Flickr for me was my starting point as a photographer. It was way way back in 2006 when I first started uploading my photos and I really haven’t stopped. Flickr has served me as a backup and as a portfolio for many years. Flickr was always a place for photography and photos… good or bad.
I watched flickr go through some low times and slowly slide into obscurity. Sites like 500px and instagram came in and pushed Flickr further away to the point were few were using it and the groups were dead. Yet, flickr somehow stuck around. It got handed off to different people who promised to make it better or at least “what it was” and then nothing happened.
Now, we see that Smugmug has picked up the torch and is planning to do something with Flickr. What that is, I am not sure at this stage in the game. However, those with a free account are seeing the first of many changes. This being the recent limitation of the free accounts to 1000 photos.
While this may have made a number of people angry, the fact of the matter is that for Flickr to work, it has to be profitable. Before you you start talking about greed and whatnot, you have to be realistic. Flickr was dying a slow death. Smugmug wants to improve the platform but that takes money. Money is something that Flickr is losing on a daily basis. Hence why there is a shift towards paid accounts.
Why Flickr? Why Now?
Flickr is like a homebase for me. It is ad free (for pro subscribers) and doesn’t have that “like/unlike” thing that instagram has. It was for photography and full of photographers, at least it was 5 to 10 years ago. For me it just has a familiar feel and I appreciate that.
I think that people are now getting disillusioned with sites like instagram and they are looking for a place that is more about the photos than the places or products in them. I feel that photographers are also looking for a place to chat about lenses and share their photos with said lens.
The groups in Flickr were great. There was a group for just about everything! From your favourite lens to city-based photo clubs. These were not just hashtags but actual groups where people went to discuss everything related to that topic and plan meetups.
This is something that is missing from instagram and even 500px. There is not a sense of community. Facebook groups have come a long way and for most part have replaced the need for groups but if you look at how Flickr organizes the topics you can see there are differences. Again, Flickr is geared more towards photography than social networking in my opinion. Which possibly is a reason why people abandoned it for facebook and instagram if you think about it.
The other thing to point out is that Flickr has been around and many sites still accept imports, uploads, and embeds from Flickr. A huge plus is also the fact that you can export directly from Lightroom simply and easily. The export dialogue has a number of specific settings that you can customize like the watermark that you now see in my images on Flickr. Somehow Flickr retained some usefulness especially since you can’t export to Facebook from lightroom anymore.
Lessons from 500px
Smugmug needs to look at sites like 500px and see what worked and what went wrong. A number of years ago, 500px was THE photography site to be on. It had all of the trappings that photographers craved. It also seemed to be a huge improvement over the then dying Flickr, or so we thought.
There are many photographers who gained their following from 500px but many more complained about the system used to get to the top. From their acquisition by VCG to shutting down their online marketplace last July, it has left a lot of photographers wondering about the future of 500px.
In many regards, 500px has fallen from grace and it would be important if not critical for Smugmug to figure out why. For many years, 500px reigned supreme with portfolios, websites, and a market places that help photographers make money. Now, I can find little value in even maintaining my profile.
The Future of Flickr
What I would like to see is more life being brought back to the platform. As Nicolesy points out in her article, many of the groups are long since dead. I am not just talking inactive but dead as in the last discussion ended 5 years ago… So yeah, more energy and people are needed.
I would also like to see a more community-based approach to the renewal. If they started working with photographers around the world and figuring out what they wanted or what would work for them would be a start. While I like seeing input from celebrity photographers like Trey Ratcliff, I feel the success of the platform depends on the regular photographer’s input and enthusiasm. Fan appeal is one thing but when people feel apart of and appreciated by a site that they use could be a game changer.
The other thing that I hope they stay away from is trying to emulate instagram. It’s been done and done to death. I would love to see the Smugmug team sit down and restore what is currently broken and drive towards building Flickr into something beyond what it was and beyond another ad-filled social network full of boomerang vids of people drinking starbucks coffees.
With regards for the app, I think that they can ditch camera unless they do something REALLY special with it or partner with an app like camera+ to make it stand out. Otherwise just focus on streamlining the user experience.
Personally, I hope that this fresh perspective can breathe new life into Flickr. I never really had a problem with the platform or the app. Fact is, the only thing that I really didn’t care for was explore. That was simply because the algorithm seemed to favour either coffee, cats, or lego.
So if your photo managed to get picked up by explore it was not really a mark of excellence because the 5 photos next to yours were snapshots of a latte with a lego figure on the edge.
The bottomline here is that the future of Flickr rests on the proverbial knife-edge. The changes that Smugmug makes could change the industry or go the way Google+ did. If you remember, Google+ was all the rage in the photography circles and poof! people left it to die.
I am hopeful for a future for Flickr. If handled correctly with the right vision then we could see this being a new era for the site. If they screw it up, then just let it die this time as I don’t think anyone can help if smugmug can’t.