“Awesome Again”: Yahoo Promises to Revive Flickr


Article by Alison K. Lanier | 787 words

Less than a year ago, at an event in New York City just after Yahoo’s $1.1 billion acquisition of Tumblr, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer declared her intention to “make Flickr awesome again.”

At the time, this promise meant expanding and polishing Flickr’s mobile presence and overall design. The company also wanted to offer more storage space than any competing photo service, according to ABC News. Or at least more free space than any competing service.

As CNET describes, Flickr was, once upon a time, a frontrunner and a popular platform. In 2004, Flickr’s social networking and photo-sharing format anticipated the onslaught of Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and other mammoth image-sharing networks.

Flickr 2004

A screenshot of Flickr from July 2004. Credit: Archive.org

Flickr’s Frontrunner Status

When I first joined Flickr, it was for that easy, beautiful presentation. I had a batch of travel photos, and I had friends and relatives politely demanding to see them. At the time, Flickr was a lonely option to post the pictures for relatively anonymous use. Sure, there were blog sites and social networks, but Flickr seemed specifically and neatly designed for those kinds of photo-focused needs.

Flickr has lost that frontrunner moniker. Other services have arrived on the scene, including Facebook, Instagram and, yes, Tumblr, which is now also a Yahoo-owned entity. Flickr, while beloved as a pioneer of image-sharing social media, became markedly less “awesome” in this evolving context.

As CNET reports, that slump led to a highly-publicized post on DearMarissaMayer.com that begged the CEO to “please make Flickr awesome again.” That message appeared onscreen behind the CEO at her New York announcement as she promised to do just that.

Curated Photo-Sharing Features

Flickr started life as a more or less simple gallery site, where members could interact with one another’s work through features like “Explore” and “Interesting Pictures from the Last 7 Days.” The site didn’t have as much to say about photographer’s personas, in the sense of a Tumblr photo blog. Flickr provides a quasi-professional-looking gallery.

Today, clicking through Flickr reveals new, personality-driven elements. The “20under20” section, as the name implies, is a compendium of young photographers with headshots, collections and brief blurbs. Alongside the young artists deemed the “most talented” on the website, you’ll find pictures and information about the “curator and judges.” Flickr evidently wants to regain that kind of professional-edge image, becoming a space that’s not only popular but also critical.

Elevating the site to the status of a curated space for emerging artists is one way Flickr can distinguish itself from sister-Yahoo-site Tumblr, an essentially free-for-all space. Even though it does host professional blogs, Tumblr doesn’t necessarily put a priority on tastemakers but simply on open sharing. Flickr is where the tastemakers live, as this relatively new curatorial format implies. This tastemaking procedure is not nearly as democratic or member-driven as Tumblr’s, but then again, Flickr probably isn’t aiming to be identical to its massive and tumultuous Yahoo sibling site.

One potential defining feature, says Flickr’s Vice President Bernardo Hernandez, comes in terms of transforming the site into what CNET describes as the “iTunes of photography.” Theoretically, the future, re-invented Flickr will allow its photographers to profit from the site’s new business model, reports CNET.

Flickr’s Undefined Promises

While promises fly through the air, the details of the proposal are still under wraps. CNET explains that “Hernandez has vowed to overhaul the site over the next year or so, though he declined to share specific details of the plan. Changes will come in the form of gradual updates over the next 10 to 15 months.”

Byte News Library points out at this “overhaul”—which they gently remodel as “touching up Flickr”—comes in the midst of internal instability at Yahoo. Touting their free new Android app, Yahoo is already taking its first steps toward making sure its lost ground does not remain lost.

In that vein, though, Flickr will also have to overcome some grumbling from its users. According to The Wall Street Journal, a “fight over Yahoo’s use of Flickr photos” was sparked by Flickr’s announcement in November that it would begin selling canvas prints of photos uploaded to the site. That includes the photos that users had uploaded with the intention of sharing them for free. According to the WSJ’s article, photographers regularly authorize their work to be reproduced by third parties. But Flickr never asked its users for permission to do so, leaving some of the site’s photographers none too pleased.

Flickr is far from resting comfortably with its own members or in the context of other, like-minded sites. But whatever the company has planned through its mysterious hints, Yahoo and Flickr itself sure aren’t going to sit back and let themselves fall behind the times.

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