Flickr Not Dead, But Losing The Soul Of Photo Sharing

The buzz in photography circles this past weekend was a post by Thomas Hawk declaring “Flickr is Dead.” It’s not the first time we’ve heard this attention-grabbing headline. By the numbers, it’s hard to call a photo sharing site with more than 6 billion photos “dead” just yet, and Hawk admits it will take time. But, Yahoo-owned Flickr is facing increasing competition and influential photographers are choosing to upload elsewhere.

Hawk, who was an early Flickr evangelist, first asks readers to compare his Flickr page, with its “same view since 2004” to his infinite scrolling Google+ photo page. But his real moment of realization came last week. Trey Ratcliff, an expert in HDR photos who also runs a popular travel photo blog called “Stuck In Customs“, led a photowalk at Stanford that more than 200 photographers of all skill levels attended. They are still trying to confirm this, but it might have been a “World Record” photowalk turnout.

Hawk writes “What was everybody talking about at the photowalk? Flickr? No. Google+? Yes. Not only was everyone talking about Google, there were tons of people from Google who were there.” The list of Googlers included the Google Photos Community Manager and the guy who built their lightbox.

I attended the very informative walk. It may have been the first Google+ flash mob. At times I thought the event was an official Google company event, but it wasn’t. Everyone was talking about photography and Google+. The group photo (above) was posted to Google+ and many faces tagged. Everyone was invited to add their photos and comments about the walk on Google+.

Hawk recalls “Flickr used to feel like this.” Years ago, he says Flickr co-founder Stewart Butterfield would attend the Flickr meetups. But, those meetups don’t happen any more. A SF Flickr Meetup Group had only 3 posts this year. He writes Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz doesn’t have a Flickr account, while Google co-founder Sergey Brin posted underwater photos last week to Google+.

There are still many more people putting pictures on Flickr compared to the newcomer Google+. And one photowalk isn’t going to change everything. But, many passionate and influential photographers are switching from Flickr to Google Photos and a host of other photo sharing sites like 500px and Instagram.

Most importantly, in Hawk’s view, Flickr has “lost the soul of photosharing. They’ve lost the spirit of photosharing — the zest and the passion and love — and while they got away with that for a long time due to lack of competition, things have now changed.”

Frederick Van Johnson, the host of the popular photography podcast, This Week in Photo (TWiP), agrees. He told me “Flickr’s lack of innovation is a crime that’s punishable by death — and we the jury are voting with where we choose to host our photos.”

In additional to Google Photos, Flickr is facing competition from Instagram, launched just 9 months ago and only available on the iPhone. Instagram just reported its 150 millionth photo. It took Flickr nearly 2 years to reach 100 million photos.

TechCrunch has been reporting on Flickr’s problems for awhile. Earlier this year, Michael Arrington stopped using Flickr. He explained his reasons in a post called “I Won’t Use Flickr Until They Release My Photo Hostages.” Flickr’s head of product, Matthew Rothenberg left in March. The founders, Caterina Fake and Stewart Butterfield, who created the company in 2004, sold it to Yahoo in 2005, and left in 2008. Alexia Tsotsis wrote about the Flickr designer who publicly criticized Flickr’s design.

Hawk’s article has generated some good discussion on his blog, Hacker News and Google+. Commentors pointed out that Hawk has 60,000 photos in his Flickr photostream which appears to the right of his “Flickr is Dead” post. But that just shows someone like Hawk, who is clearly a power user of Flickr, is not happy. He’s the type of paying “Pro” user Flickr needs to keep.

A commenter named Jolene compared Flickr to an ex-beau. “It’s still out there… you remember how much in love you once were, how you thought it was going to be forever. Eventually, you grew apart.”

In researching this article, I learned from the Flickr blog that its 5 billionth photo was uploaded last September. But on the first page of its “Welcome Tour,” it claims just “over 4 billion photos.” In addition to a lack of innovation and updates on the product, Flickr can’t even update the information on its own site to reflect the addition of 1 billion more photos. How many billion more will it get?

Update: It turns out Flickr reported its 6 billionth photo earlier this month. While I’ve updated this post, now Flickr’s Welcome Tour page is 2 billion photos out of date.

Update 2: One day after my post, Flickr has updated their Welcome Tour page to reflect the fact they have over 6 billion photos.

Photo Credit: Peter Adams, posted on Google+