Flickr vs. Instagram (loosely)

Over the last couple of days, everyone’s on Instagram’s back. As of 16 January, they are allegedly changing their terms of use such that advertisers can sell the photos you upload for their own profit, but you are responsible if their doing so contravenes any laws.

So people are lauding Flickr, suggesting that they’ll switch to it by way of protest, or as a more acceptable way of storing their photos.

But here’s the rub. Flickr’s a crock of shit.

OK. I’m being harsh. Here’s the reality, for me at least.

Flickr is a wonderful repository. It allows me to use a relatively intuitive user interface to upload my photos (and videos under 90 seconds in length). And it allows me to share these with fellow Flickr users that I deem to be either Family or Friends. I can tag stuff, group stuff, and map stuff. All rather lovely. (The 90-second cut-off is rather limiting and irksome, but not a major annoyance.)

It also has an add-on called Picnik that allows me to do some basic edits to the photos: cropping, filtering, rotating, removing red-eye etc.

But it’s not the storing of images that I have an issue with. My issue is with the user experience of the viewer. It’s appalling.

First, my friends and family. They must be Flickr account holders. In a day when Facebook is becoming the de facto standard for online identity (at least for social stuff), this is criminal.

My mum doesn’t want a Flickr account. And I want to share my photos with people I know, love and trust without forcing them to sign up to another service. I would estimate that 90% of the people I want to share my photos with have no interest in having a Flickr account.

And once they’re in, my view is that the user experience is at best, poor. My photos are presented to those I share them with sequentially, linearly. The first page shows my five most recent photos, all nice and big. If I flick to page two or beyond, the pictures become smaller, the 18 photos per page becoming more akin to a set of Windows Explorer thumbnails than anything more inviting.

I can click on any photo to access more sharing options, see where it was taken or to access a higher resolution version of the image. But it’s all so very functional.

To the viewer, the Flickr website has changed little in the four and a half years since I became a pro member, and changed little in the three or so years before that when I was a non-paying customer. It’s vanilla. It’s linear. It’s functional. It doesn’t embrace the user and take them on a journey. It doesn’t give the user the sense that they are experiencing the event, the concert, the playground, the dinner, the airshow, the beach walk with the user.

And it should. Yahoo! has the ability to bring photos to life, to create an absorbing experience that people want to come back to again and again. Montages, full-screen slideshows by default. It has the ability to exploit Facebook’s credentials (and user base) to draw people into its service, while at the same time converting an increased number of users into its premium service to pay for the platform.

Or else Flickr can continue being left behind by its competitors and, with time, become a relic of the internet.

I only hope you’re reading, Marissa.

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