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?

SnapChat Is Social Media’s Ultimate Revenge

Snapchat

Watching the social media marketing world talk about SnapChat has offered quite a few laughs. Most marketers hate it. They just don’t know what to do with it. They paint SnapChat as a way to talk to “young people” or millennials, perhaps a sign on how much the original generation of social media voices has aged.

Snapchat is pure and unaccountable. It’s really what social media was meant to be, a real goofy conversation between people. In that sense, perhaps SnapChat is social media’s ultimate revenge on businesses.

There are no parents, no employers, no tracking algorithms available to the common user or even most of the brands participating online. If someone wants to post private media to select followers, they can bypass their story and go dark. And, if someone doesn’t want to view your content, they simply don’t. Even if you pay to get your content featured in the Discover or Live areas, people have to opt in.

In my mind, Snapchat is almost pure, (yes, there are those paid content channels) uninhibited social media. That’s why it does not compute to those who want to track mentions, push brand messaging, and sell product.

It’s about people sharing experiences — silly, inane, and/or serious — with one another. Overt messaging usually fails here. That’s why corporate communicators would rather throw their hands down and quit, writing SnapChat off as a silly Millennial network.

The Untrackable Defies the Analytics Age

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Perhaps the most confounding aspect of SnapChat is its lack of analytics and accountability for small and medium-based business marketers. In essence, the network is a walled garden.

Sure, you can advertise and get better analytics. But right now, you’d better bring a cool half million to the table for your entrance fee. Even getting a geofenced overlay can cost a pretty penny when compared to a Facebook boost or a Twitter ad.

The thing that SnapChat has going for it is its dark nature. Protecting customer integrity and their ability to post really interesting and generally (but not always) private social content is a huge differentiator.

Consider this. You can bash most brands on SnapChat and they will probably never find the complaint. Literally someone would have to screen capture it and send it to the social media manager. On Twitter, you’ll get stalked by someone trying to get you into private message land. If the complaint gets loud enough on Facebook, though less likely, you’ll probably have a customer service rep show up.

Then there’s the whole parental/employer thing. How many of you readers have decided not to post something because others would see it?

See, when social media is untrackable, it gives users a sense of ease about what they are posting. This free feeling is false. We all know what’s posted digitally can be picked up and sent anywhere, but nevertheless SnapChat has made it difficult. So analytics be damned, [young] people love their SnapChat.

Perhaps SnapChat really is the domain of the intern, as some older marketers would have it. At least the intern, won’t try to insert the brand in every post!

What do you think?

The Final 12

It’s hard to believe, but we are in the final 12 days of the 365 Full Frame Project. To celebrate, I will be making a big deal with the final 12 photos starting tonight with #354.

For those who are not familiar with 365 Full Frame, the project was created to add high quality full frame photos to the Internet at a low licensing cost. This was to reaffirm the need for high quality visual assets in the current era of social media. All dollars earned were reinvested in more photography equipment.

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It’s been quite a ride, and there have been times that I just wanted to stop. There were other times where I just thought the whole project was super annoying to people.

But I persisted, and here we are. One year later I have published more than 700 photos for the project, only half of which were selected for public consumption (the pug pic is an one of the 350+ outtakes).

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Along the way I became a better photographer and a professional one, too. I have been hired twice now by companies as a photographer this year and several others have asked to bundle photography with writing or social media services. So there is much to be said for dedicating oneself to consistent practice, photography or some other interest. Or you could say it helps to develop a third pitch. ;)

I plan to publish a photo book using the best 365 Full Frame photos created over the past year. Anyone who sponsors the project at a $100 level or more will get a complimentary copy of the book. And for those at the $50 level, if you chip in another $50 you will get a book, too. No bull (pun intended).

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And yes, after the cost of the books, I will continue to reinvest any 365 Full Frame dollars raised in more equipment. Thank you for your support and on to the final 12.

Light Is Everything

I am really looking forward to Wednesday morning’s Cherry Blossom photoshoot with Ann Tran at the Tidal Basin. It’s really my favorite photoshoot of the year because of the incredible light options you can see.

Shooting manually on a DSLR teaches you that light is everything when it comes to photography.

Whenever I take a photograph my first concern is lighting, especially since I prefer shooting manually sans flash. As important as storytelling and framing are to a photograph’s success, nothing matters if the lighting is off.

David Young said it best, “It is the photographing of ordinary things, in extraordinary light, which results in extraordinary photographs.”

Sunrise

Sunrise at the Cherry Blossom Festival offers a confluence of light options. First you have the sunrise itself. This is the golden hour, that first hour of light after sunrise or the last hour of light preceding sunset. The light refracts perfectly, producing a soft golden hue that illustrates gorgeous canvasses, and offers great contextual shadows. In particular, dawn is nice during the Cherry Blossom Festival because the Tidal Basin is less busy and you can still walk around.

We’re starting at 7 a.m. on Wednesday, but I’ll probably get down there early to watch the sun rise on the basin. The rising light offers incredible possibilities. You can take standard shots like the classic sunrise photo with burned yellows, oranges and reds. The above featured photo was a shot I took at the 2010 festival from the Jefferson Memorial (which is the dark shadow reflected in the Tidal Basin foreground).

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The Cherry Blossom Festival photo shoot includes the water contained within the Tidal Basin, which when still mirrors light perfectly. Finally, you have the cherry blossoms themselves. Because they are white and soft pink, they reflect the light, too. As a result, they can look white, vibrant pink, soft yellow, or even light blue depending on the time of day and hour.

The above shot combines all of these elements. First of all, it should be noted that the blossoms are backlit by the sunrise as opposed to have the light reflect on them directly. This breaks “the rules” a bit, but because they are cherry blossoms they absorb the light and still show well with a blueish yellow tinge.

Second, even though the shot faces the sun directly, the Jefferson Memorial blocks the light enough that it is not harsh. Rather it is perfectly golden, a result of that first hour of light. Finally, the water reflects the memorial perfectly, allowing you to see that sun is indeed rising. Thanks to the framing, the sun appears to rise between two pillars.

This shot is one of my all time favorites because it captures every light element the Cherry Blossom Festival has to offer. It has layers of subjects and light fields, which makes it fun to look at.

Manipulating Light

When you come to understand how a camera takes pictures, you can figure out how to capture a subject with the right lighting. You understand how shutter speed can be delayed to capture continuous light. You may decrease light sensitivity (ISO) to allow for a longer shot. Finally, you may (or may not) increase the f-stop to open the lense and take in a wider field of light, which in turn creates depth of field.

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I took the above photo of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge portion of Capital Beltway (I-95/I-495) earlier this week from the George Washington Parkway overpass. It was taken at the low ISO setting of 100, which is the minimal light sensitivity. The shot also was taken with the maximum f-stop of 32 (as wide as the lense could be opened). Both the ISO and f-stop settings were the opposite of what an automatic setting would take at night.

To compensate for these sacrifices, I also turned the shutter speed settings off, and manually shot the photograph for two minutes and six seconds. The camera was “mounted” between two poles on the overpass, assuring that there would be no vibration.

The result was a time lapse that fails to capture a single image of a car on one of the country’s busiest highways. Instead it captures the head and tail lights of many cars, coming and going, creating an incredible representation of speed and traffic.

You’ll see photos like this periodically, but they are not easy. I thought about how to take this shot the entire day prior to actually walking on the overpass.

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This next shot uses the opposite camera settings. The f stop is minimal creating a very shallow depth of field. Only the gentlemen’s face is completely in focus, in turn creating a cool effect with his index finger in the foreground.

The ISO setting is very high at 5600 and the shutter speed is fast (1/80th of a second), which allowed me to shoot manually sans flash or tripod. On the left side you can see a green screen, and that is lit by a professional photographer’s lighting rig on the right. This created a rich lighting scene with deep shadows.

I do think that whenever possible, flash-free shots feel more natural. I still have much to learn about flash, but my attitude remains the same about it. A shot should seem naturally lit and flash should augment the subject, not dominate or alter a scene.

Overall, you can see that light shapes everything that happens with a camera. It is the paint that makes the portrait.

What do you think?

Georgetown Lecture: Social Gets Bigger and Blander

Spring at Georgetown Campus

Later today I will guest lecture at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business on the general state of social media for the Social Technology Marketing MBA class.

I usually write out my thoughts before speaking. Here’s what I’ll be talking about today. Please comment if you’d like to suggest something, I’ve got a few hours to cram (yikes!).

1) Social Media Gets Bigger

We have entered the post adoption phase of social media in America.

Even a significant minority of senior citizens use social media. As of February 2012, one third (34%) of internet users age 65 and older use social networking sites such as Facebook, and 18% do so on a typical day Pew Internet.

Now that businesses realize social won’t go away, and they intend to invest more marketing dollars.

The most recent CMO Survey (August) showed social media investment continuing to rise. This year social commands 7.6% of the overall budget with an expectation to increase beyond 10% in the next 12 months, and to 19% of the total spend in the next five years.

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The Inevitable Pinterest Post

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Image by Social Graphics

Sigh. If you are a social media pundit, you had better be posting about Pinterest these days or as Ike says, you’ll have your expert card pulled (the horror). So here it is, my inevitable Pinterest post.

What Pinterest has done right is significantly change the way we interface with social media. By making posts picture-centric, we see ideas and concepts rather than have to read about them. In a mobile, portable media world dominated by tactile input methods (touch screens), this is an undeniable future.

This movement towards visualizing information is also typified by Instagram and Tumblr. You can point to the popularity of Facebook pics, Facebook’s new timeline interface, and Twitpics as further evidence. Finally the infographic movement towards visualizing data as opposed to blogging or writing about a topic is yet another bellwether towards pics instead of words.

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