The death of Flickr?

by Chris Bertram on April 10, 2008

Obviously, I’m not Crooked Timber’s resident expert on the sociology of online communities, so here’s hoping that Kieran or Eszter will be along in a moment to reassure me, but, as a keen Flickr user, I’m perturbed by their decision to start allowing video. Flickr (owned by the troubled Yahoo, of course) probably has two (overlapping) kinds of user: the person who wants a repository for their snaps to show to friends and family and the person who is into photography on at least a hobbyist level who wants to interact with similar others. It also has thriving groups of various kinds based on shared interests or locality: for example my local group has 1000+ nominal members, dozens of active members, and a fairly thriving offline complement of activities (monthly meets where much beer is consumed, photowalks etc.).

All of this is threatened by the addition of video. As the photographic element is diluted and the YouTubers arrive, some photographers will find it less congenial and will choose to go elsewhere; as they go, the pool will become more dilute, leading others to take the same decision. In other words, I predict the kind of cascade effect the Mark Granovetter and others have written about. Of course, I could be wrong, and maybe the Flickr community is more robust and adaptable than I’m allowing for. SmugMug and Pbase don’t (yet) have local groups of photographers who hang out together, critique one another’s pictures and so on. But this seems a rash decision for Yahoo to make. Does it have to do so with the Microsoft bid? Maybe.



Jacob Christensen 04.10.08 at 2:45 pm

At least we have the opportunity of not having videos auto-play: Account settings


Sol Young 04.10.08 at 3:08 pm

I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a rash decision. I’m sure they spent a large amount of time planning and thinking about how this will affect Flickr.

I’d also believe this was a big issue with Flickr’s internal teams… There are surely a number of people internally that feel the same way you do.

What is still entirely possible with Flickr is to not post videos. Photographers who wish to remain pure can still do so. Flickr’s search functionality will undoubtably allow searches for only photos.

If done right, they can appease both groups and allow those of us that want to keep some of our clips along side our albums.

I like your social analysis though!


j_ 04.10.08 at 3:34 pm

Why would the YouTubers find Flickr video interesting? I really don’t get this argument (though apparently 21,000+ people agree).

First of all, the ability to upload videos is restricted to Pro members, so that functions as a barrier against a “certain element”. Upload porn or copyrighted material and see your $25 subscription turned off.

Of course, that’s hardly going to prevent the addition of banal, boring, and badly done kitty cat videos. But judging by Explore that describes nearly every image uploaded to Flickr.

A couple of interesting examples of the new feature:
Timelapse in a parking lot
Pro-Chinese vs. pro-Tibet protesters–This video has been used to elaborate on a set of still photos taken at the same protest


almostinfamous 04.10.08 at 4:09 pm

what j… said

i am rather indifferent to it, and actually kind of amused at the extremely violent reactions against video. this is especially surprising that this rumour has been spreading around for quite a while. on the other hand the 90sec limit is probably a good thing, in terms of inspiring creativity and innovation in a format that has gone rather bland.


cbisquit 04.10.08 at 4:15 pm

Kids, lawn, etc.

I’m still disappointed that flickr diverged from the video game it was designed for.
Ok maybe not really but the point is that flickr is not some intentional community designed around the needs of amateur/semi-pro/professional artists. It’s a mutant experiment- still growing and evolving. I’m sure lots of early photographers held up their noses at the dawn of cinema too.
If you absolutely can’t stand moving pictures you still have deviantart.


Slocum 04.10.08 at 5:56 pm

First of all, the ability to upload videos is restricted to Pro members

Yes, and I understand there’s a short time limit for clips. It seems this is intended for the short clips usually taken with digital still cameras rather than what appears on Youtube. I don’t see the problem, really.


ogged 04.10.08 at 8:49 pm

Does it have to do so with the Microsoft bid? Maybe.

I’m pretty sure I recall Flickr promising video even before it was acquired by Yahoo. And I agree with Slocum that the time limit will keep it from become a second YouTube (there’s a first YouTube anyway, and it’s doing fine).


xflkr 04.12.08 at 10:08 pm

Flickr’s future is more in doubt when they continue to consider pictures like Toni Frissell’s Weeki Wachee spring pornography.


eszter 04.13.08 at 12:01 pm

I haven’t understood the strong reactions against video on Flickr (and yes, it’s something that’s been in the works for a very long time). As others said, there are various specifics that will allow the site to remain a mainly photo-focused community for those who prefer. I haven’t looked at all of the details, but for now I don’t understand why it would be so disruptive. As to migrating elsewhere, I think Flickr’s got a lot of community issues figured out that other sites are nowhere near so I’m not sure where people would be going.


Lindsay Beyerstein 04.14.08 at 10:22 pm

Is the new video feature an attempt to get a competitive edge over Facebook?

A lot of Flickr users are using the service to archive their snapshots to share with friends and family. My guess is that Flickr is losing a lot of these users to Facebook. Facebook lets you compile free photo albums, just like Flickr. But Facebook has more features for sharing with people you already know and generally integrating photographs into the larger social mix.

I don’t see how the video option will hurt Flickr. Users are already good at tuning out the content that doesn’t interest them. Strangers find each other by joining groups organized around themes or interests.

I remember when Flickr was uptight about people uploading drawings and other 2D non-photographic art–the stated objections were analogous to the complaints we’re hearing now about videos today. Now, scanned drawings and computer-rendered graphics are just more grist for the Flickr mill.

I use Flickr as a portfolio and a way to network with strangers who share my passion for photography. I use Facebook for images that I especially want to share with friends.

I’ve often wished that Facebook could buy Flickr or enter into a partnership so that I wouldn’t have to upload content twice.

I have no interest in watching videos on Flickr, but I don’t see why videos will hurt what Flickr has going already.

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