The deal, made public Sunday, is the latest in a string of acquisitions in the red-hot online photo-sharing space. But, more importantly, Flickr is a pioneer in a new method for cataloging the Internet that some believe could revolutionize Web search. As a result, Flickr could give Yahoo new competitive tools to take on Google, if it can put Flickr's community-based technology to broader use.

Flickr's trick has been to enlist large numbers of unsupervised volunteers to individually classify files using searchable metadata. Anyone can "tag" files with personal descriptions to help everyone find them more easily. For example, if you want to create an easy way to find a digital photo of Central Park's Christo art project, you might tag it with "NYC," "art" and "orange." Someone who later searches with those keywords will find the photo among the results.

"The democratization of information is the real interesting thing about this," said Bob Rosenschein, CEO of GuruNet, an answer search engine. "They're messy and noisy and they're not always accurate, but they're people talking about real subjects; and in that manner they have tremendous statistical interest when they get to scale. There's a wisdom of the crowd. The most interesting applications are before us."

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