Twitter in the API

Ever since we launched our Flickr2Twitter beta, developers have been requesting new API methods, so they can support Flickr as a photo sharing option in their Twitter clients.

I’ve got good news, and bad news.

The bad news is we don’t have any new APIs to offer you.

The good news is we shipped our “Twitter APIs” nearly five years ago.

Let me explain.

Working with Blogs (including Twitter)

For as long as anyone can remember, we’ve supported the option of posting to external blogs directly from Flickr. Once you’ve configured a blogging service it becomes available in the “Blog This” drop down, as an option for Upload by Email, and, of course, in the API.

You and I might have serious philosophical questions about whether Twitter is a blogging service, but our web servers are more pragmatic. To them, the Twitter integration is just a new blogging service.

Configuring a blogging service

The first step for a member wishing to blog (or tweet) via Flickr is to configure an external blog. The only way to do this on, generally from the Add a blog page.

Twitter is a bit special (or rather a preview of things to come) as we’ve given it its own service page. Directing users of your app to the Flickr2Twitter page is probably the best way get them “tweet ready”.

All set?

From here on out, you’ll need your user to have authorized you to access their Flickr account. (Find out more about FlickrAuth)

With a signed call to flickr.blogs.getList() you can get a list of all the blogging services a member has configured. Alternately you can pass in a service id (e.g. Twitter) to scope the list of blogs to the service you’re interested in. The response looks something like:

  <blog id="7214" name="Code Flickr" service="MetaWeblogAPI" needspassword="0" url=""/>
  <blog id="7215" name="Twitter: kellan" service="Twitter" needspassword="0" url=""/>
  <blog id="72157" name="Twitter: Flickr" service="Twitter" needspassword="0" url=""/>

This account has 3 blogs configured. A WordPress blog, and two Twitter accounts. Each one has a unique id. Additionally needpassword="0" means we have credentials for these blogs stored server side and you don’t need to prompt your user to log in to their blog.

If you passed in Twitter as the service, and instead of the above you got something like:


Then your user hasn’t configured any blogs for that service.

The Easy Option: Upload a photo to Flickr, post to Twitter via Flickr

If your application has been authorized to upload photos on your user’s behalf, and you’ve made sure they have a Twitter blog configured with Flickr, then the easiest solution is to use Flickr as a passthru service.

Once you’ve successfully uploaded a photo you’ll get an API response like <photoid>1234</photoid>. (Find out more about uploading and asynchronous uploading).

Pass the blog id from the <blogs> list above, and the photoid from the upload response to flickr.blogs.postPhoto(). If you’re posting to Twitter the title argument is optional and the description argument is ignored. (By default the title of the photo is the body of the tweet, alternately pass a different status update in the title field)

Or instead of passing a blog id, you can pass a service id (i.e. Twitter) and the photo (and blog post) will be sent to the first matching blog of that service. If we don’t find a blog matching that service, you’ll get a “Blog not found.” error.

Assuming your API call to flickr.blogs.postPhoto() is well formed, Flickr will turn around and post your user’s tweet to Twitter, including a short url linking back to their photo.

The Established Option: Upload a photo Flickr, post to Twitter any which way you can

If you’re looking to integrate Flickr photos into an existing Twitter application you might already have a preferred method for posting to Twitter.

After you’ve successfully uploaded a photo and received the photoid follow these instructions for manufacturing a short url using the domain.

Unlike most URL shortening schemes, every photo on Flickr already has a short URL associated with it. The follow the form:{base58-photo-id}

By the way, you shouldn’t feel constrained to only use short urls on Twitter. They work equally well for a diverse range of applications including fortune cookies.


If you want to display a thumbnail of a photo, you’ll need to make an API call to one of the methods that returns the photo’s secret. Either or will do. Read up on constructing Flickr URLs.

Follow Along

My favorite new game has been watching the flows of shared Flickr photos as they appear on Twitter.

Happy photo sharing!

Slides from Velocity 2009

At Flickr Engineering our favorite thing is rainbows. But fast stable websites come a pretty close second. So last week some of us drove down to San Jose to take part in the 2009 O’Reilly Velocity conference.

The conference consists of two tracks, performance and operations. The attendance was a great mix of people working on optimizing the whole web stack – everything from the download size of CSS to the PUE of data centers. There were talks on automated infrastructure, Javascript, MySQL, front-end performance recommendations and CDNs, but the most significant theme was the direct business benefits that companies like Google and Microsoft are seeing from microsecond speed improvements on their sites.

Some of the most interesting sessions for for us were:

  • John Adams talking about Twitter operations (details , slides , video )
  • Eric Schurman and Jake Brutlag’s joint presentation about performance benefits seen at Google and Bing (details , slides , video )
  • Andrew Shafer’s discussion of Agile Infrastructure (details )
  • Adam Jacobs and Ezra Zygmuntowicz’s talk about Cloud Infrastructure (details )

John and I also gave a talk on how Flickr’s engineering and operations team work together to allow us to iterate quickly without causing stability problems. The full video is available, and here’s the slides:

Thank you to Jesse and Steve for putting together a great conference. We’re already looking forward to next year.

Every Step A Story

Many of you will have already read on the sister blog that we added “nearby” pages to the site, last week, for phones that support the W3C Geolocation API (that means the iPhone, or Gears if you’ve got an Android phone).

Ross summed it up nicely, writing:

Use this to explore your neighborhood, or find the best places to photograph local landmarks from. Reload the page as you walk around a city, and see the things that have happened there in the past. You’ll see a place through the eyes of the flickrverse.

We’ve also updated the nearby pages on the main site so that when you go to…

…without a trailing latitude and longitude, we’ll see if you have any one of a variety of browser plugins that can tell us your location. This is similar to the Find My Location button on the site maps, that Dan described back in April, but for nearby!

Like the iPhone’s Mobile Safari browser, the next version of Firefox (version 3.5, currently being tested as a release candidate) will also support automagic geolocation so you won’t even need to install any plugins or other widgets.

Just point your browser to and away you go.

The other piece of nearby-related news is Tom Taylor’s fantastic FireEagle application for the Mac called Clarke.

Clarke is a toolbar app that sits quietly in the background and scans the available wireless networks using the Skyhook APIs to triangulate your position and updates FireEagle with your current location.

In addition to being an excellent FireEagle client, Clarke also supports Nearby-iness for a variety of services, including Flickr.

I’m writing this post from FlickrHQ, in downtown San Francisco, so when I choose Flickr from Clarke’s Nearby menu it loads the following page in my web browser:,-122.402776

Which is kind of awesome! It means that you can travel to a brand new place, open up your laptop and just like magic (read: once you’ve connected to a wireless network) see pictures nearby.