When people talk about managing communities in this new online world, one name is mentioned more often and with more respect than any other: Heather Champ of Flickr. Today Champ announced that after nearly 5 years and more than 4 billion photos uploaded, she is leaving Flickr to start a community management consultancy called Fertile Medium.

Flickr went from a Canadian social gaming company in 2004 to a photo sharing service to a Yahoo! acquisition in 2005. 3 years ago next month, Yahoo! shut down its giant Yahoo! Photos service and moved everyone over to Flickr instead.

Champ put her work in perspective on a blog post that included the following:

"How do you take a community the size of small town to the size of a nation? How do you grow a site that began in one region and make it truly global by adding languages and localizing in what's now 25 countries? How do you apply a content filtering system to a living site to ensure that members can be respectful of one another but still share the greatest variety of content? These are some of the big hairy challenges."

Just as most of Yahoo! has, Flickr has seen budget challenges as well. A substantial number of the Flickr team members were laid off one year ago this month.

Facebook has long been larger and now sees almost an entire Flickr's-worth of photos (3 billion) uploaded to that social network every month. As Facebook pushes its users more and more public with their content, it would be well served by paying attention to what Champ did at Flickr. The succinct and oft-learned from community guidelines at Flickr are among the work that Champ says she has been most proud of.

Those challenges were experienced at Flickr in some of the earliest days of what's now called "social media" and Champ helped forge best practices that have served as a foundation for communities all over the web ever since.

Photo by Beth Kanter.