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Obama Flickr Strategy Hits Pay Dirt with Sit Room Photo

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, May 4 2011

Image credit: The White House/Kevin Trotman

In a fun slideshow, the Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal captures all the laughs that Internet people are having with the quickly-iconic Situation Room photo released by the Obama administration showing a moment so dramatic, it seems to have come from a Hollywood movie. "Perhaps, then, it was only a matter of time before the photoshoppers went to work on the iconic image," writes Madrigal, "using it as grist for the always-grinding humor mill of the Internet." Madrigal's slideshow highlights tweaked photos featuring Keanu Reeves, Obama playing PlayStation, and a velociraptor. Messing with the photo becomes a way for people to remix the moment and thus take some small measure of ownership of it.

But let's get a little wonky for a moment and consider that the success of the Sit Room photo might highlight the hidden, well, genius of the Obama administration's online work. Since the beginning, this White House has been aggressive in filling its Flickr Pro account with thousands of beautiful photos, often within mere hours of major events. The work of skilled White House photographers, especially Pete Souza, straddles the line between artistic and appropriate for news reports. (Contrast the Obama White House's Flickr feed with the Flickr stream maintained by Hillary Clinton's State Department that manages to make meeting with world leaders seem pedestrian.) Importantly, back in 2009, the Obama administration and Flickr quietly rolled out a custom "U.S. Government Work" license that clarified who could use its photos and how they could be used: anybody and in any way, basically, as long as it didn't imply an endorsement. Obama actively encouraged people to embed and even remix the gorgeous photos he was posting. This Situation Room photo was pushed out into an environment that had been lovingly prepared for it.

The Flickr'd Situation Room photo been a major win for the White House. The photo has been viewed through Flickr alone a remarkable 1.6 million times since it was posted on Monday, and has been favorited on Flickr more than 4,300 times. It's on track to become the most viewed photo in Flickr's history.

Like its White House Live livestreaming service, the White House's Flickr work an enhancement to the administration's new media infrastructure that it might not get a tremendous amount of credit for, but that might prove quite useful at times.

That said, the photoshopped photos posted by Madrigal actually aren't all that funny. America, if the nation's leadership and military forces can pull off an operation to kill Osama bin Laden, can't we do better than pasting in a surprised kitty?