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Summary:

Some of the criticism Yahoo has gotten about its Flickr relaunch likely comes from users who are resistant to change of any kind — but critics have also raised some good questions about it changes the service’s focus.

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Even as Yahoo was closing in on its ambitious $1-billion acquisition of Tumblr last week, the web giant was busy on a number of other fronts as well — including a relaunch of its classic photo-sharing service Flickr. But just as some sceptics (including us) have raised red flags about Yahoo’s ability to capitalize on the purchase of Tumblr without ruining it, the Flickr redesign has plenty of vocal critics as well. Are these the usual die-hard users who are simply resistant to change of any kind, or has Yahoo altered Flickr to the point where it has made the service worse rather than better?

As my colleague Laura Owen has described, the new Flickr includes a number of fairly dramatic changes — not the least of which is a full terabyte of storage for all users. Now, instead of a Pro level where members paid for extra storage, Flickr users can pay a monthly charge to have advertising removed from their feed, or they can pay an even larger annual fee to double the amount of space. The user interface of the service has also been completely redesigned to focus on showing large-format photos.

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Changing the look also changes the focus

Not surprisingly, the relaunch caused a storm of controversy on Flickr forums and elsewhere, with many veteran users complaining that it was difficult to find things or that favorite features were missing. As many Yahoo fans have since pointed out, this kind of response occurs virtually every time a service or website launches a new design — and as a result, many supporters have argued that the backlash is just noise and will eventually subside. The redesign also has some prominent fans, including Flickr co-founder Stewart Butterfield:

Butterfield Flickr tweet

A blogger by the name Newton Gimmick, however, argues in a post at Infinite Hollywood that the backlash to Flickr’s relaunch is more than just the typical knee-jerk response: in his view, the redesign has fundamentally changed some aspects of the service in important ways — ways that make it less likely Flickr will succeed or thrive, rather than more likely. In an attempt to be “cool” or compete with other services like Instagram, he says, Yahoo has ruined what made Flickr different, which was the element of shared community.

“Yahoo’s new vision of Flickr is to try and be a cool site like Tumblr and Instagram. Yahoo is furious that Instagram has so much of the market share. What Yahoo failed to realize is that Flickr doesn’t share the same market with Instagram. Flickr wasn’t ever about posting the latest photos from your iPhone.”

Gimmick argues that because the new layout is aimed at creating an Instagram or Tumblr-style stream of large-format photos, many of the other features that Flickr users relied on to connect with fellow photography enthusiasts and exchange information about their photos are either missing or almost impossibly hard to find. For example, he says, Flickr used to make the “EXIF” data about a photo — the type of camera, aperture size, frame rate, etc. — obvious, but now users have to hunt for it.

Has Flickr lost its core value?

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Yahoo’s CEO set off a minor firestorm following the Flickr relaunch when she said that “there’s no such thing as professional photographers any more,” which many took as a denigration of the industry. Mayer quickly explained that her comments were intended to refer just to the abolishing of the “Pro” tier of Flickr service. But Gimmick argues that the real impact of her comment is to make it clear that Yahoo no longer cares about even hobby photographers: instead, it simply wants to accumulate as many photos as possible.

“They want teenage kids posting up all the stupid duck face photos that they litter Instagram and Facebook with. Because those teen kids, are ad revenue. If you’re hip, people will pay big bucks to advertise on your site. And if you offer tons of free space for kids to post duck face photos, you’ll draw in lots of users and that means lots of ad revenue.”

It’s easy to see Gimmick’s rant as just another lament for the passing of the “good old days” by someone who has been a fan of a service for a long time. But as a long-time Flickr user, I think he might be on to something with his criticisms: I have used the site mostly as a way to backup my photos — but there are plenty of places that make it easy to do that. The real killer feature of Flickr has always been the community aspects, and the redesign diminishes or hides those in many ways.

That may be the kind of tradeoff that Yahoo and Mayer see as worthwhile — perhaps even necessary. But for me and Gimmick, and potentially other users as well, downplaying those features removes the main rationale for our loyalty to the site. If Flickr looks and feels just like every other photo-stream or sharing service, why wouldn’t we just go and use one of those instead?

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Getty / Chris Jackson

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  1. I hate new Flickr. It’s stupid. I want old Flickr back. The old Flickr was great now it’s been ruined. It’s sad really.

  2. flickrdefector Monday, May 27, 2013

    That is what I’ve been saying – the redesign was aimed at making the viewer’s experience more interesting, but the idea that flickr was set up for PEOPLE WHO TAKE photograhs (whether they describe themselves as photographers or not is irrelevant!) and want to be able to have some control about a range of things and therefore prefer an ‘administrator’ type of layout where things can be identified easily and reliably. It is interesting in this day and age of ‘superior technological advances’ that something as basic as offering a choice of background colour, layout, etc… seems to be beyond the capability of flickr….

    Yahoo is trying to compete with rivals by becoming like the rivals, weird…. I would have thought these multi millionaire CEOs would have completed ‘branding 101′ – what makes you stand out is what makes you different, better, faster… not just because you’ve got more money and you can buy more and more companies.

    Anyone who spends anytime reading the feedback comment on flickr (which 5 minutes ago had almost reached 2800 comments, will soon realise that the amoutn of knee-jerk reaction is very very very small indeed and that many many many users have taken the time to explain at length the aspects of the redesign they do not welcome – admittedly, not everyone is articulate in the jargon employed in the rarefied air conditionned offices of CEOs, but I would have thought these people could afford translators…

  3. Accremonious Monday, May 27, 2013

    Google should open up a site to mimic/replace the old Flickr and grab the user population away from Yahoo!

    1. And Google shall name this site PICASA and they could also provide an offline client for it. Wait… they already did… (with less success ^^)

  4. I’m on Flickr since 2007 and in my view changes improve photos presentation while leaving community activity basically untouched .
    And clicking on edit brings back the old interface , just without sets .
    Uploading photos is now dramatically faster .
    The Android app looks sweet now .

    I guess data on site traffic will soon confirm this impression .

  5. the new flickr experience is one for hipsters with smartphones – not photographers. for those who have a real interest in photography, rather than snapping strangers scratching their bum in public, then flickr is no longer for you i’m afraid. for flickr, now read instragram 2.

  6. The problem for me is that Flickr has just re-skinned a part of the site and reduced some of its functionality by forcing users to view almost all photo pages in the bandwith hogging justified continuous scroll they’ve chosen. Where information used to be presented alongside the pictures it now has to be scrolled down, clicked for or seen with the use of a mouseover.

    There’s been no upgrade of the Orangizer or any addtional features. All Flickr have done to the site is changed the way photographs are presented to users with no choice to change it.

    They’ve given all the free accounts 1TB but Pro users always had unlimited storage.

    As a Pro user who’s been on the site since 2008 and got over 4000 pictures online the Terabyte means nothing as I’ve always had unlimited storage. All that Flickr has done is changed the user interface and site style without warning and it’s buggy interface at that. They’ve dropped the change on users with no warning and with no help files to enable users to find their way round the new interface. In terms of usability, change management and PR it’s been a high dive into a bucket of the brown stuff.

  7. Thomas Hawk Monday, May 27, 2013

    Mathew, engagement is actually way up on the site — about 294% in my case. Actual photos uploaded are up about 71%. http://thomashawk.com/2013/05/flickr-users-uploading-71-more-photos-to-flickr-since-new-design-rolled-out.html

    Much of the criticism is being rallied by a small group of vicious haters in the help forum who shout down and attack anyone who expresses a positive opinion of the changes.

    Personally speaking I love the changes. I hated paging before. Now I can see so many photos so much faster. This allows me to consume more Flickr and interact and engage more with photos that I like.

    I especially like the sets page which now shows larger photos instead of super tiny little thumbnails.

    I think in the longer-term, this new design will grow on people. The site may lose a few haters to change, they always will no matter what they change, but they will also add many times that with an interface that focuses so much more on the photographs themselves.

    I love it!

    As far as community goes, I think the majority of community on Flickr has taken place in Groups. As far as Groups go, nothing changed there actually. That was one area of the site that actually was *not* changed in the redesign. Personally speaking, I think that the best improvement for community on Flickr would be for staff to give us a block feature that actually worked in public areas like groups and forums. This is what Google+ did which made the site much friendlier and more polite.

    1. Where are you getting your evidence that the people who don’t like the changes are a “small group of vicious haters?”

      You seem to be trying to sneakily dismiss anyone who has a legitimate gripe about the changes as just a few rotten souls.

      I am appalled by the changes because my photostream used to be a place where I could display my pictures, complete with a caption. The perfect marriage: photo plus caption. For my purposes, that is how I wanted my work to be displayed. While I can still get the photo + caption mode in “edit” view, only I as the owner of my account can see it that way. No one else can. If Flickr can’t let me have that small element of control that allows photos to be displayed with captions without having to mouse over every photo just to see it, then Flickr now offers me nothing. Imagine a news site where it’s just a bunch of images, and, to actually find out what the story is about, one has to hover over the picture. It’s big and bold, but not intuitive.

      I don’t want my photos displayed in a manner that mimics google image search, set against a backdrop of little avatar + big background that mimics facebook or twitter or google plus. It’s boring and unoriginal. Yawn.

    2. Your keyword, “Consume”. And that’s what the redesign reflects. Faceless, gorging, crass consumption. Demographic pandering and design-by-committee, desperate hipsterism, It’d be be a fairly poor show on a free-site; on a service that people have paid for it’s scandalous and pretty fraudulent. Would you pay for a blue car that someone painted red in the night and go “WHOOO! Yeah!”?

    3. Your characterization that “…the criticism is being rallied by a small group of vicious haters [...] who shout down and attack anyone who expresses a positive opinion of the changes” is completely and totally fallacious.

      You also characterize any negative feedback as coming exclusively from those who simply cannot abide by any change.

      You love to call everyone who doesn’t agree with you a “hater”; sorry, but I think that makes you a bully.

  8. alexmedawayhasleftthebuilding Monday, May 27, 2013

    at 93 million users, millions will love it, millions will hate it, and the haters are more vocal. it’s certainly not gonna die. yahoo is now in the hands of an actual genius engineer, nothing like its fraudulent predecessors, and all its properties wil thrive.

  9. Cynthia Gallagher Douglas Monday, May 27, 2013

    The new Flickr features pages where the images are so huge and crammed together, it takes forever for a page to load. It is now on infinite scroll, so that slows it down even more. You cannot see comments on your photos at a glance like you used to and the staff don’t give a hang that we paid for a certain user interface, because they completely changed what we thought we were buying overnight.

  10. Spot-on Mathew … Flickr thinks of itself as a photo viewing site. Flickr’s most active users use it as a social network. The redesign strengthens the viewing aspect at the expense of the networking. Flickr will lose its most active users – and the ones who posted the most interesting pictures.

    But then again, Flickr may indeed not care at all.

    ps: of course engagement is way up. For now, because of all the turmoil. And notably for the folks that are vocal in the discussions. I predict it will subside.

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