I really hope I’m wrong, but I have a sad feeling that 2020 is going to be Flickr’s last year. I’ve been a ‘Pro’ (paying) member of the photo-sharing site since 2006.
The early years
I remember the earlier years of Flickr very well. For me, it went through a Golden Age which ran from about 2007 until 2010. During those years I found many friends on the site, and am still in touch with a couple of them who post to this day, albeit much less frequently.
After a break of a few years, during which I still made photographs but didn’t feel the need to share so much, I came back in 2013 to find things still going strong. Most of my old friends were still there and I undertook an ambitious 365 project through the site, to try to get my creativity back again.
The community spirit on the site during that year was wonderful. Lots of interaction, lots of constructive criticism, and lots of great photos from other people.
The last days of Yahoo
By 2007 when I joined, Flickr was of course already under Yahoo!’s ownership. I personally didn’t notice whether the departure of Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake in 2008 made a difference, but I’m sure to some people it did.
For me, the big changes happened between 2013 and 2018 during which time Yahoo! was mostly being led by Marissa Meyer. Back in 2013 there was a major UX/UI update which drove many users away, but I stuck with it for a while and actually preferred the new look. I believed the new Yahoo! CEO was going to do great things for Flickr.
Gradually, however, the audience floated away. I stopped using the site regularly at the end of 2013 for personal reasons and posted only sporadically for about four years. Strangely, everyone else appeared to do the same, and over the course of the next five years Flickr faded. I’m not suggesting it was anything to do with Marissa Meyer, because I don’t know whether that was the case. Was it due to lack of investment? Was it due to the rapid growth of Instagram and market competition? I don’t know.
The Smugmug takeover
In 2018 I received the email from SmugMug in which they announced they had bought Flickr and were promising to revitalise the service. I started playing around with it again and began posting images more regularly, but most of the people I knew had long since deserted it.
I had faith, and renewed my Pro membership, looking forward to a rebirth. When the new team got rid of the awful Yahoo! login constraint I was excited for the future. When they moved the platform over to AWS, I really believed they were going to save Flickr.
But the interaction just wasn’t there. The groups weren’t the same, and had become dumping grounds for people who tried desperately to raise their view counts. Flickr had become like Instagram. People liked, but hardly anyone ever commented, which was one of the great things I remembered about Flickr from around 2009-2013.
The email from the CEO
On December 20th, I received an “Important letter from Flickr’s CEO”. I guessed it wouldn’t be a happy letter and braced myself for a shutdown notification, but the news wasn’t quite so bad. However, Flickr, the “world’s most-beloved money-losing business” still needs help, and is not yet making enough money to survive. It needs more paying Pro members.
I believe Flickr is far superior to Instagram for photo-sharing, but without the audience it isn’t going to make it. Me asking the few people who read my blog to sign up is not going to help. It saddens me to think 2020 may go down as The Last Year of Flickr.