Services & Software

Flickr's free terabyte not big enough

commentary The news is hardly grand enough to change the photo-sharing ways of people already accustomed to free.

Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer at the Flickr event in New York.
Sarah Tew/CNET

Eight years after buying Flickr, Yahoo hopes to entice people to take a fresh look at the photo service it let languish, with a fresh coat of paint and a free terabyte of space. Too bad today's photo-sharer has found a home elsewhere and is already accustomed to free.

Monday at a press event in New York, Yahoo announced major changes to Flickr to make the product "awesome again." The biggest change was the addition of a free terabyte of storage, a shift that transforms Flickr from a very restrictive subscription service to something that a majority of people can use for free. The service also now sports a highly image-centric design and comes with a redesigned Android application.

Yahoo chief Marissa Mayer was on hand to make sure the media grasped the greatness of the Flickr news. She promised an ostentatious marketing campaign, starting with 11 massive billboards in Times Square, to convey the same message to everyone else. Members of the press were far more preoccupied with the Tumblr purchase. The public will be equally unenthused.

The problem is that Yahoo is using words that won't resonate with the average photo-sharer. A terabyte is a lot of space, but it doesn't mean anything to most people. Today's Internet users have come to expect limitless space for their photos thanks to Facebook, where they're already uploading a majority of their pictures -- 350 million per day, to be exact.

Photos uploaded to Flickr maintain their full resolution, and you can download them in full resolution too. Great news for the photographer or album-maker, but hardly a message that will click with teens or young adults who just want a quick way to get their smartphone photos off their phone and in front of their friends.

Yes, the new Flickr gives the 89 million of us who have kept our accounts a reason to see what's new. I was delighted to find that the photos I've uploaded to the site over the years are still there. Flickr was holding most of them hostage because I decided to stop paying for the now retired Pro service. So there's that. And though I'm not loving the design (I'm not alone), Flickr's new look is far more current, and plenty of people are turning to Twitter to say exactly that.

Yahoo's real pitch seems to be one of practicality. Upload to Flickr. Store forever. And you can still share to Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr in the process, even when you're on an iPhone or Android. But who actually thinks like that? Certainly not Instagram users who have gravitated to the app because of its speed and simplicity. And where's the fun here? At least Google+ launched a photo experience with funky photo extras.

Flickr's approach is more mature. It's for the grownups out there. It's not sexy enough to motivate most people, youngsters in particular, to change their behaviors -- or their preferred photo-sharing network.

Yahoo's Flickr isn't a lost cause just yet. The changes, at the very least, show the company's commitment to making over the image of the once hot property. Plus, now that it has Tumblr, Yahoo might be able to find a way to tie the two properties together and infuse the photo site with some of the with-it-and-hip qualities of the blogging platform.

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