On May 20th, 2013, Yahoo’s flickr launched a new User Interface. I was surprised by the unannounced changes, as were the vast majority of my flickr contacts.
For the past week I’ve spent all the time I could spare reading the posts in the Help Forum, every single article and comment I could find online about the new flickr, and talking to my flickr friends, from numerous countries, regarding the changes. Opinions expressed on the articles are divided. However, the overwhelming majority of comments I’ve read from flickr members are against the changes. Most flickr users I’ve talked to don’t like the changes. They don’t think that the new User Interface is an improvement in functionality and aesthetics. I must agree with them. Some, fed up with flickr, have even deleted their accounts with hundreds and even thousands of photos uploaded, tagged and organized in sets and collections through the years. A daunting and time consuming amount of work. It’s no secret that we all have a tendency to reject change, particularly, and rightly so, when it doesn’t work for us.
During my perusal online and through flickr, I noticed that throughout the past week photographer Thomas Hawk has become ubiquitous: he keeps appearing anywhere and everywhere where there’s a discussion about the new flickr, only to praise and defend the changes with unquenched zeal, and in almost every occasion I read his posts or comments, he is attempting to vilify the multitudes that are voicing their dissatisfaction, disappointment and frustration with the overreaching changes, not only to the User Interface, but also to flickr’s core business model and strategy.
Evidently, there’s nothing wrong with civil discourse to get one’s point across and defend what is considered right. What makes me suspicious is the vehemence in defending, all over the web, the business decisions of a company he doesn’t work for, the same one that in the past has even, in his own words, blacklisted him from Explore, and excluded him from the Help Forum. I will give him the benefit of the doubt hoping that this is not simply a self-serving tactic, or a self-promoting scheme. I don’t want to lose respect for the photographer I have as a contact, whose photos I frequently admire and fave. That being said, in all honesty, Thomas Hawk is mistaken when he affirms that “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.” On the contrary, I have found that most of the criticism is coming from serious and decent flickr members (I know many of them) who not only have the right to dissent but also consider it a responsibility to voice their opinions when they aren’t happy with changes or with anything else about flickr they consider negative, unpleasant, offensive or impractical.
There are two basic aspects in any discussion about the recent frickr changes; one is practical, the other aesthetic.
Currently there’s no reason to pay for a flickr account when you can have the same features and advantages of a Pro account with a free one (except for stats and the absence of ads). New users will sign up with a free account. Having stats available and ads removed from their pages is not sufficient incentive to pay $50 annually for an account. Veteran Pro users, like me, will most likely cancel their paid accounts or not renew them when they expire, particularly when you don’t upload high res images and the need for more space is not an issue. (Anyway, I do not trust any image hosting site with my high res images. In my opinion, it’s really astonishing that any serious photographer does, even though it’s none of my business what anyone does with his images.) With the new design, even the Pro symbol is gone! Now it’s practically impossible to tell who has a paid account and who doesn’t. Of course, the ads on your photostream (more aptly, photo collision) will give you away!
This is precisely what Yahoo wanted. Now they expect from flickr an ever growing number of pages with ads to increase revenues. With a totally ad driven flickr, the rapidly diminishing paying members will eventually disappear or be minuscule, and matter even less. Yahoo expects Flickr to be successful because of ad sales, not as a consequence of its paying customers. This is the result of a new business model and a shift in strategy. After all, it’s a business, and if you think Yahoo really care about you or what you think regarding the new flickr, I have news for you! They want a new and “hip” crowd to increase quickly. With the availability and proliferation of smart phones, “everyone is a photographer now”, according to LA Times columnist Robert Latchman, just like everyone became a writer with the advent of the blog era just a few years ago! Of course, if you believe that, then the new flickr (and what it will become) is for you.
The cosmetic overhaul has been partial. It will probably be comprehensive in the near future. That being said, it seems to me that the artistically challenged designers at flickr have never attended well curated art galleries or photography exhibitions. Most photos don’t look good with a black background. You don’t frame most photographs, if any, with black mats or lump them together (as flickr has done with the photostream page) as if they were a collage! It’s unpleasant, claustrophobic, distracting and it detracts from the art work, unless that is the effect you set out to achieve in the first place! I’ve framed many works of art and photographs; nevertheless I don’t remember putting a black mat on any of them, or hanging them on black walls. With the new flickr, photos with black backgrounds don’t end where you wanted them to end!
Space, white breathing space, is of the essence! The black background should be a viewing choice, like before, not a fixed feature imposed on members. The operative word here is choice! Flickr needs to be flexible and provide more options, not less. Yes, innovate and modernize, but stay away from imitating or emulating others at the risk of alienating a significant portion of its users.
Whether we like it or not, flickr’s recent changes are here to stay. Flickr will ultimately fix all the bugs and persevere in making the changes work for them to accomplish their objectives, according to their new business model and strategy. In the end, if we still dislike the look, feel and functionality, we will need to either adapt of move our tent someplace else.
However, calling everyone who disagrees with the changes “haters of change”, as photographer Thomas Hawk keeps doing, is not only ridiculous and unwarranted, but also disrespectful; it diminishes the credibility of the accuser and puts him on the same level with the vitriolic minority that he so fervently is trying to discredit.
Finally, only time will tell if the new flickr business strategy (which can also be considered a business gamble) will succeed. If it backfires, it could be the end of flickr.
Guido F. Castellanos
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