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Thanks for the memories  July 26, 2012

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CNET Editor

Lexy spent her formative years taking a lot of photos and dreaming in technicolour. Nothing much has changed now she's covering all things photography related for CNET.

Focal Point

How to make Flickr awesome again

When Marissa Mayer was announced as the CEO of Yahoo, speculation ran rife as to how she would revive the flagging fortunes of the company.

Users took to Twitter and the #dearmarissamayer hashtag to voice their wishes for the future of Yahoo. Among the loudest was Sean Bonner's appeal, asking her to "Please make Flickr awesome again". He even made this cute graphic and accompanying website:

(Screenshot by CBSi)

While Yahoo has tried to nurture Flickr since it took over the photo site in 2005, there's been little real developmental zeal in updating features and overhauling the interface to help it keep up with the proverbial Joneses. There's a passionate user-base that truly cares about the future of the platform, regardless of how many snafus that have come before.

Flickr is far from dead. Yahoo's advertising page, last updated in October 2011, cites over 51 million registered users, with around 4.5 million photos updated every day. But it is no longer the sole photo-sharing behemoth on the market.

Facebook is king, while sites like 500px and Google+ lure users with slicker interfaces and more effective sharing tools. Instagram is the Polaroid of this generation, offering near-instantaneous gratification with a nostalgic tinge.

So what will it take for these users to stay put at Flickr?

Meaningful interactions

Flickr used to have a community that engaged much more in the art of personalised feedback and comments. This has progressively declined as a stream of users jump over to platforms where the ecosystem is more closely integrated with daily internet habits.

While social networks like Facebook now define much of our online life, Flickr was one of the first to actually take off in any meaningful way. The community may have been limited to photographers and photo lovers — and still is to some extent — but it was a vibrant place where interactions through commenting or "favouriting" was second-nature.

Many Flickr users now log in to their accounts and are met with these sorts of "comments":

(Screenshot by CBSi)

Momentarily gratifying, but not conducive to furthering one's craft as a photographer.

There's also the issue of keeping up with conversations. While Facebook and Twitter have this down to a fine art (see the ubiquitous usage of @ messages), Flickr doesn't have the ability to notify users in real-time when interactions have taken place. Instead, you can opt in to email notifications that take anywhere from several minutes to a number of hours to arrive. The front news feed could also be organised a lot better to take advantage of a stream of updates.

Want to keep up with a comment thread in a group or photo stream that's going gangbusters? You'll need to refresh the page to see anything that's new.

Mat Honan from Wired performed an interesting social experiment. He uploaded a (by his own admission) mediocre image of a post-it note to a number of sites. On the note was a handwritten plea for viewers to "favourite" or "like" the image.

While the experiment was in no way scientific due to the variance in followers and interactions he had on each platform, Flickr was the underperformer of the bunch, which included services like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Google+.

Upload, organisation and presentation

Keeping photos organised can be one of the biggest pains for photographers. While Flickr offers some tools to help make this process easier, such as Sets, it's not as effective as it could be.

The default photo page is rather uninspiring. The photo, which is really the only thing most people actually want to see, is small in comparison to the white space in its surrounds. The Lightbox mode is much better, but it's still a keyboard press away. If it was the default view, the page would look much more inviting.

Services such as Snapjoy offer a good way of sorting a bunch of photos by date, filtering through exchangeable image file format (EXIF) data to aggregate groups of images. The default photo display mode is also a lot more effective for showcasing the grandeur of images.

The simple, clean and uncluttered Snapjoy photo page.
(Screenshot by CBSi)

Flickr has never made it easy to view and upload images through its apps. Things have gotten a lot better over the past few years, but it's still not as simple as it could be to share photos.

Flickr should be display and storage

Photo sharing has changed a lot since Flickr's inception. Cloud storage was many buzzwords away, while digital cameras were not yet producing files that would happily dwarf the storage space of a CD.

It seems strange that Flickr doesn't support RAW uploads — not for display, but for storing the original source alongside the JPEG version you want to present to the world. Pro accounts already pay for the benefit of having unlimited storage space, so why not augment that by allowing photographers to store the format that so many prefer?

As mentioned earlier, Flickr has the passionate user base that truly cares about the product. Just take a look at the thriving discussions around the Flickr Ideas group to see how engaged these people are.

Putting the user at the forefront of the photo sharing experience, and taking into account their feedback, will be the way to turn Flickr into a thriving community that can adopt more users to guarantee its future.

What else would you fix about Flickr?

Add Your Comment 4

Post comment as

TimA2 posted a comment   
United Kingdom

"How to make Flickr awesome again"

Remove Yahoo from the equation.


DanW1 posted a comment   

Flickr could totally trump every other photo sharing service by becoming a place to back up your entire photo library to the cloud. And do it well, with integration into Lightroom, Aperture, iPhoto, etc.

This is one of the things that is really quite difficult to do in today's cloud environment. The only real way is Dropbox or Google Drive, but the costs are still prohibitive (and the process of uploading them takes so long.)

Apple PhotoStream is a step in the right direction but the 1000 photo limitation clearly shows Apple's intention that it's a sync service, not a photo backup service.

And -- as you say -- Flickr should accept RAW image uploads and handle the massive quantity of data with ease, in the same way YouTube completely raised the bar on what is considered reasonable to upload -- it can take 1080P footage in just about any format and will handle the massive job of transcoding it into many different resolutions and formats server-side.


DanW1 posted a reply   

P.S. When I say the process of uploading them to Dropbox or Google Drive takes so long... and then I suggest Flickr should take RAW uploads, I realise there's a logic gap there.

What I neglected to say is that proper integration into desktop photo management software could allow the user to choose whether they want to upload original resolution, HD resolution, large or medium versions of images to keep upload times down (with an appropriate estimation of how long it would take to upload the entire photo library... e.g. You have 25,000 photos: at original size, this will take 40 days of solid uploading at your connection speed; at large size this will only take 5 days, etc)

Once the library was backed up at that resolution, the software agent could continue using idle time on the connection to upload RAW originals and fill out a user's online backup.

I think, given how precious people's digital photo libraries are, this is a real area of opportunity for a company with deep pockets and good engineers.


DanW1 posted a reply   

.. and I realise this is very self-referential, replying to myself a third time, but Flickr could make this cloud backup system even awesomr by doing all the processing server-side to make viewing your entire photo library on your smartphone a fluid and fast experience. e.g. pre-rendered thumbnails, pre-rendered pics in common smartphone resolutions, etc.

With JPEGmini server processing to get images down to the absolute minimum size without losing image quality.

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