business, consumer experience, social media, technologies

Flickr – playing with fire

Playing with fireChange is often met with a wall of anguished screams, especially online when high volume platforms are concerned – namely Facebook and Twitter. Changing something as important in so many digital photography lives as Flickr, that was bound to be a challenge.

As a heavy user of the site, I was first aware of the changes when I clicked on the site late last night, to see how a couple of new uploads had gone down.

Instantly I stalled. It was like seeing someone you’ve only ever known with a beard, not having a beard. My first grievance was a stock image (of… a plant?) strapped across the top of my profile page. Most photographers would probably baulk at the idea. Would Zuckerberg slap a banner image of a shiny catalogue family on your Facebook profile page? (Actually, you wouldn’t put it past him, but that’s another story).

A quick flick down-screen revealed a stream of images presented in the way Flickr groups have been of late, all condensed into each other, minimising white space. For me this makes browsing harder. It homogenises all the photography that might be found on your stream; it makes it all distressingly, unnecessarily urgent and impenetrable.

I fumbled around looking for the now buried button that reveals recent activity, one of my most frequently visited places. Not easy. The homepage is now equally condensed, less narrated, and can take a while to load.  (Under-narration is another trend and personal bugbear). It simultaneously downloads countless tightly condensed images in a stream. In a patchy zone of cell coverage or a remote broadband spot, the experience will be a frustrating one.

In fact it almost feels like a pact could have been brokered between Flickr’s owner Yahoo and the big providers. ‘Revise the site in such a way that all users will gobble up as much data as physically possible; even if they don’t want to; even if they’re just looking for a single image or want to check activity on their images.’

I like the white space Flickr has deliberately gone out of its way to cull. “We’re giving your photos room to breathe” said the Flickr blog about the revised site, when its presentation to me felt like the exact opposite. A couple of retweets suggested I wasn’t alone.  White (or black) space is surely what gives “room to breathe”.

I get upset by the way all photography is now balled up in massive streams of disordered stuff. It feels like photography is now a disrespected confection of a medium, a plaything anyone can mess around with – which of course they can.  The volume of condensed images now feels like an appropriately depressing reflection of modern laziness towards the photo. You’d start umpteen videos or songs at once?  Sure, it’s different and more achievable without the complication of audio.  But it’s also degrading.  It appears like powerful media owners are trying to make us care less about individual images.

On to the next thing, on to the next thing, on to the next thing… data data data.

You’d hope for better from those who apparently love photography and images as much as their users.  This short string of comments gives some reflection of the sense of concern, and concern about a loss of community and culture as well as basic function.  Possibly something of which Yahoo execs are less aware.  (Click to enlarge).


Having said all that, when Flickr is competing against Instagram, Facebook, 500px and other suppliers, it’s sensible to cater for the biggest proportion of users – whether those users are contributors or viewers, or people looking for garnish to their text. It makes business sense, especially given Yahoo’s new acquisition of Tumblr for $1.1billion. Because it is, after all, a business. This doesn’t stop it from feeling sad and disappointing.

Here are the headlines, as reported by Gigaom.

“Flickr is getting three big updates. All users will get 1 terabyte of photo storage for free. The site’s interface is also being redesigned to focus on full-resolution photos — both in photo browsing and in search — rather than words and links. Users will be able to share the full-resolution photos by email, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr.

“Flickr Pro, which had allowed users to pay for more storage space, is going away. There are still a couple of paid options: Users can pay $49.99 a year for an ad-free interface, and can add a second terabyte of data for $499.99 per year. It’s unclear what will happen with existing Flickr Pro memberships that users have already paid for.”

I’m one of those with an existing Flickr Pro membership. It also goes some way to explaining Flickr’s sudden ‘good-will’ gesture of giving pro users 6 months free, then auto-billing for a further 12 months, just before this announcement. Now it seems less like good will.

It could all eventually bed down in frequency of the user experience thanks to the laziness of users to switch services. But it’s worth remembering the other photo-sharing options out there.

One of them, 500px, was quick on the heels of the Flickr announcement.

Might be worth revisiting.


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