Flickr, it's like an old pair of slippers, so comfortable you cannot get rid of them but so worn you could not possibly wear them. For those of us into photography at the dawn of the Internet age, it was the to go site for viewing and displaying shots. There had been little like it before and certainly, there was nothing like it at that time.
Time, however, waits for no website and the proliferation of high-speed internet spawned many alternatives such as 500px, Zenfolio, and SmugMug. Recently it was the last of these that created an energetic buzz in the community when they announced they were taking over Flickr. Foolhardy or genius, time will tell but here are some of the things we think SmugMug could do to improve the Flickr experience.
Streamlining The Login
Let's start at the beginning of the experience, the login. Yahoo, Flickr’s previous guardian had a reputation for integrating with Internet service providers to offer mail and other services. This led to them using login details from these ISPs to access Yahoo content. A classic example of this is the tie-up between Yahoo and BTInternet in the UK.
The problem is that as these contracts ended or were replaced it became increasingly difficult to login into Yahoo and by default Flickr. Often a complex series of login pages required and often they failed. Task number one for SmugMug is to unify the login experience.
A More Relevant Activity Feed.
Open Flickr today and you will see images from a few photographers you might have followed. The selection is often dull, sometimes little more than snapshots. This does little to inspire the end user to continue using the site. Open 500px, on the other hand, you are presented with the very best images submitted over the last 24 hours, as rated by the community itself.
Flickr needs to make its activity feed much more relevant, more timely and more inspiring. When returning to Flickr or even opening for the first time, users need to go “wow”
Total Modern Redesign
Although tweaked over the years, the Flickr interface is massively dated when compared to other sites of the same genre. Huge borders between images, the need to scroll down to see metadata, details and comments and the general dullness of the way the images are displayed.
The ability to easily find the best images in different genres is also important, looking at an image in different specific categories to find inspiration in your own field.
If you have ever tried to search for something specific on Flickr, you will realize what a frustrating experience that can be. Some people tend to put irrelevant keywords into hundreds of images, the end result being that when you search that particular keyword, you need to scroll through pages and pages of images before you get to the thing that you are looking for.
Here, Flickr could take a leaf out of the photo stock agencies book and penalize keyword spamming whilst promoting well-defined images to the top.
Flickr has always been a good place to go to to find images released under the Creative Commons license. That allows people to use these images, for free, according to the particular license applied. Of course, Flickr also allows photographers to have an All Rights Reserved license, in other words, you cannot use the image without specific permission from the photographer.
The problem is, that although the usage rights of each image are defined, it is hidden by the need to scroll the image down to see it. Furthermore, it is still possible to download that image at full size. This allows people to acquire that image and use it either through ignorance or despite knowing the rules.
More Social Media Based
Flickr was born of an era before Facebook, Twitter and of course Instagram. It feels more like a site based on bulletin boards than timelines. If Flickr is to survive it needs to embrace the immediacy of social media. There needs to be a constantly changing timeline, the ability to engage with other users in real time and of course tools to promote your images around the Internet. Like it or not, interaction with social media drives modern photography and Flickr needs to adopt this or it will die.
A Relevant Rating System
In order to push the very best images to the top of the activity feed, Flickr, or SmugMug need to come up with a rating system that is not easily cheated. This is perhaps one of the greatest challenges of all gallery websites.
On many sites, relatively bland or over processed images can get elevated to the top by clever self-promotion and a large friend network. If Flickr can find a way to overcome this they may well be on to a winner.
Other factors that may well be a good idea is to be able to downvote images and to build a rating system based on constructive criticism rather than mutual back slapping.
There is no doubt that SmugMug has a task on its hands. A Herculean task at that. The points listed above are just a few of many that need to be addressed if Flickr is to survive in the social media age.
Whether SmugMug has the time or the resources to address these, time will tell. If they do, it would certainly be nice to put on those comfortable old slippers once more.
Don't forget to give us your thoughts in the comments below.