Photo from Yala, hosted on Flickr
When Flickr started life was great. I never saw anything so cool for sharing photos. It was simple, fast and had all the Web 2.0 buzzwords that made anything possible, integrating it into this site, uploading from phones, etc. They were innovating every week and I never knew what I would find. The ‘interestingness‘ algorithm, the geotagging, camera finder, the Creative Commons licensing (for fair use), etc. Slideshows, tagging, RSS, these things are all priceless and I use them still. However, once Yahoo bought the young company they basically stopped innovating and became more like, well, Yahoo. The only notable changes I’ve seen are that you have to use this kludgy Yahoo login now and the pages stopped working on Windows Mobile. Besides that I assume that Yahoo is covering the server costs and keeping the thing online (no small thing) but not really innovating. I love Flickr and we have a long relationship, but the thrill is gone. I find myself looking around.
This is not to say that consolidating a good thing is bad. I believe that if you have something simple that works you don’t need to keep reinventing it. I, for example, wish the Havelock tailors would just keep one stock of linen rather trying to get fancy with the polyester blends. I also admire Apple’s decision to make their new OS smaller than the last one. However, as things change, some adaptation may be judicious, wise, and even fun. Flickr, after undergoing and orgy of innovation in its start-up phase, has remained much the same. Furthermore, being bought by Yahoo hasn’t brought any synergies to the beast beyond a slow, lumbering quality. The only new thing I can remember from this period is a tie-up with Getty Images, which is too expensive to be of any use to me. Also a foray into short videos which I think was a failure.
But what could Flickr do?
I love tagging and find it priceless to organize and reference the over 6,000 photos I’ve added to Flickr. However, I hate tagging (the verb). It’s a pain and the interface makes it neither fun nor easy. I think Flickr could innovate by making it somehow a game to tag these innumerable photos, maybe hiring keyboard jockies in the third world to do it (I’d pay), or employing some artificial intelligence to pick out colors, faces and basic objects. I think they’re experimenting with this on some level, but my overall tagging experience hasn’t changed from years ago.
Look and Feel
The look hasn’t changed for years, and I rarely if ever browse through Flickr now. I basically use it as an archive, just upload and keep, maybe display on the blog. The social networking component has basically failed and I think it’d be better if they somehow integrated with Facebook. I get more discussion if I post photos there, where as Flickr is now a bid of an anonymous server space. It is also a bit of a turn-off for professional photographers because it lacks serious sales capability and it just doesn’t look that cool anymore.
Sharing photos should be dumb easy, even default. I think a Flickr camera which had a hardware switch for UPLOAD would be sweet. That is, you can take a photo and then upload it from the device, in the field. There are already Flickr/Wifi cameras that can do this and an iPhone app. The former suffers because WiFi is a limited and dying technology (deprecated by 3G/HSPA) and the latter because the photos aren’t that amazing and the price is high. I think the iPhone route is actually fine, but Apple is a bit of a dick to the developing world, giving us everything late and for a very high price. There’s a good opening for a cheap, simple camera that uploads to Flickr painlessly.
That, however, leaves viewing. Despite taking hundreds more pictures, I find it hard to replicate the pleasure I got from picking up 36 prints from the drug store. I find it very difficult to share photos with my Achchi (grandmother). If there was a nice digital picture frame (iFrame?) that connected to Flickr, again over 3G, that would be very cool. If it was cheap and simple and had solar power or something then maybe I could get some of that joy of looking at photos (independent of computer kludgery) back again.
Again, these are just things. Flickr used to surprise even me and come up with stuff that I didn’t think possible. Now it doesn’t disappoint, but it doesn’t delight either. I’m sure Yahoo gave them a bunch of money. I wish they’d do something cool.