The slow decline of Flickr

Sunday, June 19th, 2011 at 4:22 pm

I used to be a Flickr addict. I would shoot as much as I could and upload at least a few days a week. But the past few months, I’ve found myself spending less and less time on the site. Why?

Flickr Stats
Part of it is definitely the improvement in Facebook’s handling of photos. Facebook now provides higher quality images and the ability to share my photos with a much larger selection of friends.

And that’s where I think Flickr is starting to fall behind: there is a distinct lack of updates and new ‘features’ on the site. Twitter and Facebook are always tweaking their interface (with varying degrees of success and often with a fair bit of controversy). But the last major interface update I can remember was to sharing photos in March 2011. And that was hardly a massive new feature.

Back in May, Flickr designer Timoni West posted her views on some of Flickr’s problems on her website. The post went the rounds creating a lot of discussion, mostly because of the public critique of her employer.

She identified the contacts recent uploads screen as ‘the most important on Flickr’. I found that interesting, as for me the home screen for logged in members is the most important — it’s the first page users generally see when they access the site.

Here’s my Flickr homepage as of today:


I can’t remember this page changing for years, with the exception of the ‘people you may know feature’. I don’t think the design is necessarily flawed, I think the main problem with this page is a lack of ‘user intelligence’: much of the content shown on this page is either random or purely linear. There’s no attempt to show content from the either friends or family or other contacts whom I regularly interact with.

Night Images

The same goes for the Your Groups and Explore sections: I never go through the ‘Night Images‘ group, so why even show me that? I spend a huge amount of time in the wonderful ‘Guess Where London?‘ group, but that hardly ever appears, because it’s simply throwing up random selections from my 200+ groups.

Beach Images

The same goes for ‘Beach Photos’. If I was back in my home town where we have lots of lovely beaches, then this group may interest me. But living in London, unfortunately the closest I am to the beach is the sandy banks of the Thames at low tide. I just got back from a trip to Munich and Austria, from which I uploaded a whole bunch of photos: why not suggest I look at a Bavarian, Alpine or Beer group? (Or even sausages!)

Often this last slot shows either groups or selections from Flickr’s Explore, another part of Flickr I think needs some fundamental rethinking. If anyone has ever tried to get into Explore, they will know it is akin to working out Quantum Physics or witchcraft. Theories abound about how it works, what penalises you, whether favourites are better than comments and so on. Looking through Explore it’s quite obvious that it’s purely machine maintained. Don’t get me wrong, there are some stunning photos in Explore, but quite often randomly strange photos appear that Flickr thinks are interesting because of a spike in comments/favourites: but a cute picture of someone’s child’s birthday party isn’t particularly inspiring compared to some of the stunning work that is around Flickr.

In my opinion, the curated Flickr Blog show cases far more inspiring photos than Explore. And I think that’s really where the crux of Flickr’s problems lie: the site is now so massive that no real thought has gone into how to inspire and showcase the best the site has to offer. Groups are so flooded with photos that keeping track of them is almost impossible. And unfortunately, if a stranger does comment on your photo, the chances of ending up with a page full of badly animated GIFs is quite good.

I think Flickr may decline until it works out how to refocus itself on inspiring its members and perhaps more importantly creating and fostering a better social experience between users.

4 Responses to “The slow decline of Flickr”

  1. Ange says:

    Interesting piece. I too have lost interest in Flickr and started focussing on Facebook for my images. There’s a number of reasons for this, but the key is that FB is free, feedback is from friends and family, and photography is my hobby rather than career. To maintain a strong social presence on Flickr you have to dedicate countless hours to commenting on photos, and it only works if you have a clear photography niche (e.g. for me it’s lomography).

    I also don’t feel that Flickr adds value to my photography, especially considering my investment of an annual subscription fee. It’s a membership organisation – but what are the true perks of being a ‘member’? Storage space? A social network? Sure, that was an awesome perk a few years back when FB was still getting to grips with personal media sharing, but now Flickr really needs to up its game if it wants people to continue paying for something that many other sites do just as well (if not better) for free.

  2. Matt says:

    Been doing a lot of blogging recently James! Some good subjects tho…

    I’ve got a pro Flickr account, though I’m really not sure why. My idea was to put my ‘best’ (landscapes and more arty) shots up there and have them on public display and use Facebook for the fun ones with friends in. But I’ve never ‘got involved’ on the site or used it as anything other than storage really.

    My renewal has come round again and by most measures I should probably let it expire but as I’ve entered all that meta data I’m reluctant to do so…

  3. brad dunn says:

    I’m kind of the same with the decline of flickr. I still use it when I travel and take photos, but everyday, now, I take photos on my iphone and upload it to flickr. I kind of can’t stand facebook photos for some reason. Maybe its because I just already invested in flickr. Who knows. But I certainly use flickr less and less.

  4. derkoenig says:

    FB is not an alternative at all for me, as all the rights of the pictures go to Facebook.
    I agree that flickr could develop more features though.

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