I have already mentioned how Flickr has the characteristics of a massively multi-player online role-playing game, but I wanted to expand on this a little more. A “sticky” site has a sense of play to it. Flickr does this wonderfully, with interesting features just a few explorative mouse clicks away. What’s more, Flickr encourages you to explore and make interesting connections, and this exploration keeps Flickr incredibly sticky.
For example, Flickr constantly encourages you to explore other people’s photo collections, from the tag searching, to latest photos on the home page, to groups and contacts; everything invites you to network and make links. But it never bullies you into doing this, merely points you along a path you can chose to take.
Exploring Flickr is like exploring any game environment. You can make discoveries, amusing connections, get lost, and find your home again. Along the way you will meet interesting characters, perverse characters, and the incredibly dull. Flickr is not only a game, it’s a story, and it succeeds because the story is about us and our lives, and it’s delivered visually.
Perhaps this is why the ‘friend networks’ have invariably failed to sustain their original hype. People’s personal profiles are only so interesting; people’s photos on the other hand are intimate, personal, and interesting.
The realization that Flickr is, in many ways, a game, leads one to an interesting thought. Is it possible that all truly great websites are games? Ebay is a nice example of this. People don’t just log in to buy and sell, they also log in to play, explore, and even fight with other users over items. Who hasn’t heard from a friend of a great Ebay discovery, or a bidding war, or a fantastic sale? Play makes Ebay fun. Google is another example. It has exploration and discovery game elements in abundance!
Perhaps when we think web usability and design we should also be catering to human kind’s innate curiosity and desire to solve problems that games tap into. With these ideas in mind, let’s hope the next generation websites learn from Flickr and sites like it to produce truly interesting experiences.