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.
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."
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.
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?