“What’s In Your Bag” Photos Pollute Flickr’s Search Results

Has anybody else experienced this phenomenon? You’re searching Flickr for a particular random topic, and the ‘Most Interesting’ results inevitably feature multiple shots of a mass of electronic devices, lipstick and cables on somebody’s bed.

It’s the “What’s in Your Bag” problem. My latest example is a search for ‘book club’. Three of the photos on the first page feature photos from the What’s in Your Bag pool. Ironically, none of the front page photos show me what I was looking for–photos of groups of people in a book club.

I gather the “What’s in Your Bag” photos have plenty of text associated with it, and get a lot of traffic (inexplicably, as they’re profoundly dull photographs), and so they tend to permeate Flickr’s search results. I’m tempted to photograph a pair of, say, sheep testacles, and add that to the photo pool. More of a sack, I suppose, but it still applies.

Interestingly (heh), the Interestingness algorithm is a lousy way to actually find photos of a particular subject. Consider the most interesting photos for the search ‘mobile phone’. Three more “What’s in Your Bag” photos, and only a couple photos showing phones (and none particularly clearly).

I was searching for photos of book clubs to prove my point that they’re 90% female. The search results don’t quite support that number, but it’s easily 75%. A search in Google Images bears out similar results.


  1. Yeah I run into that all the time when looking for photos for my blog.

    You can reduce the chances of them showing up by changing your search from “Full text” to “Tags only”. Full text searches descriptions, titles, tags, and possibly even comments.

    They’ll still show up, but not as much. There’s also fewer if you search Creative Commons only.

  2. There are a couple of different series like this on flickr that dominate the results. There are also a couple of photographers that put every word they can think of into their tags. So, you can’t really search on conceptual tags like “inspiration” or “connection” anymore without running into pages of these totally irrelevant (in my eyes) photos.

    Which is the beauty and the incredible frustration of the folksonomy.

    Andrew’s suggestions are bang on for trying to get better results out of flickr.

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