Photo-sharing site Flickr is back to making controversial decisions about how its service runs.
For years, Flickr has had free and paid tiers. Since 2013, the free tier gave an astonishing 1 terabyte of storage, but showed users advertising. The paid tier offered unlimited storage but removed the ads.
New owner SmugMug has announced that they will soon limit free accounts to 1,000 photos. They want to change their business model to drive less revenue from advertising and more from subscriptions.
They say that this is also about encouraging Flickr to be a stronger photo community. I’m not sure how this does that, but it’s a nice idea. Flickr’s community used to be so rich, and it’d be great if that could come back somehow.
I work in the software industry and know how hard it is to come up with a viable revenue model and the corporate and product strategies that support it. I never understood how Flickr could make money offering a terabyte of storage to everyone.
Flickr’s blog post about this change says, “The overwhelming majority of Pros have more than 1,000 photos on Flickr, and more than 97% of Free members have fewer than 1,000. We believe we’ve landed on a fair and generous place to draw the line.”
Yet in the photo forums I follow, many photographers are upset about this change. Perhaps it’s hobbyist photographers like us who make up that 3% of Free users who’ve uploaded more than 1,000 photos.
I’ve been a Flickr Pro user for years now with 15,863 photos uploaded as of today. (See my Flickr stream here.) I’ve found my Flickr Pro subscription to be worth every penny just for my ability to share my work anywhere I want to on the Internet, including and especially on this blog. I’m grandfathered at the old $25/year rate, but even if they bump me to the current $50/year rate I’ll pay it and keep on Flickring.
Click here to get Down the Road in your inbox or reader six days a week!
Each day, Flickr showcases 500 photographs from among that day’s tens of thousands uploaded. A super-secret algorithm selects them based on their “interestingness” for other Flickr users to explore. Today’s Explored photos are always on this page for your browsing pleasure.
Many people do browse Explore every day and click Like on the photos that grab them. That’s where being Explored gets fun: your email blows up with notifications of all those Likes. Flickr otherwise gives you no heads up that your photo was selected. If you think one of your photos was Explored, the Scout page at the Big Huge Labs site (here) will tell you.
My first Explored photo was a quick image I made to illustrate a blog post. I didn’t arrange the subject especially carefully. I didn’t even bother to remove clutter from the background (such as the bottle of aspirin). But Flickr called it interesting just the same.
I’d been a Flickr user for six years before that image was Explored. But that seemed to open the spigot, so to speak. Seventeen more of my images have been Explored since then. I’m sharing them all here, in chronological order.
I’m happy this one was chosen — I think it’s a wonderful image. This is part of Oldfields, the Lilly family house on the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
After a while I stopped trying to guess how Flickr chooses images for Explore. I just enjoy it when one of my images is chosen. Experience has showed me that only the first, or maybe, maybe, the second, image in your photostream is eligible. This has led me to upload photos in smaller batches, always placing the photo I’m happiest with at the front of the batch. It has somewhat increased my success rate.
Sometimes an image can become un-Explored. It’s because Flickr’s algorithms keep calculating on each image forever, and each day’s Explored images are ranked. If another photo becomes more interesting than yours, it moves your photo down the ranking. If your photo’s rank falls below 500, it falls off that day’s Explore. That’s what happened to both the image above and below. They entered Explore at numbers 498 and 496, respectively. After a few days, other photos somehow became more interesting and replaced them in the rankings. The Big Huge Labs Scout page tells you the rank at which each of your Explored images started, by the way. To see images that fell off Explore, click the Include Dropped link.
I especially like it when my film photographs are Explored. A lot of what makes Explore is heavily Photoshopped native digital imagery. My work is so elemental and minimalist in comparison.
I’m especially amused when a photo of one of my old film cameras gets Explored. I shoot these images for the reviews I write on this blog and don’t mean for them to be especially interesting.
But when I shot that roll of Fuji Velvia 50 slide film, I certainly aimed at interesting! At least interesting to me. I was happy Flickr agreed on this photo.
One of my Explored photos resonated so well with viewers that it racked up a whopping 36,000 views over a few days. I shot this in Garfield Park in Indianapolis. Someone had written these words on these steps and I had the good sense to compose a photo around them.
Once in a while one of my old-camera photos turns out just great. As I’ve written before, I’m not always thrilled with how they turn out, but I use them in my reviews anyway. This was one of those photos, and I was pleased that it was Explored.
I use my point-and-shoot Canon PowerShot S95 primarily for family snapshots, road-trip documentary photos, and other non-artistic work. But it’s a worthwhile camera when I want to do serious work. I’ve made many pleasing images with it. This was one of them, and I’m happy it was Explored.
The afternoon of a challenging day I spooled some Kodak E100G into my Yashica-D and shot the whole roll in my front garden. It was photo therapy. I didn’t take great care in composition but this photo was Explored anyway.
I don’t think this photo from the cattle barn at the Indiana State Fair is all that interesting, but Flickr’s inscrutable algorithms disagreed sharply. I can’t tell whether this photo was Explored despite the light flare, or because of it.
Two images from the same roll of film were Explored. It’s my personal best. The first is above and here is the second.
The more experience I gain as a photographer, the more control I have — I increasingly know what a photo will look like, in my head, from the available light and the settings I chose. But this photo from under the 38th St. bridge at Crown Hill Cemetery turned out far better than I envisioned. I was very happy with Flickr’s Explore algorithms agreed.
This photo from inside the Methodist church in Woodstock, Illinois, was another that fell off Explore after it was added. Too bad.
I didn’t think this photo was anything special at all, but Explore featured it anyway. If you’re ever in Indianapolis, you’ll find this house on Cold Spring Road just west of Michigan Road.
In contrast, I really hoped this photo would be Explored, so much did I like it. But I was in an Explore dry spell. Seven of my 2015 photos were featured, but only two in 2016.
My dry spell correlates to a several-month period when I used Lightroom to upload photos. I recently got frustrated with Lightroom’s maddening interface and quit using it. I returned to uploading photos with Flickr’s Uploadr, and almost immediately one of my photos was Explored. It was this one, from the Olympus µ[mju:] Zoom 140 I reviewed recently.
Did using Lightroom really have anything to do with my Explore dry spell? Who knows. Maybe if my acceptance rate goes up now, I’ll have some evidence. But it doesn’t really matter. It’s just a fun surprise when one of my photos is featured.
I could live without a lot of things I currently own. I know this to be a fact because I sold, gave away, or otherwise lost most of my possessions during my divorce ten years ago. It shocked me how much I loved the lightness of not owning things.
This terrible exposure is one of the few photos I took of my grandfather. He’s relaxing in his home. It was the summer of 1982; he was 66 and I was 15. This connects me to so many pleasant memories. I’m so happy I still have this photo.
But I don’t want to live without my photographs. Thankfully, every last photo I took as a kid and young adult survived. I keep them in boxes; I digitized them all a couple years ago. They connect me to memories I might otherwise have lost.
Since the divorce I’ve returned to photography in a big way. Between film and digital photos, and including scans of all of my old photos, I now have well north of 20,000 images on my computer’s hard drive.
Holy backup, Batman! And I do back them up, to a wee external hard drive. But if my house burns down, both computer and external drive are toast.
So I became interested in uploading my images to “the cloud” (i.e., someone else’s server, via the Internet).
I investigated a few solutions, none perfect, but quickly settled on Flickr. As a Flickr Pro customer, I have unlimited storage. And their Flickr Uploadr automatically uploads every new photo. It marked them all private so you can’t see them.
It was occasionally useful, as it let me find an old photo much faster than searching through folders on my hard drive.
But I use Flickr primarily to host images I share here, and those private photos just clogged my camera roll and intruded into every search result. And because I upload for public consumption a processed version of each photo, I see duplicates everywhere.
It made Flickr hard for me to use. This week I decided I’d had enough. I uninstalled the Uploadr and deleted all of the private photos.
And so I’m back to looking for a way to store my photo collection in the cloud. Do you do this? If so, what solution are you using and how well is it working for you?
I often wish that I hadn’t fouled my Flickr space by dumping into it every photo I take that isn’t an abject failure. I wish I had used it to showcase my best work.
My Flickr space
When I joined Flickr a decade ago, I just wanted a reliable photo host that let me share my photos anywhere online. But who knew that I’d come to think of myself as a serious amateur photographer, that I’d build some real skills, that people would enjoy my work?
I’d love to have a single URL I could share, a digest of the photographs I think show my stuff the best.
It’s too late for me to change my Flickr space. 95% of the photos I share on this blog are hosted at Flickr. I hope Flickr never goes away or this blog is toast.
My option, then, is to start a new online space that I will curate carefully. One option is to start a second Flickr account. That appeals to me because a large community is already there. Unfortunately, my existing followers (387 at last count) don’t automatically come along!
So I’ve been trying Instagram again. Now that they don’t force you to crop your photos square, I’m uploading the photos I like best and skipping the filters. I already have 237 followers there. But even though you can go to my Instagram page and see all of my photos there, the app is really meant to be about the present moment, your latest photo. And I tend to post there only photos that look good on a phone’s small screen. Intricate details need not apply. You can see my Instagram photos here.
I’m also experimenting with Tumblr. Check it out here. It’s much better suited to being viewed on a PC, and works equally well on a mobile device. But I have few followers there. I can’t figure out exactly how many but it’s got to be about 20. At least it’s an easy URL to share.
What’s your strategy for showcasing your best work online?
In case you’ve been living under a rock — and given the horrorshow that is this American Presidential election, I wouldn’t blame you — you might have missed that Verizon is buying Web pioneer Yahoo! for $4.8 billion. Photo-sharing site Flickr is part of that deal, as Yahoo! has owned it since 2005.
I’m an unabashed Flickr fan and for years have cheered it from the sidelines, but even I have to admit Yahoo!s inaction has left Flickr in a challenging competitive position. Even before the acquisition, Flickreenos everywhere were concerned for the site’s future.
And now here comes a new owner, and who knows what they’ll end up doing with their floundering photo-sharing site.
Here’s why I care so much. It’s not altruism or fanboy love. It’s that I use Flickr to host most of the photographs I share on this blog.
If Flickr goes away, photographs disappear here. Nine and half years worth of photographs.
It would be a daunting, enormous job to fix that.
My Flickr photostream today
Yes, I’m wringing my hands. Yes, it’s premature; Verizon has kept mum about its plans for Yahoo! and there’s currently no indication that they’ll change anything.
But I think I’m entitled to a little handwringing, because a project to restore missing photos to the nearly 1,500 posts here — oy, I don’t know how I would ever make time for that. I’d consider just leaving them be except that many of my old posts rank high on searches, and I want them to continue to be everything they have been.
Cross your fingers for me that Flickr has a long life ahead of it.
When I started this blog, I found a great use for my languishing Flickr account: hosting most of the photos I share here. Flickr has been a great tool for sharing my photography everywhere on the Internet.
The other day, I uploaded my 10,000th photo to Flickr. That’s a lot of photos! It’s so many that finding one particular photo on my computer is nigh onto impossible. From the beginning, I should have used the photo organizer that came with my copy of Photoshop Elements. But I’ve let too much water pass under the bridge: years and years of photos remain unindexed in folders on my hard drive. It would be a big, unpleasant job to organize them now.
It turns out that the easiest way for me to find one of my photographs is to search for it on Flickr. I’ve left enough bread crumbs in the titles, descriptions, and tags that with a few words in Flickr’s search box I can find anything I’ve uploaded.
It also turns out that I was inadvertently leading the way. Flickr recently made some changes to the site that makes it easier than ever to store all of your photos and find any of them in an instant. I think these smart improvements reposition Flickr well in the new world of photo storage and sharing, and give it a solid chance at remaining relevant and vital.
And it’s not a moment too soon. Flickr had been geared toward people interested in photography who wanted to share and talk about their work. Many users appeared to carefully curate their photostreams, sharing only their best photos. It remained wonderful for this purpose. But in the meantime not only have digital cameras almost entirely supplanted film cameras, but camera phones have also largely supplanted dedicated digital cameras. People were taking pictures on their phones just so they could share them on Facebook and Instagram — and Flickr was getting none of that action. It was falling behind.
Flickr finally awoke from its slumber in 2013 with a new, more modern user interface, plus one terabyte of free storage — upwards of a half million photos — for anyone, for free. Flickr’s mission had shifted: please do dump all of your photos here. And then last month Flickr rolled out yet another new user interface, and has added several powerful new features meant to make the site the only photo storage and sharing site you’ll ever need:
Automatic photo uploading. Flickr can now automatically upload every photo from your computer and your phone — every past photo and every new photo you take. Flickr marks them all as private, so only you can see them, until you choose to make them public. To enable this, you have to download the new Flickr app to your phone and download a new “Uploadr” application for your computer. But after you do, you may never again lose a photograph to a crashed hard drive or to a lost or stolen phone. And if you do have such a mishap, Flickr now lets you download any or all of your photos en masse.
Image recognition and automatic tagging. Flickr now uses image-recognition technology to guess what’s in each of your photos, and adds descriptive tags to them. You’ve always been able to tag your photos manually; those tags appear with a gray background. Flickr’s automatic tags have a white background. These tags make photos easier to find in search. It’s not perfect — a photo I took of a construction site was mistakenly tagged with “seaside” and “shore.” But it works remarkably well overall, and Flickr promises that they will keep improving the technology.
Camera roll and Magic View. Flickr has introduced an iOS-style camera roll as the main way you interact with your own photos now. Flickr is criticized for stealing this concept from Apple. But they’ve gone Apple one better by adding Magic View, which organizes photos by their tags — including the automatically generated ones. It gives you astonishing views into your photos, grouping them smartly. Finally, all of my bridge photos are in one place, and I didn’t have to lift a finger!
Flickr found 105 photos of bridges in my photostream.
Improved searchability. All these new tags makes Flickr even more searchable. You can find any of your photos in seconds on Flickr.
All of this makes Flickr a compelling place to store all of your photographs, and be able to easily find them. They’re stored on Yahoo! servers and are always backed up. With a couple clicks or taps, you can share them from there to most of the popular social media sites, including Facebook, Instagram (but only on your phone), and Twitter.
The best thing: You can still use Flickr for everything you could before. You can share your best photographs and have conversations about them. You can explore the beautiful photographs others have taken. You can geotag your photos and save them to albums and groups. And if you want nothing to do with Flickr’s new features, you can just ignore them.
I’m astonished by how well Flickr has shifted to its new mission without leaving legacy users behind. As someone who has made software for more than a quarter century, I can tell you: it is enormously difficult to do this.
Still, many of Flickr’s longtime users feel alienated. They’re expressing far less paint-peeling rage than they did after the 2013 changes, thank goodness, but they’re still quite upset. The leading complaint: there’s no way to opt out of automatic tagging, and no way to delete at once all the tags already generated. Longtime users who have carefully chosen their tags find Flickr’s automatic tags to be an unwelcome intrusion.
Flickr should probably address that. But first, they should congratulate themselves. They’ve done journeyman work.