Dear Yahoo buyer, please don't screw up Flickr

Dear Yahoo buyer, please don't screw up Flickr

Do you use Flickr?  Are you reading the news about Yahoo, Flickr's parent company, being sold off and possibly dismantled?  I am reading it, and I don't like what I hear.  But, maybe there's a silver lining in there.

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How Flickr got its groove back

Some thoughts on the "new" Flickr

I’m going to go ahead and say it - I like Flickr.  I don’t think everyone else does anymore, but I still do.  And I’m liking it a lot more these days.  

A quick little bit of history...

Like everyone else, when I started sharing my photos online, Flickr was the first place I went.  That’s where everyone went, partly because it was just about the only good choice at the time.  It was certainly the largest and best known (and still is, it seems) and that drew us in. You sorta “had” to be there.  And I believe to a certain extent that we were all dependent on it.

Then, we all progressed in our skill levels, and it started to get old.  We grew weary of the silly “Post 1, Comment 2” crap that the Groups there required.  We probably all tried that in some form or fashion, because we thought it was something we “had to do” as part of the community.  And frankly, we wanted the views.  It made us feel good.  I freely admit that I did all that, in the vain hope of getting views. But boy was it hard to keep up, and I think many of us started scratching our heads and wondering if it was really worth it.  After all, getting views doesn’t really mean anything, does it?

And we all realized that hey, these are mostly just other photographers on Flickr.  They’re never going to actually buy my work, are they?

About that same time, a lot of us also started a blog or website, and at some point realized it made more sense to drive traffic there than it did to Flickr, so we slowed down our engagement on Flickr and backed away from all that craziness.  Some of us left for good, and others just quit uploading photos there.

I’m not engaged there - but I am active.  There’s a difference.

It has been a few years since I was highly engaged on Flickr.  Now, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been posting there - quite the opposite in fact.  I have continued to post there, sharing all my blog images on Flickr and recently many of my iPhone photos too.  In fact, I have probably accelerated the amount and type of photos that I upload to Flickr.  It’s just that my pattern has changed, and my self-created pressure to “get my image out there” is gone.  (Besides, the key images I add to the blog, and that’s my focus.)

Admittedly, I never wanted to leave Flickr, even though I have tried alternatives such as 500px, but haven’t found something that I feel does as good of a job (and you can read my thoughts on that here).  Once you have spent years building up a collection of shots which are well-organized and searchable, and you have a decent number of views on them - who wants to start over?  Who has the time?

And yes, I do find that I get traffic from Flickr over to my blog, which is what I want.  I think that many folks who are searching for images for a project know to look on Flickr, whereas other sites aren’t as well known and certainly don’t have the volume of images as Flickr does.  Size matters, in this case.

Not being dependent is good...

I now post my blog images there when I find the time to do so, and I don’t feel like I have to put something out there everyday.  If I am traveling, I don’t worry about getting the shot up on Flickr the same day the blog image goes live.  I don’t hurry, and I don’t care.  I will get it up there, even if it’s two weeks later and it goes up alongside 10 other blog images.

In other words - I am no longer dependent on Flickr.  That’s a good feeling.  It’s tough being bound to some site besides your own.  Yes, I am totally bound to my own blog here, but that’s different in my opinion since it is mine.  I can do things here that I can’t possibly do on Flickr, and I can customize it all I want.  It’s my little business, and I can do what I want with it.  That’s why I started it, after all.

And they’re back...

Flickr bumped around for a few years with almost zero updates and honestly, it felt really stagnant.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to keep sharing images there, and I have spoken to several photographers who felt the same, and let it drop.  I stayed because I really like the organization there (Sets & Collections), and liked the idea of having all my shots out there for search purposes.  I get some traffic from Flickr, and always have.

And I have to give kuddos to Flickr - over the last year or so, they have really taken their game to a completely new level.  It seems like they have come back from the dead, and are back with a vengeance.  I always felt like it was a gem in the Yahoo crown, and am glad to see that it has been reinvigorated.

I have now found myself more drawn to Flickr than I have been in a really long time, and am glad that I never dropped it.  And while I am not spending lots of free time there like I did when I first got started on this journey, I do engage more than I have in years and it’s because of all these great updates and changes they have made.

This is how Flickr got better:

Larger, crisper, better-looking images

It was probably Google+ that got Flickr back on track, in a couple of ways.  I think they saw all the goodness happening on G+ with larger and better-looking photos and thought they better either get busy or just hang it up.  And of course their CEO came from Google, which probably didn’t hurt.  But whatever the cause, pictures look great on Flickr now.  Bigger, prettier, crisper...isn’t that what a photo site should offer?

Also, I love that when someone views my photo like below they also get a Preview of other shots in my photostream.  I think that drives even more overall views and engagement which is good.  Also, below the comments a viewer can click on one of three choices: a letter "i" with a circle around it, which gives them the EXIF info from the photo; the little square which will show them other photos in your photostream as well as a Preview of photos in the same sets as that photo; and the little tag symbol, which of course shows them what tags are applied.  I find all this incredibly useful, and believe it is helping drive much more interaction with our shots.

Much-improved landing page

The old landing page had tiny thumbnail images from a few of your contacts, and it was ugly.  It was also populated with what I consider a bunch of junk (photos from various groups, etc).  Then you had to click through for more images, which I never did.  Even worse, it looked that way for YEARS.  It never changed.  It was stagnant and boring.  

But now there are large images which look great, and you can scroll and scroll and keep seeing more images from your contacts.  MUCH BETTER.  MUCH EASIER.  MUCH MORE BEAUTIFUL!

Easier to Comment

Another key change is that you can now Fave, Comment and Share straight from the landing page as you scroll through.  That means I don’t have to click through to someone’s photostream and comment on the image there, then back up to the landing page and start over.  I used to never leave comments, because it took too long.  Now, I can just comment right from the front page of Flickr as soon as I scroll by.  I never leave the landing page.  I don’t have to.  

That makes it much easier, and I find myself commenting more and getting more comments too.  And by the way, images that you have previously commented on continue to percolate up to the top of your landing page feed, as they get more comments and when others interact with them.  It’s working based on social engagement - the more interaction a photo gets, the more often it bumps up to the top of the heap.  They are trying to drive engagement, and it’s working!

iPhone app

I love the Flickr iPhone app and use it all the time.  While I skip using the built-in filters (I prefer Snapseed, ProHDR and Camera+), the app is great for getting me into the heart of what I use the app for: uploading my mobile shots.  That’s right, I upload iPhone photos there all the time, and they get lots of views (and yes, I know views aren’t important by themselves, but I believe it helps with search purposes).  

 

I’ve had an iPhone set on Flickr for a very long time, but never really used it much.  It was difficult.  I would have to email the photo to myself and then upload it, but that’s a pain.  Now, I can take it and adjust it on the fly, then upload when I am anywhere with a free couple of minutes.  It’s awesome, easy, quick, and fun.  In other words, it’s exactly what mobile photography ought to be, in my opinion.

 

And though I am finally on Instagram (yep, a little slow joining that site) I still upload my mobile images to Flickr.  I just like the idea of having a lot of content out there.

 

It’s a social network, dummy

It’s taken me a while to realize this, but Flickr has essentially become a social network dedicated to photography, and I think that is a really cool thing.  They really are in a unique position relative to all the other big sites, and I am glad that they are starting to take advantage of it.  Competition is good, and since photography is a big part of social networking (regardless of the site you are on), it just makes great sense to continue to innovate here.

Although this isn’t new per se, I believe it is different now.  In the past I think it was just a photographic dumping ground for a lot of people.  But with all these changes, they are driving more usage and more engagement, and that translates to more social interaction there and more time on the site.  So this is a big improvement, because let’s be honest: we have a plethora of social media choices.  

Summary

I really feel like Flickr has combined some of the best elements of photo-sharing sites, along with social media capability and a pretty slick iPhone app - and put it all into one place.  Will they take over from Instagram for mobile users?  I don’t think so.  Will they draw users away from Facebook or Google+?  I doubt that as well.

But they are doing a great job of getting all the elements in place to cause people to upload more photos and spend more time on their site.  I think it’s working, and can’t wait to see what’s next for them.

What's your experience with Flickr?  Are you enjoying the site nowadays?

Is there more that Flickr can do?  Of course, and I suspect there are some smart people working on some cool things as we speak.  But I have to say that I am impressed with how far they have come in the past year, and I am looking forward to seeing what they do next!  See you out there!

(And BTW, feel free to leave a link to your Flickr site in the Comments Section below)

Flickr is getting better. 500px is getting worse.

Flickr is getting better.  500px is getting worse.

Who’s on 500px?

If you are a photographer, then you probably answered “me”.  It’s a great site.  The photography there is incredible.  The amount of talent is mind-blowing.  I have seen some of the most beautiful photographic art there that I have ever laid my eyes upon. 

But, the site does nothing for me in terms of growing my “business”.  And apart from just enjoying the wonderful photos, it’s a total waste of time.  Let me explain…

It’s Flickr, all over again

I hate to compare 500px with Flickr, because they are vastly different, yet I find that in many ways they are the same, and any differences are disappearing rapidly.  They are becoming more alike, because Flickr is improving, and quickly.

Flickr has significantly upgraded the user experience, via larger image displays, infinite scrolling, better engagement, a great iPhone app, and more.  I suspect they have also changed some things “under the hood” so to speak, because over the last couple of months my daily view count has gone up by 5-10x.  While that makes me feel good, in and of itself my statistics are meaningless.  It doesn’t earn me anything for someone to look at my photos.  View counts are only good for the ego.

And that brings me back to 500px.  I won’t dispute that the work there is beautiful.  People only share their best, and that keeps the quality up and the customer base happy.  That was one of the knocks on Flickr – there was all sorts of questionable stuff posted there, and lots of it made Explore.  It’s become a general catch-all photo site for anyone taking pictures of anything, and those of us who are “serious” about our photography (whatever that means to each person) have grown tired of it.  We grew tired of the whole “post 1, comment 2” thing.  Groups became a chore.  Everyone just wants to get their views up (which I still argue is meaningless).  So, most of us opened up accounts at 500px.

For a while, it was the pretty new girl in town.  Images looked better, and quality was much higher.  You can even set up a portfolio or blog through 500px if needed.  (However, I have both elsewhere.  My blog has been here for 4 years now, and I am happy with it.  I recently set up a portfolio site at Smugmug, and love it.)

But in my opinion, 500px has sort of become a higher-quality version of Flickr.  Whenever you post an image, inevitably you get some Votes and Faves, but you also get comments like “V+F, please look at my photos” or something to that effect.  In other words, people are engaging with your shots solely for the purpose of you (hopefully) returning the favor.  That’s just an attempt to get more views.  It’s the same thing that I used to get all the time on Flickr.  But interestingly, I don't get that on Flickr anymore.

And maybe it's just me, but I don't find as many inspiring images on 500px anymore. While it helps get your views up if you make "Upcoming" or "Editor's Choice", I find that the shots there don't "wow" me like they used to.  Maybe I've changed. 

Chasing affection

Why do people leave the pleading comments, begging for you to look at their work?  They are looking for attention, and they want to increase their view counts as well as their “affection rating” (higher number is "better" - but it's really just a measure of popularity).  But again, I contend that it’s all meaningless.  It doesn’t do anything for them, other than stroke their ego.

Many also “cross-post” their 500px images to Facebook, letting folks know they just posted one there and they would appreciate a vote.  This is another way to draw views and increase an affection rating.  And while there is nothing wrong with it, I just don’t understand why they care.  Is anyone actually buying anything from you on 500px?

I'm trying to figure out if I am missing something here.  Am I?

It’s just a bunch of photographers (albeit great ones)

Here’s my conclusion:  all the people on 500px are other photographers, even more so than on Flickr.  They will never buy your work.  And by the way, you can sell digital downloads on the site, but for $3 each, I don’t even turn it on.  It’s an insult, frankly. 

Screen Shot 2013-10-14 at 10.13.31 PM.png

And because everyone on 500px is a photographer, the only thing I can think of that they would be inclined to buy is some tutorial that would help them improve their own work - but I am not selling those. Maybe someday I will start to do so, and then 500px will be more useful to me.

But...it can work

My good friend Jimmy is a great example of finding a way to benefit from 500px – he recently had some images that were very popular there, and they sent business his way.  He sells tutorials, and people want to learn from him, because he’s good.  They saw his images, and wanted to learn how to do it.  Sold.  That’s a good deal for Jimmy, and I’m glad for him.  He’s a great guy and he's talented, and he’s working hard at turning photography into his career.  So it's clear that it can work, but it just doesn't for me. You?

The vast majority of us are not selling such things as tutorials, and as such I am finding less and less about 500px that makes it worth spending any time on.  People there just want a higher affection rating so they feel better, but it doesn’t mean anything.  I don’t care about that.

My blog is my focus, primarily

The only place I really care about view counts is on my blog, and to a lesser extent on a couple of social networks.  Engagement in those places has proven to be tangible, in the sense that I have gotten referrals for print sales and print licensing from them.  That’s valuable to me.  Plus, my blog is the center of my entire photography "universe".

When I overhauled my blog a month or so ago, I spent some time in Google Analytics, taking a look at what was working on my site (drawing in visitors) and what was not working.  In the process, I killed a few pages that no longer fit in with what I am interested in, and weren’t drawing visitors anyways.  But the other thing I did was analyze my visitor traffic and where it was coming from.

Google-Analytics-300x216.jpg

I found that while Flickr was in the top 20 of referring sites, 500px was not.  It wasn’t even close.  It was #107. I was surprised at how high Flickr was, but wasn’t surprised about 500px.  You might think it has to do with how much (or in my case, how little) engagement I do on those sites, but that’s not the case.  I do the same thing on both sites – I post and run.  I just don’t have time to go view everyone’s work.  

I post on Flickr (owned by Yahoo) primarily for search purposes (and by the way, Yahoo owns a search engine) - and it appears to be working.  I was posting on 500px in order to hopefully grow my viewership, but it isn't working.

I have countless examples over the last few years where people either email me via Flickr, or contact me via my blog and send me a Flickr link for a photo they want to buy /license.  And how many similar leads have come from 500px?  Zero.

I think if someone is searching for a photo, they are more likely to look for it on Flickr than on 500px (and they may be a Flickr user themselves).  Flickr is much better known as a place to find photos, and I am making an assumption that the user base is much larger on Flickr.  Plus, it’s not all“real photographers” on Flickr – there are a lot of “consumers” there too.  In other words - potential customers.

Guess which other site was in the top 10 for referrals to my blog?  Yahoo.  Yep, Yahoo organic searches was #10 in referring sites to my blog.  Yahoo owns Flickr.  There must be some connection there. 

So here I am.  I get lots of clicks thru to my site from Flickr, and very few from 500px.  As a result, over the last few months I have put less and less into 500px, and may even downgrade my status there to just the basic free account.  I previously had the highest level account (what they call "Awesome"), but downgraded that a few months ago to the middle tier ("Plus").  Maybe I will drop to "Free".  Why pay them, when I get nothing back?

Over beers in London a few weeks back with my good friend Mike Murphy, we were talking about this, and he said he just has the free account, and it works great for him. He said he was offended by having to pay to be called "Awesome".  Hell yeah, great thinking Mike!  Who appointed 500px as judge of whether someone is Awesome or not anyways?   I've seen Mike's work, and he is Awesome.  So there, 500px, chew on that.

That’s where I am on this subject.  What are you doing, and what’s working for you?  More importantly, am I missing something about the usefulness of 500px?

Ok, end of rant-ish post.  Not sure this qualifies as an actual rant, since I am not pissed off, and I am not yelling, or particularly fired up about this.  I am however, curious what you think - so let me know in the comments section.  Thanks!

(And to be clear...I didn't write this to bash 500px, because as I said it’s a beautiful site.  I just don’t get anything from it.)

A little excitement

In addition to always posting my shots here on the blog, I add them to a cool photo sharing website called Flickr.  It's a community of photographers that share their work, their advice, and all that good stuff.  It's great to participate in and I must admit I have made some great friends thanks to Flickr.  This morning when I went to take a quick look at my account there, to check on any activity and all that, I was pleasantly surprised to see my post from yesterday had made their "Explore" page, which is where the folks behind Flickr select the most popular photos from the day before.  That's big news for me, as it not at all common and I have only had one other photo make in on the list, and it was way down on the list that time.  Yesterday my shot hit #43 out of 500, so that's pretty cool!  Anyways, thanks for all the support and I sincerely appreciate it.