Flickr Enters Downward Spiral

Traffic for Flickr

It seems like every year or two you see a Flickr is dying post that sparks a major conversation about whether or not the photography social network will survive. Unfortunately, it seems that the time may finally be arriving for one of the longest standing social networks out there.

The most recent round of the “Flickr is dying” debate happened two months ago right around when Yahoo! announced it would stop investing in the network and sell it off. That one was sparked by Photoshelter CEO Allen Murabayashi’s Petapixel rant (I am a Photoshelter user) and sparked a strong defense by Thomas Hawk (I am an active friend of Thomas’s on several social networks).

Murabayashi’s rant seemed motivated by his competitive service offering, but in hindsight the Yahoo! public lack of support at that time may have been the network’s undoing. Things are not the same on the network with interaction and dialogue feeling slow.

flickr vs 500px

It’s more than a seasonal slump, which you would expect with warmer weather and enthusiasts running outside to use their dusty cameras. While uber photography social network 500 Pixels has experienced a small decline in traffic, too, their overall page views have declined a little more than a half a percentage point since December. Flickr has declined by more than 4 percent, and is in danger of falling out of the top 200 websites globally.

Instagram comparison

The two photography sites are not quite the same with 500 Pixels catering to “serious” photographers, many of whom are pro or semi-pro, while Flickr serves more of the photo enthusiast and consumer crowd. Yet Flickr’s decline is palpable as consumers fly away to more attractive and easier to use options like Instagram. As a result, for the first time that I can remember Flickr is not ranked as a top 10 social network.

Yahoo! Chases Away Whole Groups of Photographers

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Remember when Flickr rebranded itself as a consumer site last year? The new interface has been lacking in my mind (as I noted last May). Load times are slow and the interface was wonky. Yet, this was Marissa Mayer’s grand plan to challenge Instagram.

At first traffic increased, but the new traffic was not the traditional photography enthusiast, semi-pros and pros that made up most of the social network’s audience. It was consumer who used their smartphones as point and click cameras. Meanwhile, the people that made up the more sophisticated photographers on Flickr began to leave for other places.

You know what? That worked for Apple when it stopped catering to the Quark and Final Cut crowd. But Yahoo! is not Apple, and so when the plane crashed this winter, things began to fall apart.

Weekly photo contests suddenly stopped. Load-time issues, upload snafus, and other bugs increased. Auto-upload support for nonpaying Flickr users was taken away. And on the last note, consumers began leaving (because pro-photographers rarely upload scores of photos at a time for anyone other than a client, and when they do they use DropBox or Google Photos or Photoshelter or…).

Can you blame this new generation of Flickr photography enthusiasts? Why bother? After all, other sites are easier to use, have more interaction, and if you’re going to pay, it may as well be with a more reliable entity than a company cutting itself into pieces for an estate sale.

So who’s left after the pro and consumer exodus? Enthusiasts who like to upload nature and landscape pics, often the domain of photography hobbyists. And if that’s what you do, good news! Flickr may still be right for you.

More difficult types of photography — portraits, architecture, nightscapes, monochrome, artificial lighting, etc. — do not perform as well, though. The number of photographers that could create those works are dwindling on Flickr as they seek other networks like the 500 Pixels and YouPics of the world. The feedback is faster and more meaningful there, peer-to-peer. As my friend Richard Binhammer (an infrared photography specialist) says, “My photos seem to be getting more pop on 500 Pixels.”

And event and selfie pics? We all know Instagram is the place for those.

Can Flickr Be Saved?

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A lot depends on who buys Flickr. Doc Searls made an impassioned plea for Adobe to buy the social network, saying that Flickr was the best site for serious photographers.

I’m not sure about the latter anymore, but I do believe Flickr still has value. I’m still there and still use it to house my library. I still get occasional media inquiries to use my pics from Flickr, too. I know others like Thomas Hawk haven’t given up, either.

The question is who will buy it? If Google or Facebook buys Flickr, I will be downloading all of my photos that day and closing my account. Warren Buffett would be more encouraging. At least you know Berkshire Hathaway would invest in the network again.

Maybe the right question is, “Will the sale be in time?” Each month that passes, engagement dwindles. Resuscitating a dead social network is beyond even the brightest minds as we have seen with many attempts to restore MySpace (sorry, Justin Timberlake) and Digg.

Whatever happens, Flickr has been good to me and many other photographers for the past decade plus. If it does fade away, it will be missed.

What do you think?

  • I think that Flickr has enormous value if only for the highly organized library of high quality images. I assume they will be sold along with the rest of Yahoo’s core assets but believe the site still has big potential. Much will depend on who the new owners are, but Flickr remains one of the best places on the web to post today. I use it every day and get lots of engagement, but like most things I think you get out what you put in.

    • geofflivingston

      Your photos are always a welcome site in my Flickr feed. I hope you are right.

  • deannamcneil

    I just loved Flickr and was proud of figuring out the nooks and crannies of the quirky site. I still enjoy posting my pics here (I’m an iPhone photography enthusiast) and looking at the work of others here. Every time I try something new, I just can’t get engaged. In some ways Facebook has sullied the waters IMHO by being something to everyone, particularly the way Instagram normalizes every photo to a square. This isn’t real life or particularly imaginative yet it’s what many have allowed to be their photo experience. It’s hard to compete with ‘just enough’ apparently

    • geofflivingston

      Yeah, I hear you. Facebook and IG have won a lot of minds, and made things worse for most. Flickr made the mistake of trying to be more than it was, but it s that Flickr’s fault or Yahoo!? I feel like this is Yahoo!’s fault.

      • deannamcneil

        I’d love to hear Catarina Fake’s thoughts. But Yahoo! definitely changed things up when they demanded Flickr integrate into Yahoo!, got rid of key management. When the entrepreneurial spirit goes, it shows :(

  • Pingback: Doc Searls Weblog · Dear Adobe, Please buy Flickr()

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  • Marissa and Yahoo completely squandered the one true asset they had: Flickr. There are just so many news aggregators and sites, so Yahoo’s future in that domain was already lost. Since the beginning of the consumer Internet as we know it, Flickr was synonymous with photos. Yes, we’ve had new entrants, but who had an already established boatload of pictures…a storehouse of memories. When someone entrusTed their photos to Flickr, they were voting with their hearts as well as minds. How can you put a price on that and how could that be squandered on umpteen other initiatives that really were fruitless?!

    You, Yahoo, had to assess what you had. Standing right in front of you was your ticket to staying relevant. Now what?!

  • PicBackMan

    Flickr is one of the best website for photos and photographers as well. It has one of the largest photographer’s community wherein people engage, discuss and learn about photography and many other aspects of it. If at all it is sold, i believe many users will probably migrate their collection onto other websites or cloud storage. At PicBackMan we received many queries related to Flickr photo migrations, and many of our customers have already migrated their flcikr photos onto other locations.

  • Gabriel

    I don’t know how valuable it is to its owners, but Flickr still is probably the best photo sharing website. I also have an Instagram account but I don’t like it. I only use it as a photo editing tool every now and then. The beta version is great although there was a lot of work and trouble to get there and many users (myself included) were annoyed by the frequent changes to the website. But now it works just great! It would be too bad to see it go, I hove Verizon will keep it.

  • J Galvez

    Good piece but if you look at the chart and look at the Jellyfields thread in the Flickr Help Forum then you have a large part of the puzzle.Flickr has been mined by Jellyfields using OPEN GRAPH PROTOCOL tags.The OGPT mining renders Flickr’s stream owner controls useless. We posted the thread in September and it came as a shock to Flickr staff..Every image that JF had mined from Flickr was made right click download capable and stayed that way until members busted JF in September. Flickr Staff have responded 4 times in an 11 page 10 week thread in the HF.Google also has an option that allows Flickr image downloading without going to the site..Why go to Flickr to look when you can download and keep? We are told legalese has been looked into..In addition at least 3 other sites have been found that had mined FLICKR…this tells us two things.1.Flickr site security is slim to none..2.The Alexa graph is inaccurate since at least 11 15 because we don’t know if it reflects the hits from 3rd party sites and if it does then it is inaccurate for the purposes of advertising as you can view Flickr images and often download them without going to the site.Flickr.If does not reflect Flickr image hits from 3rd party sites then the lack of FLickr security has cost the Flickr site traffic hits.

  • Edward Lorenzo

    Flickr has been teasing with exciting things to come since the Verizon acquisition. So far they have updated the app at least 3 times and the site saw a redesign of the profile page this year after more than a year of neglect. It’s faster than ever and bugs are largely squashed.

    Flickr can still capture visual categories and own them like drones, action camera, mobile, analog, reportorial (by event) and even paparazzi (celebs). They can engage better by encouraging better conversations in app. Cross post with FB. Improve search. Work out programs with mobile and camera makers. Add AI features. The list goes on.

    A ranking or 18x globally is nothing to scoff about. There’s hope yet.

  • nyet

    Flickr’s android app sux, load time sux, social interaction sux. I only use it to host pictures for wordpress.