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

17141815604_c89567fbb6_k

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.

17786565256_668c0c58c4_h

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?

How Instagram Restored My Faith in Social Networking

Photo

If you have not played with runaway hit mobile social network Instagram, you should. Yes, it’s become known as a utility for iPhone users to send pictures to Facebook and Twitter, but make no bones about it, Instagram is its own social network, and a very enjoyable one, too. In fact, it has restored my faith in the media form.

With more than 13 million people on Instagram, you can see some fantastic sharing. It is innately personal and wonderful.

Gone from the mix is the usual social media punditry and sword fighting. Instead you simply have real experiences throughout the average day. It’s just photos, sharing and comments, and nothing more.

Instagram exists on the mobile web, and is not tethered to the web. Rather it is on your iPhone or iPad via application (soon coming to Android). It only lives on the most personal and portable electronic devices. I think that in combination with its simplicity is what makes the network so special.

You see, on the go people can only be people. It’s not contrived, and thus sharing is unusually naked and revealing. People show each other how they see the world. Yes, you can share professional or well edited photos via your phone, but generally Instagram is a social phenomena of the moment. It feels safe, and unbelievably relational.

Sure, companies are trying to figure out how to tap into the incredible Instagram phenomena. And Instagram itself is another social network in search of a revenue model (advertising looks like the probable path). With an open API, people are exploring how to harness the photos, including search by city.

But for now, Instagram is very pure in its simple peer-to-peer interaction. And in that sense, it is a welcome relief in comparison to the over-commercialized Facebook, Twitter, and blogosphere.

Book Excerpt: The Death of Facebook

PastedGraphic 1

The following is an excerpt from Welcome to the Fifth Estate, Chapter 7: Sustaining Your Community Over Time

Who in their right mind would predict the death of Facebook, given its ever-increasing dominance? But everyone always asks, “What’s next?”

One thing long-term Internet citizens have seen over the past 30 years: Communities and social networks get large, even as dominant as Facebook now is, and then they fade.

Some stay relevant as leaders in their niches — YouTube, for example — and others drop into a second tier, or worse. Friendster, MySpace and AOL exist in some form to this day, but none of them enjoys the leadership positions and mindshare of their heyday.

One of the secrets to Facebook’s longevity is its replication of the McDonald’s business model. McDonald’s offers a cheap menu of foods and beverages that contemporary society demands. If a customer wants a latte, they can go to McDonald’s. Ice cream? McDonald’s offers soft serve. Salad? No problem! And McDonald’s still offers the now classic Big Mac, just in case someone wants a burger.

Facebook does the same with its social network functionality. It literally watches competitors create new features, and then it incorporates those functionalities into its network, competing head-to-head in that functional space. Facebook relies on its incredibly large user base to accept and use the new features. We saw this with Facebook Places and the competition it offers Foursquare. Other examples include:

  • Facebook Pictures competes with Flickr
  • Facebook Video competes with YouTube (this feature does as well as a McRib sandwich on market share)
  • Facebook Chat competes with AOL’s AIM
  • Facebook Questions and Groups compete with LinkedIn Questions and Groups

One could argue that the strength of this business model is also Facebook’s weakness. As we have seen over time, Facebook constantly updates its interface to incorporate these changes. This is relatively easy because of its text-based, three-column layout. While text allows Facebook to offer all of these features, the user interface has become clunky and cumbersome. In essence, being the McDonald’s of social networks has forced it into an over-reliance on text.

If a competing technology arose that provided a new interface, an almost completely visual tactile (touch) input to a social application, then Facebook would be challenged to completely redesign its web site. Several new apps on iPad have shown a new way to interact. Early signs show these applications are becoming immensely popular.

One iPad application, Flipboard, allows users to create their own magazines based on preferences and socially recommended content. ABC’s popular iPad app features a visual globe of news stories. Both application interfaces rely heavily on pictures with very few words, and why shouldn’t they, given that a picture is worth a thousand words?

It’s only a question of time—maybe even within the next two years—before a primarily visual-interface-based social network launches. Processing time, software development and bandwidth inevitably will increase to enable it. How will Facebook upgrade its interface to compete with this kind of innovation?

It would take an almost complete gutting of its social networking code. Facebook’s system has become so clunky that Facebook CEO Marc Zuckerberg can’t make changes that he wants to in order to open the network.Plus Facebook’s original feature of private, closed social networking was its big differentiator. The privacy tension caused by the movement toward openness continues to haunt Facebook.

Such a network upgrade likely would force Facebook to abandon users who are still text-based. It would be very hard for McDonald’s to keep serving Big Macs while offering a tastier Filet Mignon sandwich that holds market share (Angus Wraps aside). If you think Facebook cannot unseated,or it will not be by a tactile-input-based network, what about a video- based network? Bandwidth and technology permitting, how about Third Life, a better version of Second Life’s would-be virtual-avatar-based world, where interaction would occur in a computer-generated 3-D environment? Or a video-based network like, but more nimble than, the original Seesmic?

Isn’t it just a question of time before Facebook meets a competitor with a better, next-generation interface that it can’t match? Yes given the context of Internet history and technology development.

If a better, easier choice becomes available, you can expect people to spend more time on it than on Facebook. The Fifth Estate moves with what’s hot, and without thinking about the historical value of today’s technology platform of choice.

Business leaders and strategists cannot afford to become too entrenched on a mega social network like Facebook or Twitter. If an organization cannot move with its community because of an over-investment in one network, it loses the opportunity to serve stakeholders effectively.

# # #


The source material for this section of the Fifth Estate was originally published on this blog under the same title.