By Request: Flickr and the Instagram That Wasn’t


I recently asked on Tumblr whether there were any topics that people would like me to write about, and I received a number of interesting suggestions. Here’s the first:

highleverageinning said:

Flickr next. No joke. How to fix etc.

I’m taking this one on first both because it’s timely and because it’s relatively easy for me to address:

I’m the wrong person to ask.

Despite being a longtime Flickr Pro user, and (probably) holding the distinction of having the oldest unopened Flickr welcome message in existence [see below, unopened since December 16, 2004], I’m not really much of a Flickr user. I’m not a photographer, and I basically use Flickr as a convenient dumping ground that lets me visually scan my own pictures easily. While community is key to many people’s experience of Flickr, I’ve never felt part of a community there.

I genuinely have no idea what Flickr should do.

See? Short, easy answer.

But the catch, of course, is that I have some thoughts on what Flickr shouldn’t do. Or to be more precise, I have one thought on what Flickr shouldn’t do: Flickr shouldn’t try to build a better Instagram.

Yes, Flickr probably should have built Instagram before Instagram built Instagram. But it didn’t happen. Don’t try to play catch up. Flickr needs to  focus on fixing the problems that kept them from building the last Instagram before they have a shot at building the next one.

I note this because I read Mat Honan’s Flickr’s Engagement Problem May Be Too Big for Even Marissa Mayer. Which you should go read now, especially if you want to be able to judge whether I’m accurately representing Honan’s post. Which you should.

It an excellent piece and I’m nitpicking here, but I was bothered by this sentence regarding Honan’s test of the activity levels around Flickr vs. other services: “Perhaps more damning than the poor showing in terms of up votes was how ignored it was in real-time. It was only even viewed a total of five times on Flickr in that first hour.”

While I don’t think Honan is suggesting that Flickr build a better Instagram, exactly, it does feel like he’s suggesting that a viable Flickr is one that’s focused on a real-time, mobile, social photo experience as soon as possible, and that sounds to me a bit like trying to take Instagram head on rather than building a better Flickr.

It’s odd to say in these mobile-first, social-always days, but maybe Flickr would be better off building from their strengths. As Honan points out, Flickr “has great privacy controls, excellent display and sharing tools, makes a wonderful archive, and, despite years of neglect, enjoys tremendous good will.” What if Flickr stays focused on the web for a little while, and accepts (or embraces) a “slow photo” mindset against Instagram’s stream of consciousness, and Facebooks stream of…well, every-fucking-thing?

Could work. As I said: I really don’t know.

But I do know that Flickr shouldn’t try to build a better Instagram.

  • Good stuff…missed your tweet, so I’m going to go back and find that next (then hit you with some ideas/questions I would love to have your share thoughts on)…

    For Flickr…I also never really got into it, but of course I do have an opinion…they should pick a couple of specific use cases and work on owning them again.  I believe their roots were in photo-enthusiasts…and specifically a community around rating, grade, and critiquing photos…I think they can pretty quickly and easily get back to owning that (even on mobile)…

    Or maybe focus on photos and photo sharing for families (unless they think Facebook is already too far ahead on that front)…or maybe focus on photo contests (I think this was also part of their roots)…or some other focus I’m not currently thinking of…

    The key I think is ‘focus’…focus on taking one or two things back…own them (it will be easier this time around as they already have a user base, and good will, to work with)…and then see where it can go from there….

  • Agree on focus — the problem I have is that my only opinion is regarding what they *shoudn’t* focus on. :)

    And the consensus does seem to be that Facebook owns photo sharing in the space between the pro-focused sites and Instagram/Twitpic et al (and, well, they own Instagram, too, of course) but I wonder if that’s really been tested. 

    Looking forward to hearing what you’ve got brewing at the moment!

  • Cool…so topic suggestion:

    #1 ‘aggregation’ (where, when, and how you see it being useful in today’s web)

    #2 ‘Discovery’ (What does it mean to you? How much is too much? Where/when/how to hit you with it?).

    #3 ‘Mobile Community’ (what would this look like? How does the phone help/change/foster community?)

    …more to follow…but I’ll rest at 3 for now 😉

  • Queued up. :)