There was a message on the top telling me to smile, which I always find a little creepy, and the site looked so unfamiliar that I thought it was a virus of some kind. Cue general sense of confusion over the next number of hours.
I guess I should have seen it coming. I’ve been using (and really liking!) the new Flickr mobile app for a while, and the look of the site redesign mimics the app. I attended a Flickr session at SXSW, where they hinted at changes to come. And I’m actually OK with change, as a concept. Flickr has looked almost the same for the almost seven years I’ve been a member. It was probably time for a refresh.
For most people, a free terabyte of space is plenty, and Flickr’s commitment to full-res images should be commended. I thought it was a little disingenuous, though, that they kept throwing around stats about being able to take a photo an hour every day for 61 years – without consistently making clear that they were talking about 6.5 megapixel photos. Real cameras haven’t shot at resolutions that low in years. Soon, most smartphones will shoot photos larger than that, too. One terabyte is a lot, but it’s not the unlimited, ad-free experience current Pros enjoy.
So, the question becomes: is Flickr supposed to become another dumping ground for your crappy camera phone photos, but without the Instagram filters?
Is Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer right that there’s “really no such thing as professional photographers anymore”?
Are people willing to pay 50 bucks a year for an ad-free experience?
I know, I know. Yahoo! killed Flickr and lost the Internet, years ago. But there were still many of us there, paying $24.95 a year for a Pro membership, using Flickr as amazing off site storage, adding metadata way beyond what other sites allow, using Flickr as an archiving platform. But also publicly liking, commenting, being social in a way companies kill for. The thousands of angry comments posted yesterday on the Flickr message board were perhaps expected – people generally dislike and distrust change – but they also identify a core of very committed, very loyal users. Flickr is by far my favorite social media. And I would love it if others felt the same way, if this redesign can be successful in recruiting a new group of loyal users.
Facebook is about faces, people, building on already-established relationships. Tumblr’s reputation as a micro-blogging platform makes perfect sense to me. Instagram is a personal diary, the filters awash with nostalgia for bygone days and their expired film. And Twitter…well, I don’t really get Twitter. But then what is Flickr about?
If, like Yahoo! claims, the new Flickr is all about the photo…is it also about the photographer? Rather than dumbing down the amazing API and the incredible metadata options (tagging, geotagging, EXIF data, sets, collections, and still the easiest and clearest privacy settings in social media), why not make those as accessible as possible for photographers – in addition to highlighting the photos themselves? I know, metadata isn’t sexy – but it forms a framework for Flickr as a viable, long-term photo storage space.
In the future, we’ll look back at the photos of so many childhoods – all uploaded to Facebook and Instagram (and compressed to a totally unacceptable level of quality for reproduction) – and we’ll shake our heads. We had all of the advanced technology in the world, but we just didn’t know how to make any sense of it.
Flickr has long offered an alternative for people who know enough to care about quality. And yes, yesterday’s redesign sacrificed the quality of the user experience for those of us who have remained loyal, but all is not lost. With some tweaks, Flickr could regain its reputation as the world’s best photo sharing site. It’s not just about recruiting new members, it’s about making them use Flickr consistently, for years to come.
Quantity, even a terabyte of it, just isn’t enough.
(photo by Sarah Korf on Flickr)