appeared onstage
The original photo and it's various stage personae.

Lately I’ve found myself in the midst of a lot of discussions about social networks. While the specifics are always shifting, a few principal themes keep recurring. One is that a key inflection point of a social network—a mark shared by the most “successful” ones—occurs when participants begin exchanging tokens of value beyond that which the network was explicitly designed for. Behavior the network’s creators may or may not have had in mind. Like when a photographer from Denmark contacts a web designer from New York about decorating an opera house in Sweden.

The network is X. But with an intelligent foundation it can evolve into Y, Z and Q too.

Flickr is not a dating service. Flickr is a dating service.

Flickr is not a business network. Flickr is a business network.

Bear with me here. I know I’m not the first to have these thoughts, rough and partially formed as they are. But there’s definitely something here that merits close examination for all would-be creators of the Next Big Social Thing.