I had debated writing something about this, but wasn’t sure if I would or not. Ultimately I decided to do so because I have a platform here, might as well use it. Some of you who follow me on Twitter (@NewtonGimmick) may have seen my somewhat profanity laced tirade about this, but I figured I’d try to string together some thoughts that are a little bit more coherent. What am I rambling about? The recent changes to Flickr!
Flickr was founded in 2004 and quickly grew to the most recognizable photo sharing site on the web. Eventually they lost that title, but remained a staple for people who took photography serious. While they were never the place to go for hosting random photos, they were the place where you could build up a “portfolio” and almost instantly they attracted legitimate photographers to their website. What Flickr also built up, was a huge collection of hobbyists who weren’t “pros” necessarily, but who were interested in photography, art, composition and all the things that make taking photos great.
Soon Flickr implemented many social media aspects, long before they were commonplace on the internet. Yet despite these changes and somewhat highbrow content, Flickr never went too far outside the box. Flickr became something rare, a community. What was great about Flickr was that people with $2,000 cameras could share photos with those who had much simpler point and shoots, while developing a common bond and interest in the medium.
The layout was simple and at the crux of the design was the ability to upgrade to Pro status for $25 or so a year. This gave you unlimited storage. The other nice element of Flickr is that if you let your Pro lapse, your photos didn’t disappear. You couldn’t access them directly anymore, but Flickr never deleted them. They were there waiting for you should become Pro again, likewise they remained in any groups or other content you placed them in.
But all that changed this week when the new Flickr rolled out. Flickr has been owned by Yahoo for a few years and fresh off their purchase of Tumblr, they decided to reinvent Flickr as a new “hip” photo site. Flickr has never been about being cool. It might have been a trend briefly after it’s creation, but it soon settled into being a site that had fantastic, but basic functionality.
Yahoo’s new vision of Flickr is to try and be a cool site like Tumblr and Instagram. Yahoo is furious that Instagram has so much of the market share. What Yahoo failed to realize is that Flickr doesn’t share the same market with Instagram. Flickr wasn’t ever about posting the latest photos from your iPhone. And no, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t people who did that. Flickr welcomed those people with open arms. They were part of the community, but they weren’t the basis of it.
The new Flickr is supposed to be a place where you post up all your random, pointless photos. The original Flickr gave you information on the camera used, aperture, shutter settings and allowed you to interact with the photographer to learn more. These options still appear in the new and “improved” Flickr, but they’re buried away because they aren’t flashy enough.
The old layout of Flickr wasn’t the prettiest thing in the world, but it was very functional. It wasn’t broken, so it certainly didn’t need fixing. But Yahoo has made sure that the new layout is super sleek and fancy. Unfortunately this also comes at the cost of slower loading times (to the point that apparently users with even slightly sluggish internet speeds can barely use the site) and almost zero functionality. Many of the old options are there, but they’re scattered throughout a clunky interface that’s designed to dazzle you, not help you.
Simple things like profiles are either completely removed or buried so deep that even experts at Dig-Dug can’t find them. What was once painless navigation, is now just a myriad of massive images and odd little hidden areas where you have to click through screen after screen, hoping to find what was once a simple text link. Even the commenting system, which was basic but very effective in the old Flickr is now flashed up so that you have constantly scroll down and let new comments load up.
Ultimately the redesign is 50 pounds of gloss shoved over what was already a pristine paintjob. Some of the additions aren’t bad, but rather than rolling them out slowly or allowing users the options of customizing their interface, Flickr just changed everything overnight. They didn’t bother warning their users (not even those of us who pay for Flickr), because everyone was gonna love this, right?
Flickr now offers a terabyte of free storage, which is much more than the old 200 free photos that Flickr used to offer. It certainly sounds good on the surface, but with that free terabyte comes an influx of advertisements. The Pro level that used to offer unlimited photos is gone. Lots of Pro users are threatening to quit, but sadly it’s falling on deaf ears because Yahoo has already said we can’t quit… We’re fired. In it’s place is an option that costs twice as much and offers no more space, but simply removes the ads… For you. Yes, you can pay $50 for what is essentially ad blocker for your Flickr, but anyone else who views your stuff will still see the ads.
While a terabyte is more than 99% of the users on Flickr will ever use, it also is a huge reduction in overall space. As I mentioned before, the old Flickr, even at the free level, offered unlimited storage. You could only see 200 photos for free, but you could upload unlimited and for $25 or so a year, you could see unlimited too. No ads, no fuss, no muss. Now they offer the Dublr program, which gives you an extra terabyte (but doesn’t remove the ads at all) for the low, low price of $500 a year. It’s a steal!
Ultimately the new pricing reveals the true goal of Yahoo’s new Flickr. They don’t want you to pay for anything. They want you to use the free terabyte. Anyone who’s foolish enough to pay $50 for an advanced ad blocker, is just icing on the cake for Yahoo. They’re not counting on those dollars. Flickr is pushing out the Pro users by design. This site that you’ve supported with your dollars for nearly a decade, isn’t for “you” anymore.
Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer made it very clear in her press appearance about the new Flickr that this was exactly her intention.
“Flickr was awesome once, it languished, and we want it to be awesome again,” Mayer said.
If you’re wondering how much it’s languished, Flickr only boasts a paltry 8 billion photos and nearly 90 million users. With hundreds of thousands, if not a few million, paying users. Egads! No wonder it needed such an overhaul!
Mayer also said that there’s “no such thing as professional photographer anymore,” which has drawn a lot of sharp criticism. Honestly, I feel there’s been far too much focus on this statement. I could care less about the semantics of this, dunderheaded as it is, because it just cuts more to her overall philosophy of Flickr. It’s not about the photographs, it’s about shoving as much crap on there as possible. Forget Bram Stoker, we want Twilight!
And that’s exactly what Flickr wants. They want teenage kids posting up all the stupid duck face photos that they litter Instagram and Facebook with. Because those teen kids, are ad revenue. If you’re hip, people will pay big bucks to advertise on your site. And if you offer tons of free space for kids to post duck face photos, you’ll draw in lots of users and that means lots of ad revenue. Who needs 89 million users and thousands if not millions paying for yearly usage of the site, when you can have 200 million users paying nothing but attracting big ad revenue? Apparently not Yahoo.
Mind you, Flickr has always had ads. They’ve always gotten revenue from other sources. Getty Images had a deal with Flickr. Special ads were used in other places. But the overall concept of Flickr was to generate money from a variety of avenues and to keep the community one that had a sharp focus on quality. Even if there was a lot of junk on there, Flickr never concerned itself with being cool.
Yahoo has remained a company that’s been desperate to be cool for years. Mayer is a former Google employee, who in the last 10 months has promised to make Yahoo “cool” again. Thus far they’ve managed to pay over a billion dollars for Tumblr, which has yet to make anything close to that and redesigned Flickr so that it will no longer have a safety net profit by having paid users. It certainly seems doomed to fail.
Perhaps that’s my biggest gripe. After being around a decade and still going strong, it always seemed like Flickr was going to be there. I never really worried about Flickr going away. After all, it had millions of users and a large portion of which, paid for the service. But now? Flickr suddenly feels uncertain. I am less trusting of investing my time uploading photos to Flickr, because I get the feeling that in a few years, Flickr will be going the way of MySpace.
That is unless, Mayer and the folks at Yahoo realize they’ve made a major mistake. Since rolling out their changes a few days ago, hundreds of thousands of Flickr users have complained. This is not a few folks complaining, this is the clear vast majority. As bad as the ads are, most people aren’t even upset about that. It’s Flickr’s new focus and perhaps most importantly, the layout.
Flickr has decided to “grandfather in” existing Pro users, so that you can continue to pay $25 a year of unlimited photos and no ads. It’s a good deal, but again, it’s a surface thing. Flickr has made it clear that this could end at any time. They are only agreeing to honor it for as long as they decide to honor it. Traditionally Flickr wasn’t one that had wild whims, but that was the old Flickr. Who knows when they’ll drop Pro, now. They redesigned the entire site without so much as a warning peep. It could be any day now. And anyone who wasn’t Pro when they made the switch, is SOL. Doesn’t matter if you’ve been Pro for years and just let it lapse a few days, Pro is gone.
The other option is to allow users to customize their interface to something akin to the classic Flickr layout. This seems rather easy, particularly since most of the functionality appears to be in tact, just buried under the new layout. Despite requests from thousands of users, thus far Flickr hasn’t addressed this. In fact, Flickr hasn’t addressed anything.
Over on the official Flickr Twitter, they posted this yesterday:
To our pros, hobbyists, snap shooters & film freaks. Our students, naturalists & travelers. Our dads, sisters & friends. We love you all.
It’s a nice sentiment, but it’s pretty clear how to read through the lines here… We want to be a website that doesn’t have a specific focus. We want to be all things to all people. Of course, this has never worked for any company in the history of the universe. Best to focus on doing a few things really well, than trying to bring everyone under the umbrella. Even Google, McDonalds and Walmart can’t be all things to everyone, try as they might.
In the end, perhaps Flickr will see the light. Perhaps this influx of teens and tweens will actually happen and the terabyte shell game will entice even more professionals and skilled hobbyists that the Flickr community will thrive like never before. Perhaps Yahoo will listen to it’s massive base of paying customers and decide to reimplement the old Pro program and allow the basic layouts to return. I am hopeful that will happen, so that it can shore up Flickr so that it can remain the vibrant community that it has been for so long… But I’m certainly fearful that the ignoring of suggestions will continue and Flickr will eventually just be another failed CEO retool experiment.
Only time will tell…