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?

Understanding Photography on Instagram

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United Kingdom-based Digital Photographer Magazine interviewed me for their current edition (Magazine Issue #173) on Instagram best practices for photographers. The article is titled “Market Yourself on Instagram”, but it is gated, unfortunately. However, I did keep a copy of my answers, which you can find below.

DP: Do you use Instagram to post the same content as your other social media sites?

GL: When it comes to photography, yes, for the most part. I find that crossover between social networks – 500 Pixels to Facebook to Flickr to Instagram to Twitter – is minimal. Each network has its own audiences.

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Some photos don’t translate well due to the format, which almost forces you to be literal about the rule of thirds. For example, I love this Super Moon photo with the Washington Monument in the lower left for foreground (above), but it breaks the rules. It would never work in Instagram. The photo would be cropped either as another full moon photo, or a Washington Monument pic. Extended in a wide format it would be too small. So I wouldn’t post it in Instagram.

DP: How do you think the platform helps emerging photographers reach new audiences?

Nice of Kendall Jenner @kendalljenner to humor me with a selfie. #whcd #nerdprom

A photo posted by Geoff Livingston (@geoffliving) on


Me shamelessly promoting myself at the White House Correspondents Dinner.

GL: I think Instagram has become much more mainstream in the past two years, and is in many ways is starting to replace Twitter. So it’s a good place to brand yourself, regardless of your type of photography. But, for many of us that’s where it ends.

Portrait and wedding photographers could use it for lead generation, but it would require them to actually network with other people, like and comment. It would not work to just post pics for most. Instagram also has additional potential for photojournalists.

DP: Does Instagram’s limited format enhance or impinge creativity?

GL: I wrote four years ago about my dislike for most of the images, and I still don’t like it. LOL. What many of us would consider dodging or burning or adding a bit more yellow to the temperature is replaced with filters. And as a result, bad images are glossed over.

But for the average point and click person, it improves their efforts. And for all intents and purposes, that’s what smartphones have become, point and click cameras.

Most importantly, though, Instagram allows people to share their lives in a visual manner. Everyone uses visual media to communicate about their lives. Because of this viral social network, many more people are falling in love with photography. That’s a good thing.

Over time I have come to realize that Instagram makes good photography stand out that much more. It’s kind of like a Pultizer Prize caliber writer clearly distinguishes himself in an email correspondence compared to the average office worker’s prose. People can see which folks know how to communicate with a lens, and that’s where photographers start to brand themselves.

DP: How do you use hashtags and geotagging to increase your reach?

Misty Morning #blackandwhite #monochrome #forest #woods #mist #picoftheday #photooftheday

A photo posted by Geoff Livingston (@geoffliving) on

GL: I try to use at least five hashtags per pic, and geotag the photos with location. The reality is that this increases reach by 20-30% per pic. It exposes your work to people who search by topical area, news trend, and location. In my mind, that’s just smart marketing.

DP: In your opinion, what are its biggest drawbacks and advantages?

Walk this way. Featuring Fana Lv. #model #asian #asianmodel #walk #picoftheday #photooftheday

A photo posted by Geoff Livingston (@geoffliving) on

GL: The power of Instagram as its own type of social photography is both its biggest drawback and its greatest advantage. Instagram is life stream/photoblogging in my mind. Like blogging it can create a sense of expertise for inexperienced smartphone heroes. Within their medium they are just that.

But outside of Instagram, their photography may not be as strong. To successfully expand their skills, they may need more practice, or need to learn about lighting to take their photography to the next level, or might simply need to learn manual camera basics like ISO, aperture and shutter speed.

For an Instagram hero, this might be extraordinarily frustrating. They may simply retreat rather than grow and become the photographer they probably could be. This happened with many bloggers who were good writers, but could not conquer other media like magazines, books and traditional journalism.

A champion on one level is a neophyte on another.

Walk This Way Beauty Tight Crop Web

The same could be said for pro photographers who post their outstanding work on the network, and find it undiscovered. They are neophytes in social media and in particular, Instagram. So perhaps they walk away.

When these two worlds collide — the point and click heroes with the tried and true photography experts — is when photography grows and becomes a wider, more appreciated art form.

I came to photography ten years ago through blogging and social media, the need for original images was critical. But I would not be the photographer I am today if it were not for 1) a passion for creating visual art and 2) the expert photographers who took me under their wing, and showed me how to realize more of my potential. We need each other in this digital world.

And now my question to you, the reader: What do you think of Instagram from a pure photography standpoint?

Flickr 4.0: PR Hype versus Reality

Flickr 4.0 launched 11 days to much hype and fanfare in the consumer tech media. Some pubs went so far as to say that Flickr was now relevant again, ironic for a photo sharing social network that consistently ranks in the top 10 networks.

The new interface certainly is beautiful. But as well hyped as the new Flickr 4.0 is, it suffers on a few levels. For starters, the new interface seems to stifle interaction. I have noticed a 25% decline in favorites and comments on my photos.

Perhaps I am in a slump. I have been posting fewer landscapes and cityscapes, which tend to perform better for my following. But at the same time, when I have posted decent landscapes — landscapes that perform well on 500 Pixels and Instagram — they still garner quite a few less favorites and comments on Flickr than in the past.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the slump began the day the new interface launched.

As a viewer, I find it harder to favorite and comment on Flickr 4.0, too. The mobile apps are clunky. If someone publishes a series of photos, to comment you have to tap on a photo twice.

The traditional web version suffers as well. It gets stuck and fails to show you past favorites. In some cases, the responsive design prevented me from even seeing the favorite and comment icons on photos like on this image from Jan de Corte.

Responsive Fail

The new Uploadr has been wonky, timing out periodically. Flickr has acknowledged this new feature has issues and is working on repairing it.

Flickr 4.0 is not all bad. Some of the new features are great, like Camera Roll. Now I can view my photos chronologically, which is a pretty cool way to see how your work is progressing over time. It’s also a great way to get a timeline view of your life. This new feature also lets you organize your photos by type, e.g. landscape, portrait, etc.

Competitive Balance

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Flickr launched its new version to make it more competitive in the mobile era. In some ways, this makes Flickr more consumer-oriented, allowing people to store thousands of mobile photos automatically as they go.

In the context of Instagram versus Flickr, I really see Instagram as a more valuable consumer network. The land of selfies is fluid and dynamic, allowing for quick and easy feedback. Friends see how their lives are evolving in the moment. In comparison, Flickr 4.0 makes quick and easy feedback a bit harder.

As a photo storage site, it works (when the Uploadr is functioning). However, if people struggle to interact with your photos then you are publishing strictly to keep the images in the cloud.

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Similarly, 500 Pixels benefits from a strong critical group of professional and serious amateur photographers who only like the best images. While this can create homogenous photographer pool where certain images do better than others (think landscapes and pictures of models), 500 Pixels makes it very easy to like, love and comment on photos. Exploring popular images on 500 Pixels is also much easier, with segmentation by image type.

For a work-validation standpoint, I have been as reliant on Flickr as I have been on 500 Pixels to see what other photographers thought of my work. Now I am leaning towards 500 Pixels more often than not.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Flickr, always have, and won’t abandon the network. I just wonder if in its attempts to become a consumer photo network, Flickr shunned its existing power users.

In my mind, Flickr owned a niche as a photography site that catered to both pros and amateurs. The stream was good. It become a resource for many who searched for great images to fill out their stories. While adding mobility is a natural evolution, sacrificing interactivity and function to get there may become a long-term weakness compared to more specific-use oriented photo networks like Instagram and 500 Pixels.

What do you think of the new Flickr?

2 Million and Counting

My Flickr blog passed 2 million views on Saturday. Thank you to everyone who checked out my stuff, chatted with me on Flickr, and encouraged me, too.

It took almost seven years to get my first million views. It took just 10 and a half months to get the second million.

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The French Market in New Orleans.

What made the big difference? I can point to several things:

1) A commitment to quality content via the 365 Full Frame Project. I am continuing to shoot almost every day and develop my editing skills. But I think we know good or great content is not enough to succeed online these days.

2) Social interaction on Flickr and 500 Pixels has helped spread the reach of my photos. But it has done more than that. Interaction exposed me to so many good photographers, and I have learned a great deal from them.

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The Library of Congress

3) SEO: If you are not tagging photos on Flickr, shame on you. Both Google and Yahoo! index the site and offer the images as search results. If you offer a creative licensing option, people really do use them. I don’t have a Wikipedia page, but I sure as heck have quite a few photos on the site.

4) Luck: I’ve been blessed a few times and had a select few photographs like the above Library of Congress shot featured in Flickr’s daily Explore feature. Those moments exposed my photography to hundreds of new contacts. Because I engaged, they became a part of my network. For that, I am extremely grateful.

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The Boulevard of Bokeh Dreams (Nashville)

I never expected my photos would become this popular with others. For that I am grateful. More than anything, it makes me happy when I hear others tell me that the photos add a little to their social stream, that they look forward to seeing them.

Thank you. I hit two million, and but I am not looking back.

12 Google+ Headers (Thanks a Million Part II)

I recently passed one million views on Google+, a number that doubled in the past year. This is the second time I have passed a million views on a social network this year, the other being Flickr.

During this time I shifted content production from multiple blog posts a week to produce photos via my 365 Full Frame project, and that has been the primary driver of this grown.

To thank folks for continuing to like and support my photography interests, please find below 12 free Google+ header images. These pictures are my most popular 365 Full Frame photos so far, as rated by 500 Pixels. If you like my photography and want to support the 365 Full Frame Project, please consider a contribution.

And with that, here are the 12 free Google+ headers for your use. Cheers.

1) Las Vegas Strip at Night

Las Vegas Strip at Night for Google+ 2

Grab it!

2) The Lotus Giant

The Lotus Giant for Google+

Grab it!

3) The Queensboro Bridge

Queensboro Bridge for Google+

Grab it!

4) Fire Ball

Fire Ball for Google+

Grab it!

5) Purple Zinnia Gets a Visitor

Purple Zinnia Gets a Visitor for Google+

Grab it!

6) Bridge Over the River Cuyahoga

Bridge Over the River Cuyahoga for Google+

Grab it!

7) Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for Google+

Grab it!

8) From Dawn to Sunrise

From Dawn to Sunrise for Google+

Grab it!

9) Waterfall Way

Waterfall Way for Google+

Grab it!

10) FDR East River Drive

FDR East River Drive for Google+

Grab it!

11) Three Bridge Sunrise

Three Bridge Sunrise

Grab it!

12) Sunset on the Pentagon Marina

Sunset on the Pentagon Marina for Google+

Grab it!

I hope you enjoy your Google+ header. No attribution is necessary, but it’d be fun to know if you used tone. Cheers!

Dangers of Algorithmic Sourcing

The increasing pervasiveness of algorithms in everyday life disturbs me.

At the behest of many friends, I finally joined the 500 Pixels community and have begun uploading some of my better photos there for licensing. It’s an awesome place filled with pro photographers competing for the highest scores on their photos.

Yet, scores are determined by the amount of likes, favs and comments you get over a short period of time.

For all intents and purposes, you have a homogenous community of primarily male photographers who are either very good enthusiasts or professionals voting on photos. What gets top ranked? The general popular stream is dominated by surreal landscapes and pics of almost nude models with the occasional wildlife pic thrown in for flavor.

500 Pixels Popular

If you want a top rank of 99 on 500 Pixels, bring epic photoshopped scenes and beautiful scantily clad women. These are amazed photos, and deserved their popular ranking. But you can look at the categories to dig deeper. Some of the lesser ranking photos strike me as a better representation of the many things you can do with a lens (and Photoshop).

Here’s the thing, I stopped posting anything I don’t think can get a peak rating of 80 or higher on 500 Pixels. I just won’t do it. Because I don’t shoot almost naked women for a variety of reasons starting with respecting my peers and wanting to stay married, I post landscapes. Since I shoot more than just landscapes, for that reason alone the site is limiting in its artistic and creative scope.

Algorithmic Determination

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Image by aloalo.

Algorithms impact our news choices, too. And our clothing choices. And what we read. And the movies we like.

It seems like algorithms are everywhere. Here are just a few examples:

  • Huffington Post and Mashable sourcing their news based on rising social media memes.
  • Colors and types of shirt you are most likely to buy (based on past purchasing history).
  • Books you should buy on Amazon.
  • Movies and TV programs you are most likely to enjoy on Netflix.

Is this healthy?

It depends. If you like the same type of thing over and over again, then perhaps algorithmic determination is OK.

Afterall, if you participate on the same sites and buy from the same vendors, then your general behavior will match your peers. As such the algorithms are likely to be correct most of the time.

Consider that 60 people eat the same seven meals every week.

Yum, pizza.

Crazy People Like Orange

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Image by balotto.

Because I am crazy, five percent of the time I’d like to buy an orange shirt. Yup, it makes my skin look like shit, but I like orange.

Orange was my favorite color as a child. I had orange and green dinosaur wall paper, and one whole wall was painted exclusively orange. I still remember it fondly.

The algorithms don’t know that, but based on what they see online they have predetermined that I will buy black and red and maybe blue. I do like my black T-shirts, but I also like splashes of bright color. And 5% of the time that means I like orange.

What to do?

No Growth

Manny-Moe-Jack

Image via View from the Blue Ridge.

How do things become popular? Someone has to try them first, and then they tell friends. Soon early adopters flock to the product.

Perhaps it becomes popular within a niche community (More surreal interior architecture shots, please). Enough people in the community participate in other social networks, and not just online. Work, family and neighborhoods count, too. People tell their friends, and show them the the new thing they like.

Suddenly, it is safe to try something new. But maybe it won’t be new. Because an algorithm already saw that seven percent of your friends tried something, and it knows you buy items as an early adopter. The site sources you an ad telling you your friends Manny, Moe and Jack bought it already.

Boom! You react and plunk down your credit card.

What’s so daring about that? Where’s the growth?

Cool to be Weird

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In a world where anything can be customized to a unique taste, niche stores are popping up all over the Internet to serve the terminally weird. Now it’s cool to be weird.

As database technology becomes cheaper and cheaper, niche stores will be able to serve a customer with algorithmic offerings. Even the daring will find themselves served with the predetermined.

And the algorithms will only get smarter.

How smarter more accessible algorithms impact the inevitable break from the norm remains to be seen. Perhaps that same percentage of the population will be able to resist precision marketing in this form. Or maybe we will all simply accept the endless stream of data driven sales pitches, some subtle, some obvious.

It’s a change that will happen whether we like it or not. The train has left the station.

What do you think?