Flickr and Reflections on a Redesign

San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives on Flickr

Yahoo rolled out a radical new design for Flickr this week, gave all of its users 1TB of free storage, rewrote the terms of its account agreements, and launched a new, overhauled Android app. However, like almost every redesign of a popular product, there are howls of outrage about the changes. In this case, Yahoo failed to take into account Flickr’s rabid photographer community and made its redesign out of the blue, leaving long-time users feeling rebuffed (again) by Yahoo. Vocal griping about a redesign is common, but the response to the change has been at least 99% negative.* This week, Gizmodo ran a great article about Yahoo and Flickr’s troubled relationship in “Flashback: How Yahoo Killed Flickr and Lost the Internet.”

All Yahoo cared about was the database its users had built and tagged. It didn’t care about the community that had created it or (more importantly) continuing to grow that community by introducing new features.

I was and am excited by the changes. After all, Flickr has been greatly-neglected by Yahoo since its acquisition in 2005 and this sudden infusion of cash – including hiring a number of new people – can only mean that Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer meant it when she said that they were “going to make Flickr awesome again.”

Since so many museums use Flickr for collections access, I’m really interested in this process and what it means for us. But the rollout of the new design also serves as a cautionary tale about community adoption of a property and what happens when the titular owner decides to make changes.

Impressions:

  • New, modern design. Personally, I find the new design both beautiful and modern. It puts the photographs front and center of the user’s experience. Some of the criticism has been how this particular style is very similar to how Google +, Facebook, and Pinterest have recently redesigned their sites. It’s clear that this is the design du jour for social sites, and Yahoo wants Flickr to compete in the social networking world.

The comments are harder to find (you have to scroll down more) and the site is a bit slow and buggy right now, but that will be resolved. The maps seem to have disappeared, which is rather unfortunate. (*edited to add – the maps are still there, but they’re not obvious and you now need to make EXIF data public in order to make them visible) And many people who have slower internet connections will find that have a continuously-scrolling selection of images will cause bandwidth problems.

Flickr/Yahoo are listening to their users, though, at least somewhat. Yesterday, the background was black, a major complaint of many users. Today, they’ve switched it to white.

  • Accounts. Every Flickr user gets 1Tb of storage, for free. In exchange, though, Yahoo is going to display ads throughout the site. Previously, as a Pro user, it’s $25 per month for unlimited uploads and access to stats. For $50 per month, you can choose to be a paid subscriber and have ads removed and access to the Flickr stats. But if you’re a recurring Pro account holder, there’s this:

With these changes comes the news that we will no longer be offering Pro accounts on Flickr. All those with one-time Pro will retain their benefits until their subscription expires. Recurring Pro members currently have the opportunity to continue renewing their subscriptions. Until we communicate otherwise, your subscription will continue at the price you started with (and not higher).

I have a recurring pro account, and have for 8 years, so I’m grandfathered in. But if I didn’t have a recurring account, I wouldn’t bother to renew. Frankly, that’s what’s Adblock’s for.

But there’s been some speculation that Yahoo is intentionally trying to get rid of paid accounts. I think this is an apt observation. Certainly they are at the lower price point, but legions of users at a $25/year rate means fewer customers for ad-purchasers to market towards. I could take that to mean that my time on the site is worth about $50/year to a large tech company.

  • Rollout. Here’s where Yahoo and Flickr really screwed up. Yahoo has had an abysmal track record with communities and social media. They’ve consistently shown over the years that they simply don’t understand how communities work. Flickr, along with Delicious (which suffered an abysmal fate at the hands of Yahoo before being sold off in 2010), has an extremely vibrant and vocal fan base, and, I would argue, one that very much adopted Flickr as their own during the period of Yahoo’s neglect.

Since the rollout was so very sudden, there was a collective sense of whiplash by the community, who had no idea this was coming. There were no public beta tests or comment periods. There are also no options to stick with the original layout or modify the new one. Sure, spending a lot of time getting public feedback can be expensive and can threaten to derail a project. But, in this case, I think Yahoo absolutely should have engaged more with its users. Sudden change is hard, and it’s harder still on a group of devoted acolytes. Change absolutely needed to happen, but would it have been the kiss of death to draw it out for another 6-9 months?

My hunch is that Yahoo is going to eventually tightly integrate Flickr with Tumblr, using the casual social usage of Tumblr to support growth in Flickr. Yahoo has said that it’s going to leave Tumblr alone and let it do its thing, but I think some crossover may be inevitable. Yahoo wants a community of people who take snapshots and make memes and share with their friends. They want an Instagram. Flickr users are professional and amateur photographers, less-interested in sharing their everyday lives than in sharing their art. Wedding Flickr and Tumblr makes a great deal of sense, but the features that are important to the existing Flickr community were on the chopping block. This does a major disservice to the loyal fans who’ve supported Flickr in its 12-year history.

Right now, I’m just biding my time and watching to see what happens. I just hope that Flickr doesn’t dramatically change its API. Generally, I remain hopeful (although I’d very much like the Maps to come back, please), and that the Flickr community will simply evolve to incorporate more casual visitors. I anticipate that for as many people as leave Flickr now, if there is indeed a partnership between Flickr and Tumblr, those Tumblr users will more than make up the lack and give us cultural Flickr users a larger online audience.

*as of this writing, the replies to the rollout announcement have reached over 18,000 comments, and, after scrolling through the comments, I estimate that maybe only about 200 of them are positive. Most of the replies are single posts from users as well, and not just a small group of vocal opponents.

UPDATE: It looks like Stats is being phased out, though it will continue to be available for existing Pro users.

Here’s a link to a liveblog from the press event announcing the Flickr changes. there’s been much complaining about Mayer’s assertion that “there are no professional photographers”

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  1. What about sets?? Having unlimited sets has been a benefit of a paid account and I’ve read nothing in many posts about the new Flickr. Did you happen to learn about the status of sets?