On Flickr and our future together!

eight minutes read

I’ve been using Flickr since September 2004. My usage changed throughout the years, especially as new platforms came about. At the beginning and as I worked through learning photography Flickr was my uncomfortable zone where I would upload pictures and sit quietly waiting for something, anything. As the years went by and I learned enough to not suck and to not wait in vain I started engaging with Groups and other people and what I put in I would roughly get back and that was good.

By now other platforms came along, namely Instagram and they made things easy, easier than Flickr ever made them. They gave you filters and a fixed squared format and you could only use this from your phone and suddenly everyone could be a photographer. This was cool and they stuck their foot in the door - or rather, they ripped apart a wall, made a door there and stuck their foot in it.

With time came basic stats, hashtags, one more format, a bunch of filters and editing settings and the ability to upload your pictures - which meant your camera pictures were able to make into Instagram, and why wouldn’t you - , but most of all came a rush of people into the platform and the game for Followers and Likes took over.

Instagram is, right now, to photography what Youtube is for video, it’s the platform for monetizing yourself, to get to sponsors, to be an Influencer or to be hired. I don’t think there’s any denying that and, well, that’s what Instagram fought for and that’s fine.

In the meantime - while Instagram was morphing and growing and I was actively using it - I started a personal project which required me to be a consumer of other people’s work so that I could discover and curate my new gallery.

For a while I tried to use Instagram, it wasn’t easy to get links of pictures and links to the original work into Tumblr but it was manageable, the biggest problem then was finding the quality stuff. Back then both Instagram and Flickr were feeding Things David Likes but even then - and I have no stats, only gut feeling - for every 1 Instagram post I would find 10 on Flickr. As a measure of quality, this has meaning.

As time went by something else happened, Instagram began to lock down its API and external integrations. So now it wasn’t just an issue of finding good work, it was an issue of linking to it - well, not technically linking, but having the bare minimum tools to do it in a timely fashion.

I also considered other platforms, some with a good noise-to-quality ratio like EyeEm and 500px but the initial lack of integration with other tools and subsequent closing down of API’s meant I would focus solely on Flickr.

Now, I joined Flickr on the year they came out and since they’ve been bought by Yahoo, followed by a few years of investment and then disinvestment on the platform, followed by Verizon buying Yahoo and further exposing Flickr’s staleness up until very recently when SmugMug stepped up and bought Flickr with the promise of actually using Flickr as it was meant to be.

While they changed in ownership, in technical terms they kinda stopped evolving a few years into Yahoo ownership. The attempts to win back that market were very much Enterprisey-meets-Startup-Baloney - namely the 1TB Free Storage for no good reason and the half backed redesign. Those choices never made the impact they wanted and in fact, some of those choices have to be taken back now to make way for a more sustainable business approach.

But why is it that with so many competitors and disinvestment Flickr still endures and, actually picked someone’s interest enough to put money into it?

I can’t give you a global answer, but here’s what keeps me using it:

  1. The personal feed is decent and manageable, I don’t want to say it’s because it’s chronological, but yes, it’s because it’s chronological (something that’s now so rare it’s becoming Hipster again)
  2. Flickr Groups - despite a lot of them being Social Growth Hacks - are great. If you find the right ones, you get access to a lot of quality work, ensured by correct curation and administration. Again, hashtags are all the rage, but curation gives you quality
  3. The API was and given every competitor is in Lock-the-doors-mode, the most comprehensive and open around.

This last point is interesting for me in that, despite being nerdy-factor, it gives you some insight into how the business is operating. If you close down the API to protect Assets or cut other software clients out, you’re telling us something and we should listen.

As examples, look at the wording here:

The history of 500px has always encouraged creative development, but as of January 24th 2018, 500px will no longer be offering free access to our API. This decision was made in order to protect our assets and improve our website’s performance. On June 15th, access to the API was shut down. This is part of a larger strategic shift—focusing our energy on continuing to build the world’s best photography community at 500px.com.

From: 500px - API

and here

To continuously improve Instagram users’ privacy and security, we are accelerating the deprecation of Instagram API Platform, making the following changes effective immediately. We understand that this may affect your business or services, and we appreciate your support in keeping our platform secure.

These capabilities will be disabled immediately (previously set for July 31, 2018 or December 11, 2018 deprecation). The following will be deprecated according to the timeline we shared previously:

From: Instagram Developer page

Now, this is where we are now and what SmugMug will do is yet to be seen. They’ve run their business in what I think is a sustainable way and the announced changes to Flickr also point in that direction, so if you’re upfront about how you make money, that’s good for everyone.

There’s a lot of hope in the new management and this interview and this Reddit AMA empowers that hope, namely this

The company is trying to move away from the Yahoo-era model, which subsidized the generous storage capacity by selling advertising. The new Flickr approach takes a more SmugMug-like approach: pay for the service, and the company will work hard to make sure you think it’s worth paying for, without sharing your personal data with advertisers. The goal is to focus Flickr on a community of photographers, not on people who want a free place to back up their images.

Again, if you’re upfront about how you plan to make your money, everyone benefits and trust is gained.

What I hope first and foremost is that the current community over at Flickr doesn’t take too much of a loss over the following months and quality people don’t run off. I also hope that photographers - which are the target here - consider Flickr as a platform for them again and some make a comeback (I follow way too many people who have gone silent over the years) and new ones come in.

As for me, I’ll continue to focus on TDL as a project to find and expose quality and talent. Flickr helps me find those nuggets on a daily basis, the API helps me feed the website and social networks and the newly created group gives me a platform to engage directly with the creators.

Now, having said all these things, the last thing I want to say is that I’m buying into the business model they announced and so I’ve just purchased the Pro account despite my own photography activity having slowed down tremendously lately.

I hope they improve the site, I hope they improve things like the Explore tab which is absolutely not a place where you find quality work and it feels like it should be and I hope they don’t cut down on what makes Flickr different. And I hope they give the mobile apps (namely the iPad one) lots and lots of love, but most of all, I hope they settle down and work away.

Big hopes, big expectations, I will see you there :)