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?
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.
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.
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.