Now Is the Perfect Time for a Flickr Comeback

Now Is the Perfect Time for a Flickr Comeback

I suspect that many of you can relate when I say that Flickr will always hold a special place in my heart. When I think about the photo-sharing platform founded in 2004, I am filled with nostalgia of a time when things were simpler and arguably better for photographers looking to share their work and find a community of like-minded creatives.

Don't get me wrong. It was far from perfect, but what it lacked in polish, it more than made up for in fostering strong communities with its groups and surfacing new and talented photographers with its Explore section. And for a while, Flickr was the place you went to share your photos. I'd go so far as to say that in its heyday, photo-sharing was as synonymous with Flickr as web-searching is synonymous with Google. But then, as predictable as the sun rising each morning, things went downhill. Between being acquired by Yahoo in 2005 to the myriad changes in leadership and direction, Flickr began to languish and fell into the category of an afterthought for many photographers.

Image by Brian Matiash | www.matiash.com

New Owners, Who's This?

Then, in April 2018, a most surprising announcement was made that SmugMug had acquired Flickr. Reaction to the news was universally positive, as SmugMug seemed poised to breathe new life into the legacy platform. After making a commitment to photographers that they had every intention of making Flickr the best place to share photos and videos, the company recently announced some of the first changes to the platform. Earlier this week, I had a video chat with Don MacAskill, Co-Founder and CEO of SmugMug, to discuss the changes Flickr users can expect and what his vision is for the platform going forward.

Among the updates announced, one of the more controversial ones that will affect Flickr free accounts is moving from the previous one terabyte quota of storage to a flat 1,000 photos and videos. The rationale for this decision has been clearly explained, but the general sentiment is to attract photographers who are more interested in "engaging around photography and a great way to get involved in the community," as MacAskill explains, as opposed to the cattle call of free storage. As for the neatly rounded figure of 1,000 photos and videos, MacAskill says that their analytics show the bulk of Free accounts already have less than that while users with "over 1,000 photos indicate a love of Flickr and a willingness to pay $50 a year for a Pro account." 

Image by Brian Matiash | www.matiash.com

In MacAskill's view, Flickr will find renewed success by listening closely to its users. In fact, most of today's updates to the platform, including removing the Yahoo login requirement to improved spam protection, are a direct result of the "deep laundry list of customer-driven feedback," as MacAskill explains. Additionally, Flickr confirmed that all photos uploaded with the Creative Commons license will not be deleted, even if a free user account has met the 1,000-photo limit.

The Perfect Storm

If you think about it, 2018 has been a very turbulent year for photographers and the social media platforms we frequent. We've poured one out for Google+, Facebook has had its trust shattered after a series of PR and political nightmares, 500px was sold to the "Getty of China," and Instagram has all but nuked originality and organic growth. So, you could imagine the vacuum that is being created for photographers who are looking for a proven place to share their work in ultra-high resolution (Flickr will soon support photo resolutions up to 5,120 x 5,120) and use embedded color profiles (that's coming soon, too), while also being a part of authentic communities.

Image by Brian Matiash | www.matiash.com

The thing is that such a place can exist, but it will require users to pay not so much to keep the lights on but to make Flickr even better. The way MacAskill sees it, free isn't exactly free. "Free things come with a cost. Users lose control of their art, or the quality of their experience, or controlling who can look at the data within your photos," says MacAskill. "We build things and you pay us and we go and build more great things." To him, the investment in Flickr is "not just about sustainability, but it's about growing it, keeping it healthy, and investing in headcount so we can hire more product managers and engineers who can build even cooler things."

I, for one, am very excited to see new life being breathed into Flickr and strongly believe that SmugMug is the right company to do so. But what do you think? Can you see yourselves spending your time and money on Flickr? If so, why? If not, what would make you change your mind?

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30 Comments

Alexander Lauterbach's picture

I'm active on flickr since 2010. It's not the best platform but I still like it. I hope to see some improvements in the next time like a revised commenting system. I can understand that many people are upset regarding the changes to free accounts. But 1000 photos is quite fair. The only change I don't like is the explore-bonus for paid accounts. Therefore a Pro-Account seems to be a must if you target to get some explored photos.

Brian Matiash's picture

I hear what you're saying regarding the explore bonus for paid accounts but here's my take on it. At the very least, it's refreshing that Flickr is clearly laying out that, by paying for a premium account, your chances of hitting Explore are greater. It isn't completely obfuscated with algorithms or sharing hacks on other platforms.

Alexander Lauterbach's picture

Yeah that's right. I'm excited to see how the new announced Explore system will work. Because the current Explore Algorithm doesn't work really well since SmugMug had acquired Flickr.

Yes the 20 pictures of a school bus in a row on Explore seems a little much.

Don’t forget trains! Haha

Daniel Lee's picture

You both planning to discuss this is more detail on the No Name Photo Show?

Brian Matiash's picture

Good question. It may end up being me doing the show myself with occasional (or frequent) guests. Pop quiz: would you still listen if it was hosted by me solo?

It seems to help if you are a bird photographer.

Alexander Lauterbach's picture

hahaha oh yes. Explore Page nowadays: Birds, Birds, Birds.... and.. Birds

Walt Polley's picture

Don't forget the Legos

I must confess that I don't get all of the posed toy pictures, but then again, I don't get a lot of things that are popular so I assume it is just me.

I've been a active flickr user since 2006. What started out as a platform to share my images with family and friends has turned into an ongoing project to take better pictures. I still like it a lot! It's full of amazing photographers and I use flickr as a means of inspiration when my creative tank starts to get low. I'm not concerned about how many views I get, I'm more focused on improving my photography skills. I hope flickr continues to evolve and keep it's community roots. I have met so many wonderful people through flickr.

Brian Matiash's picture

I truly do believe that SmugMug has every desire to invest in bringing Flickr back to some form of prominence. I know a lot of those guys personally and they're all great people. However, there is some responsibility on behalf of the userbase to not only use the platform again​ but to be vocal with what we're looking for and what we don't want to see.

They are seriously listening.

I have no problem paying the $50 a year. I prefer Flickr over Instagram, to share photos from a 50mp 5dsr on Instagram is kind of a waste. It's also another back up of pictures, you can't have enough back up can you.

Brian Matiash's picture

Can't argue with that. I'm hopeful and willing to give them a renewed benefit of the doubt.

Hans Heigenhauser's picture

I am a Flickr-Fan since years and I am looking forward to any changes to the site which seems a bit flawed since quite some time. I have no problem with the 1000 picture limit and even appreciate it. For me, Flickr is a place to showxase ones "best" or "signature" pictures and I can't see anybody, not even a pro's pro, who has more than 1000 "best" or "signature" pics. I use the site to find other photographers who make pictures I like and thus give me new ideas to improve my own photography. Therefore I would very much appreciate a new explore-algorithm that really is able to find pictures that are worth looking at. At the moment there are at least 30% of the pictures selected fpr explore that definitely were never meant to be presented to a bigger audience (like assembly pics for lego spaceships or a plan of the new york subway system). Additionally there should not be more than one picture per user per day in explore. If one of his pics capture my eye, I will visit his showroom anyway. No need for 7 pics of the same starting airplane on the same day in explore.

Brian Matiash's picture

One of the more consistent themes I've seen in response to this article, and in speaking with other photographers, is the desire for a more democratic and balanced Explore feature. I'd like to see some form of a trusted editorial Explore board put in place, whether it's fixed or rotating, to determine which photos hit Explore. I think that'd do wonders to build trust and excitement again.

I think it depends what you are using Flickr for. I only used it to share photos with my family or friends. Over the years, it increase steadily to quite a few (average about 1500/year). For that usage, 50$/year does not seem a very interesting bargain, and I have no interest in newer features (the current ones do all I need). Hence, I am planing to transition to a photo gallery supported on a personal NAS.

Ryan Burleson's picture

Flickr is still my favorite spot, has it quirks though.

oh yes, Flickr. The sweet home of bird, coffee mug, posed toys, sports cars, park bench and nudist in Florida photographers. I still love it.

Flickr user since 2004 here. Like others I started using it just as a means to share photos with friends and family. Soon after I was bitten by the photography bug and haven't looked back. I wholeheartedly approve of the new changes will happily keep paying for a pro account as part of their sustainable revenue model.

It's a great resource, but just searching through images on the site is painful. The iOS app also only shows lower resolution images, so it's useless on my iPad.

I love Flickr as a place to store all my full re res edited images. It would be super if the social/community aspect of it were to get an overhaul.

Geoff Thompson's picture

I have been using Flickr casually for a few years and since these announcements have been looking at it a bit more closely. I have probably not used it enough. I may start to now.

Richard Kralicek's picture

Not that my images are worth being downloaded and sold, but will there be a better way to keep images safe on Flickr? Now you can right-klick and download all sizes when being a user on Flickr, unless they are set to private visibility only. I therefor reduce all images to 2048px on the long side, if anybody likes to use an image as desktop background, so what, but I guess that's not usable for printing.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but that should be fixed like they did long ago on 500px.

You can go into account settings and set up downloading options from friends or family or just yourself and still have your pictures visible to everyone.

Richard Kralicek's picture

Thanks, it works.

Previously I was disappointed because there still seemed to be the possibility of downloads when viewing the different sizes, but then one only gets the html-page. Never tried it before. :D

It depends on settings in your profile. I allow downloads. It has always been a setting (or as long as I remember).
But even if option is turned off, there's always workarounds for at least those display sizes you choose to make available.

John Dynia's picture

Let's face it. The only reason for Smug Mug to acquire Flickr was to increase it's paying customer base. All this stuff about how smug mug loves photography and that they are all photographers is a bunch of horse dung. Watch, in a couple of months there will be a new downsized limit on photos, 500 or even 100 is my guess.

Brian Matiash's picture

Other than sheer cynicism, on what exactly are you basing this prediction on? I’m genuinely curious.