Yahoo-owned photo sharing service Flickr may have been eclipsed by Facebook as the world's most popular photo sharing site, but there are some things Facebook is probably never going to be able to pull off. For one thing, the creation of a giant public repository of rights-liberal photos available for re-use. Flickr announced today that it has hit 200 million Creative Commons licensed photos, making it the world's largest CC photo collection. Creative Commons is a series of easy-to-use licenses that communicate the conditions that your creative work may be re-used under without asking you explicit permission. (E.g. "with attribution," "for non-commercial use," "no derivatives.")

What's so great about CC photos? For one thing, they are an incredible boon for follow-on creativity. Creativity, the good people of Creative Commons argue, always builds on the past. In a read-write world on the web, the less we're slowed down by standard copyright when it isn't applicable (when we want to share our work with people freely) then the more our photos, music and writing can serve as a platform for explorers who would go further regarding the topics we've engaged with and published on.

Facebook is of course all about posting personal content. Photos that were, when Facebook launched, by default just for you and your friends to see. Then they became by default public. Now they are easier with the latest settings to share privately with groups, except when they become immortalized in a Timeline, which may or may not become generally available soon and which may or may not feel awesome/creepy. Facebook just isn't set up for Creative Commons type work, though.

Flickr, on the other hand, is a great place to post photos for posterity. And it's a great place to find photos to illustrate written work, like the photo I posted at the top of this article. That's a photo of people celebrating a Portland Timbers soccer win, by Flickr user Frozenchipmunk. (Probably not that person's real name.) I always start my Flickr searches at http://www.flickr.com/creativecommons/by-2.0/, the page for photos licensed as "by attribution" and without "non-commercial use only" limitations. I publish my own photos with a CC license, too, here.

Creative Commons, the organization, was founded in 2001 and it sure was well timed. The ensuing tidal wave of self-published multi-media content would have suffered substantially if it had no options but the dominant default copyright regime.

I wish Flickr was more encouraging of people to apply CC licenses to their photos, but traditionally the site was used extensively for personal pictures not intended for re-use. That so many photos are published CC on the site is an incredible asset for the future of creativity online.

Below, a photo I took of Portland's Chinese Classical Garden. Go ahead and re-use it, I only require that you credit me for taking it. Thanks, Creative Commons!