Flickr’s ReBirth

Flickr for me was my starting point as a photographer. It was way way back in 2006 when I first started uploading my photos and I really haven’t stopped. Flickr has served me as a backup and as a portfolio for many years. Flickr was always a place for photography and photos… good or bad.


I watched flickr go through some low times and slowly slide into obscurity. Sites like 500px and instagram came in and pushed Flickr further away to the point were few were using it and the groups were dead. Yet, flickr somehow stuck around. It got handed off to different people who promised to make it better or at least “what it was” and then nothing happened.

Now, we see that Smugmug has picked up the torch and is planning to do something with Flickr. What that is, I am not sure at this stage in the game. However, those with a free account are seeing the first of many changes. This being the recent limitation of the free accounts to 1000 photos.

While this may have made a number of people angry, the fact of the matter is that for Flickr to work, it has to be profitable. Before you you start talking about greed and whatnot, you have to be realistic. Flickr was dying a slow death. Smugmug wants to improve the platform but that takes money. Money is something that Flickr is losing on a daily basis. Hence why there is a shift towards paid accounts.

Why Flickr? Why Now?

Flickr is like a homebase for me. It is ad free (for pro subscribers) and doesn’t have that “like/unlike” thing that instagram has. It was for photography and full of photographers, at least it was 5 to 10 years ago. For me it just has a familiar feel and I appreciate that.

My most recent addition to the explore page.

I think that people are now getting disillusioned with sites like instagram and they are looking for a place that is more about the photos than the places or products in them. I feel that photographers are also looking for a place to chat about lenses and share their photos with said lens.

The groups in Flickr were great. There was a group for just about everything! From your favourite lens to city-based photo clubs. These were not just hashtags but actual groups where people went to discuss everything related to that topic and plan meetups.

McDrive-throu Korea
This terrible image is my most viewed image on flickr. It has 23,954 views thanks to an inclusion on one of those strange places lists.

This is something that is missing from instagram and even 500px. There is not a sense of community. Facebook groups have come a long way and for most part have replaced the need for groups but if you look at how Flickr organizes the topics you can see there are differences. Again, Flickr is geared more towards photography than social networking in my opinion. Which possibly is a reason why people abandoned it for facebook and instagram if you think about it.

The other thing to point out is that Flickr has been around and many sites still accept imports, uploads, and embeds from Flickr. A huge plus is also the fact that you can export directly from Lightroom simply and easily. The export dialogue has a number of specific settings that you can customize like the watermark that you now see in my images on Flickr. Somehow Flickr retained some usefulness especially since you can’t export to Facebook from lightroom anymore.

Lessons from 500px

Smugmug needs to look at sites like 500px and see what worked and what went wrong. A number of years ago, 500px was THE photography site to be on. It had all of the trappings that photographers craved. It also seemed to be a huge improvement over the then dying Flickr, or so we thought.

Gampo Morning Light

There are many photographers who gained their following from 500px but many more complained about the system used to get to the top. From their acquisition by VCG to shutting down their online marketplace last July, it has left a lot of photographers wondering about the future of 500px.

In many regards, 500px has fallen from grace and it would be important if not critical for Smugmug to figure out why. For many years, 500px reigned supreme with portfolios, websites, and a market places that help photographers make money. Now, I can find little value in even maintaining my profile.

The Future of Flickr

What I would like to see is more life being brought back to the platform. As Nicolesy points out in her article, many of the groups are long since dead. I am not just talking inactive but dead as in the last discussion ended 5 years ago… So yeah, more energy and people are needed.

I would also like to see a more community-based approach to the renewal. If they started working with photographers around the world and figuring out what they wanted or what would work for them would be a start. While I like seeing input from celebrity photographers like Trey Ratcliff, I feel the success of the platform depends on the regular photographer’s input and enthusiasm. Fan appeal is one thing but when people feel apart of and appreciated by a site that they use could be a game changer.

Lotte Wheel
My second most popular image. With over 20,000 views thanks to explore. What this means in reality? Not much.

The other thing that I hope they stay away from is trying to emulate instagram. It’s been done and done to death. I would love to see the Smugmug team sit down and restore what is currently broken and drive towards building Flickr into something beyond what it was and beyond another ad-filled social network full of boomerang vids of people drinking starbucks coffees.

With regards for the app, I think that they can ditch camera unless they do something REALLY special with it or partner with an app like camera+ to make it stand out. Otherwise just focus on streamlining the user experience.

Personally, I hope that this fresh perspective can breathe new life into Flickr. I never really had a problem with the platform or the app. Fact is, the only thing that I really didn’t care for was explore. That was simply because the algorithm seemed to favour either coffee, cats, or lego.


So if your photo managed to get picked up by explore it was not really a mark of excellence because the 5 photos next to yours were snapshots of a latte with a lego figure on the edge.

The bottomline here is that the future of Flickr rests on the proverbial knife-edge. The changes that Smugmug makes could change the industry or go the way Google+ did. If you remember, Google+ was all the rage in the photography circles and poof! people left it to die.

I am hopeful for a future for Flickr. If handled correctly with the right vision then we could see this being a new era for the site. If they screw it up, then just let it die this time as I don’t think anyone can help if smugmug can’t.

**Update** I am not getting paid for this or any article unless otherwise stated. Also note that there are MANY issues with Flickr that will be discussed in an upcoming article but what was stated here are my initial thoughts on the current state of Flickr. ~ JT


  1. David Hoffman Reply

    While I agree with most of your assessments of Flicker, you miss the real reason people are reluctant to go “Pro”. The site is poorly hosted and administered. It is a big time waster. Images can take forever to load. The site is littered with picture fragements and sometimes when you click on an image, a different one popes up. The images shift up and down and side to side. Then there is the “Bad Panda” page which they produced because their site is so often malfunctioning. Fav’s and comments are sometimes lost or not delivered. Has anyone ever taken a pole of Flicker users? I’ve been a Flicker user for over 5 years and NOTHING has changed except their praise for themselves and elevated attempts to get users to pay for it by reducing benifits and clearly stating that they will take anyone off the site for any reason.
    You didn’t mention any of this so you must be getting some compensation for your article or there is a downside for you to report the whole truth. You didn’t lie, you just didn’t give a complete evaluation.
    I want Flicker to succeed. As soon as they step up and produce a “professional” web site, I’ll gladly pony up the $$. I refuse to pay for a bug ridden, underpowered, poorly administeded photo site.
    I dare you to report that!

    • Jason Teale Reply

      To be honest David, I am not getting compensated for any thing to do with Flickr. The points that you bring up are valid but I have never encountered them at all in my 13 years using the site. At times the site has been slow to load and I will say that the app has needs improvement. However, I haven’t seen a “bad panda” page in a long time.

      If you state that you been using Flickr for 5 years then you joined during that decline. Meaning that you started using flickr during the exact time that the site was being mismanaged and left to die. SO in reality you don’t really know what Flickr was and could be. That is not a bad thing but I just want to point out the fact that by that time FLickr had seen it’s day and was already beaten by 500px and instagram.

      “I want Flicker to succeed. As soon as they step up and produce a “professional” web site, I’ll gladly pony up the $$. I refuse to pay for a bug ridden, underpowered, poorly administered photo site.” I believe that is exactly what smugmug is attempting to do. They have yet to do anything beside limit free users as I mentioned in the article.

      “You didn’t mention any of this so you must be getting some compensation for your article or there is a downside for you to report the whole truth.” I am not sure why you would jump to the conclusion that I am being paid for this. To me this type of thinking is irritating as you are insinuating that I am writing this article from a place of greed. No offense but it just limits any sort of intellectual debate. I am happy that you have pointed out that there are some negatives and points that I missed but assuming that it was because I was being paid for the article? That is just a slap in the face.

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment and I will certainly look into everything that you mentioned. I will report on that in the coming months as I think that people need to hear about these issues. However, for this article and any others that I write please stop assuming that I am being paid to praise. If I am, I will openly state that in the beginning of the article.

  2. Scott Reply

    I’ve been a flickr user since July 2009 and have recently given up on it and deleted most of my images to fit under the 1k limit.

    The whole system and site needs a complete overhaul and I’m not prepared to wait. The only reason I stuck with it in recent years was for some of the groups but as you note many of these are now completely inactive.

    I already pay for my own website and I really don’t think Facebook and Instagram are dying as many people sensationalise.

    Unless Flickr can offer me something unique and of value eventually I’ll stop using it completely.

    • Jason Teale Reply

      Ithink that you are 100% right. The whole system needs an overhaul. I think that they really have to sit down and take their time with this. As you said, many people are not going to wait around. So this could be a case of being too little too late.

      The website is also a good point and something that I didn’t think about when I wrote this article. Places like 500px and Viewbug try to increase their value by offering things like “portfolios” and “custom websites” and while that may be enticing to some, for the vast majority that have invested time into creating a website, it is useless. Instagram and Facebook serve their purpose and I agree, they are not going anywhere. So I think that Smugmug has to figure out what it is that people are looking for and offer considerable value if they are wanting people to pay for the pro membership.

      On a side note, I had a look at your site and it is wonderful. That first image that comes up is breathtaking! Thank you for popping by and commenting.

  3. Pete DeMarco Reply

    I’ve been on Flickr since 2007. Like you, it was my first and main photo platform for many years. I made many friends through it as well. Although I rarely ever use it, what I appreciate most about it is that it’s a repository for all my photos from back in the day. It’s like my digital shoe box full of old photos. It’s great for going back and seeing where I started or looking up old photos.

    Other than that, I decided not to spend money on the site as I don’t see what value it will bring me. At this point it’s not much different than Facebook or Instagram which are free. I get that you can use it as a place to back up your photos. But I’d rather spend that $50 on a Backblaze subscription where I can back up RAW files too.

    I do want Flickr to succeed and I have a fondness for it like you. I don’t want the only platforms to be relevant owned by Zuckerberg. I’m going to wait and see what they end up doing with it. I think’s it’s going to be a real challenge though.

    • Jason Teale Reply

      I think that this is a waiting game too. You are right about it being a digital showbox. It is great going back and seeing what is there.

      I really think that they [smugmug] have an uphill battle on their hands. As I said in the article, it could go either way. I hope that they take a step back and really create something great instead of just taking our money and giving us a carbon copy of 500px mixed with instagram and a sprinkle of facebook.

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