Five things right and wrong with Flickr

I like Flickr. I do. But it could be much more than it is. Yes, the wrong kind of change could ruin it. But it also can't continue on in essentially a stasis field for the long term.

I apparently ruffled some feathers among Flickerites (of which I'm one by the way), when I suggested last week that maybe it wouldn't be so terrible were someone else, even Microsoft, to take a shot at upgrading a service given that Yahoo has shown so little inclination to do so.

Now, I'm by no means convinced that Microsoft is the right company for this particular job. At the same time, I can't help but feel that Flickr has largely stagnated--even if that stagnation feels safe and comfortable to a lot of current users.

There's no doubt that Flickr has some good things going for it:

  1. It's a "best seller" in a world where network effects are important. The reasons why it got here aren't especially important. What is important is that it's become the obvious go-to photo-sharing site for much of the world.
  2. And, as the mail I've received confirms, it's not just a large community but an often passionate one. A lot of people like not so much Flickr itself, but the network of people who use Flickr to hang out with each other.
  3. Flickr has a decent application program interface (API) that allows developers to extend the site in a variety of ways. For example, companies like Zazzle, QOOP, and MOO now offer to print photographs on Flickr using those APIs. Indeed, there's more variety from these third parties using Flickr than is available on many of the sites like Hewlett-Packard's Snapfish, whose main raison d'etre is printing.
  4. The free membership option is fairly limited but it lets you try out everything on the site. And the price of the $25 per year "pro" membership is hard to beat when you consider that it doesn't come with either upload or storage limits.
  5. Finally, it has some nice extras. CNET News.com's Stephen Shankland recently gave Flickr the best grades for its ability to "geotag" photos with location information. It also has hierarchical sets--that is, it lets you put sets within larger collections--a nice organizational aid as the number of photos you have online grows.

If it sounds like I'm generally positive on Flickr, that's because I am. But it does have some non-trivial shortcomings--especially for users who want greater control over the use of their photos.

  1. Today, there are limited mechanisms (essentially one hard-to-find global setting) to control which resolutions of photos the general public, your friends, and your contacts can view and thereby download. This is a serious issue for photographers who are happy to put photos up on Flickr but want to control access to higher resolution versions.
  2. No archiving of RAW/DNG originals. This is related to the item above. I see Flickr as serving an off-site archiving function in addition to a share-my-photos one. PhotoShelter is one site that provides this ability. It would even seem like a good incremental revenue opportunity for Flickr.
  3. No integrated security watermarking. This continues on the protect-photo-use theme. There are workarounds using APIs external to Flickr but this is a common feature on sites that cater more explicitly to pros.
  4. A largely "Web 1.0" look and feel. This is a general observation that Flickr hasn't changed much over the past few years. New settings get buried deep in tabs within tabs. And there's precious little of the sort of interactivity that characterizes many newer sites. (In other words, you largely have to click through to see anything rather than getting a preview when you mouseover a location, for example.)
  5. You can't export most of your data. This is part of a much broader Web 2.0 problem that I won't deal with at length here. Suffice it to say that, although photos can be exported through APIs, nothing else (comments, descriptions that aren't part of the photo itself, contacts) can. It's a complicated issue. What data belongs to you? What does information like contacts mean outside of a Flickr context? Suffice it to say that Flickr may not have done less than others to resolve some of these issues but it hasn't done more.

I like Flickr. I do. But it could be much more than it is. Yes, the wrong kind of change could ruin it. But it also can't continue on in essentially a stasis field for the long term.

About the author

Gordon Haff is Red Hat's cloud evangelist although the opinions expressed here are strictly his own. He's focused on enterprise IT, especially cloud computing. However, Gordon writes about a wide range of topics whether they relate to the way too many hours he spends traveling or his longtime interest in photography.

 

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