On Monday night at 10 a.m. PDT, the White House added a photo to its official Flickr page of the situation room filled with President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other officials watching what one presumes is the livestream of the Navy Seal raid on Osama?s hideout in Pakistan.
The photo became an instantly iconic view of the administration at work at what was arguably it?s more daring and virile national security moment. The sort of capture that has the potential to alter history as much as the underlying event itself, one might say.
And, unlike most iconic presidential pictures, this one went viral without any help or dependency from traditional media whatsoever.
The photo, taken by Pete Souza ? the White House?s talented official photographer, was viewed 390,000 times on Flickr by 3:30 that afternoon. The number reached 600,000 pageviews by 5 p.m. And 25 hours after first posting, the shot had 1.4 million views, well on its way to becoming the most popular photo on Flickr. By noon on May 4, the photo was closing in on 1.7 million views on Flickr.
Online commentators instantly dug into the nuances of the photos to divine details like the classification rating on Clinton?s notebook. Not far behind came the re-mixers, adding captions and photoshopping rodents and internet-famous people into the photo.
Flickr?s numbers significantly undercount the number of times the photo has been viewed. As federal government work, it?s not copyrighted, so anyone is free to republish the work ? and many did.
Flickr, long now owned by Yahoo, grew in popularity by making it simple for people to post photos to share with other people publicly. But Flickr has grown up from being infrastructure for bloggers to the place for official and crowdsourced photos of major news events.
Take last week?s Royal Wedding, for instance.
The British Monarchy used its official Flickr page to distribute its official (and copyrighted) photos of the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (aka Prince William and Catherine Middleton).
In particular, this photo has been viewed 1.4 million times . The entire set of official royal wedding photos clocked in at 45 million page views on Flickr by Wednesday, Flickr told Wired.com.
Flickr also points out that its user-generated photos were used in New Zealand?s earthquake recovery efforts, and were heavily relied on by Japanese net users after the recent disaster.
For years, Flickr has been the place to turn to for crowd-sourced photos. Many Flickr users also adopted Creative Commons licenses that allow others to re-mix and re-publish their photos ? so long as they are credited. That became a massive resource of free photos for bloggers and publications like Wired.com.
And institutions such as the U.S.?s National Archive and the National Library of Scotland have put tens of thousands of archive photos, many of them non-copyrighted or out of copyright, in Flickr?s The Commons project.
So it?s hardly news that Flickr is infrastructure, even as its been passed by Facebook as the default place to share photos.
But the popularity of the royal wedding photos and the White House situation room photo make it clear now that Flickr has turned into institutional infrastructure ? proving yet again that when it comes to the net, the people lead and power follows ? even if the Royals still hold out on letting the commoners republish their images.
Photo: President Obama and top administration officials in the situation room on Sunday May 1, 2011, watching the unfolding of a raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden. (Pete Souza/White House)