Hanging on in the Flickrverse (aka ‘blows against the empire’)

Back in the olden days, before the advent of the mobile phone camera and the invasion from planet Zuckerberg, if you wanted to share your photos online the game was Flickr. For me, somehow, despite all the things which have happened since, it still is. Before we go any further, I’d like to say two things clearly. The first is that I’m in no way sponsored or otherwise rewarded by Flickr and/or SmugMug, the other is that while I’m joking about Instagram/Facebook a lot here, they’re both platforms which do what they do well, and I’m happy to use them. The sci-fi imperial comments are just for rhetorical effect…

I’ve got Instagram, and Facebook and enjoy them both hugely, especially Instagram (yes, the invasion of the pods from the Zuckerberg Galaxy has got me to). I’ve experimented with 500px and even something called ClickaSnap, which somehow left me totally cold despite it’s frequent claims that somehow people were going to pay me. I know people use it and love it, but it’s just not for me. Images uploaded to my instagram also go automatically onto 500px and when I remember to check occasionally people like them. Nothing gives a snapper a warm glow like some random stranger feeling motivated to double-tap one of my photos in a vague form of quality acknowledgement. As Flickr lurched from one crisis to another and users haemorrhaged from it faster than body fluids in an Ebola outbreak, I hung in there despite a vague feeling that maybe I ought to cancel my Pro subscription and just go with the gram, but I never quite did. Right now, I’m feeling more Flicker-Positive than I have for years. Because the new owners SmugMug decided to make it less attractive for free users and the roadmap shows they’re thinking about new features for Pro users.

So why does somebody deciding to risk losing further shitloads of their user base (i.e. the ones who aren’t paying) on top of all the ones who’ve just given up over the Yahoo Years make me feel positive? Because it suggests that they believe that there are enough photographers out there prepared to stump up their pennies for a decent online platform, and making the revenue to fund that independent of advertiser revenue might give them the security to deliver. If you think about it, in the world of free hosting funded by the adverts the folks from Planet Zuck have nailed it, they’re like the empire in the original Foundation Novels, they’re everywhere, if they could have offices which covered a planet to the point that nobody could see the sky like Trantor then they’d get there. People rave about ‘The Algorithm’ affecting their viewers (and do I hate the algorithm ranting), they express concerns about their personal data, but they stick with it because for free it’s a bloody good service. Pretty much unlimited storage and sharing options in exchange for your personal data; a devil’s bargain perhaps, but one loads of people are happy to strike.

SmugMug clearly believe that there are enough people who are prepared to go down the route of just paying for a service with money rather than with data, and I think they’re going to be right. After all despite the outcry over the Adobe subscription model there are still hundreds of thousands of people every month who pay up because, well, they get a quality product in exchange. Interestingly, I don’t remember quite so much furore when The Beast of Redmond quietly slipped into a subscription model for Office, but again it’s about a company taking a pretty much guaranteed monthly revenue stream to deliver a quality product. That’s what I think, or at least I hope, SmugMug is doing here with Flickr. To be fair, offering free users space for a 1000 images isn’t exactly mean either – and to my mind anybody who has over 1000 quality images to share is probably going to be a keen enough Flickr user to want to pay for the features it offers.

And that brings me to the final reason I stick with Flickr, because actually the quality of the images is overall better, because it’s always been a platform entirely for photographers, while Instagram is a platform for anybody who wants to share some photographs. When I surf on Insta I find a lot of images I like, and often new people to follow, but there are also a lot of photos where frankly I find myself thinking ‘seriously, why did you bother?’ – well they bothered because it was fun, and their friends will find it fun too, and it will help people remember the experience of that birthday party / wedding / stag do / weekend in Benidorm / whatever. Those are all great things, and most of us do them, but that’s not the user base who are going to go for Flickr – that’s what I think Yahoo etc missed, they thought they could compete with The Zuck Empire on it’s own turf, and they couldn’t – not with a user base into Sagan numbers, quick easy upload from the phone and immediacy of sharing. I think SmugMug have realised this and refocussed onto photographers, who care about the quality of the image itself as much as the context.

The thing which I think would be a good add-on to the Pro Flickr roadmap would, oddly, be a quality print on demand service. If they partnered with print labs in various countries and you could order a print from inside Flickr, billed to the same card which pays your subscription, with all the options for size and quality built into the platform. There’s a lot more interest in printing our work now among photographers. If you’re listening SmugMug? That would be nice.

If you want to give Flickr a go, then the free option is worth trying out. This is mine, and if (or when) you have an account I’d love you to let me know so I can see yours.

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