I’ve used Flickr for more than ten years – since before it became part of Yahoo – and it basically defined my sense of what a web application is. Features like tags, friends, followers, RSS, nice URLs and geo-tagging were’t all new, but Flickr was where I first saw them expressed clearly and cohesively.

Flickr’s had something of a revival in the last couple of years, delivering thoughtful new designs for key pages and a suite of good mobile apps – but the overall product direction seems off to me, and I find that I’m returning to it out of nostalgia more than for pleasure. Every time I use it, more questions arise for me about where it’s headed and how it could be ‘saved’, and so I’ve dumped them here for examination.

Who is Flickr for?

  • The audience for a combined photostream – mostly individual photos uploaded in more or less real time – has gone elsewhere, and I honestly don’t think Flickr could wrest it back from Instagram even if they devoted all their energy to doing so.

  • Normal People who create photo sets of specific personal events (weddings, trips, kids’ birthdays) are probably largely satisfied by Facebook and, to a lesser extent, Google+. Could – and should – Flickr go after these people? Until about three years ago, almost all of my friends’ weddings were documented on Flickr, but very few have been since. Even allowing for the reduction in wedding frequency because everybody’s OLD now, that’s still not a great sign. And none of those Married People are putting kid photos on Flickr, either.

  • For the most part, the only people in my circles who still use Flickr regularly are Serious Photographers (or at least people with Serious Cameras). Many of the recent changes – including the decision to retain the prominent display of camera-related metadata, which I appreciate – indicate that Flickr recognises photo nerds as a core part of their audience, but these types of users have other options now too, and probably want more from Flickr than they used to.

  • As it stands, I’m suspicious of Flickr’s “1 terabyte of free storage”. I don’t know why, or really how, I should use it, and I don’t like the implication that I should be un-selective about what I upload to Flickr, even if those uploads ARE private by default. I certainly don’t want to auto-sync my iPhone photos – and what about RAW files from my proper camera? What about edited versions? How does it compare with Carousel, which is also designed to overlay display features over an undifferentiated folder of photos?

  • Does anybody use Galleries? There are photos with millions of views and hundreds of faves that have never been added to a gallery. It took me a few minutes to remember how Galleries differ from Albums or Groups, which isn’t really a good sign. I would kill (or bury) that feature for clarity.

What are the opportunities?

  • Apple’s shared Photo Streams are kind of amazing, and not really replicated elsewhere as far as I can tell. Is there an opportunity here, given that Flickr exists primarily in the platform-neutral territory of the web?

  • Flickr is up against startups like Exposure and Storehouse that offer something that’s both more and less than a Flickr photo set. I’m not convinced there’s a huge market for this kind of thing, and I haven’t really enjoyed my experience of either of those apps, but there’s almost certainly something interesting there. I’m confident that Flickr could design and execute something competitive, perhaps lighter on the ‘narrative’ thing, and angled even more explicity towards photo nerds.

  • The door is still open on cloud storage / backup of photos. I’m sure that’s why Flickr’s 1TB offer exists, but they need to be more definitive about the hows and whys.

Design and branding

  • The Yahoo brand is poison, and the Yahoo nav bar on Flickr’s homepage is just… I cry. Surely it has an overall negative impact on Flickr users’ impression of Yahoo as a company, and it certainly impedes my enjoyment of Flickr. I don’t see who’s winning here.

  • There are some very nice aspects to the recent redesign, and the attention to detail is very good, but it’s also very dark and densely packed, which I don’t enjoy personally – and which makes it feel very un-Flickr-ish. Anecdotally, other long-term Flickr users seem to feel the same way.