How Flickr Redesign Leaves Out the Photographers

My favorite social network vaporized overnight. It just disappeared. No, I'm not talking about MySpace -- I'm talking about what recently happened to Flickr, the photo-sharing site owned by Yahoo.
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My favorite social network vaporized overnight. It just disappeared. No, I'm not talking about MySpace -- I'm talking about what recently happened to Flickr, the photo-sharing site owned by Yahoo.

If you've heard about the New Flickr, with its free terabyte of storage, then maybe you're confused. Didn't it just get a "spectaculr" makeover? Isn't it "awesome" again? Well, that depends who you ask.

To be clear, what just happened to Flickr wasn't a typical Internet redesign. It was a complete replacement, with a new focus and new service plans, all calibrated for a different type of user. It also took away years of careful organization and work from many of its long-paying customers, leaving them unhappy, out of luck, and alone.

Classic Flickr was unlike most social media in that you really had to buy a subscription to make it worthwhile: then, as a paying Pro member, you had unlimited storage (not just a terabyte), and could display your photos in clean, customizable, ad-free collections and pages. All of the white space and details were there, in just the right places. You also gained access to powerful statistics, telling you who was looking at your photos and where they were coming from. It was set up for serious photographers, professional and amateur alike.

It's disappointing that the technology press hasn't been clear on the fact that all of this is now gone. You can't open a Pro account anymore. Current Pro accounts are grandfathered in -- for now. But Pro or otherwise, your photos are stretched and shuffled and shown to the world in a justified grid. And coming soon? Ads.

If Classic Flickr was an art gallery, where the focus is on individual works, their creators, and the community around them, New Flickr is a wall-to-wall comic strip, but without context or even a punch line.

I didn't like everything about Classic Flickr. No way. Unlike some users, I don't appreciate Flickr's cutesy elements, as when it teaches you how to say "hello" in a random world language each time you log in. It also had more serious problems, and I could expound on some -- as could anyone who had been active in the community. But with New Flickr, there's just nowhere to start: it's all wrong. The whole thing is bad mojo. There's no air of innovation or excitement; instead, it just feels like a clone -- a mash-up of Pinterest and Instagram, with a Facebook-style header at top. Hurrah, just what the Web has been waiting for.

And no one can argue that the manner it was deployed wasn't unkind: no warning, no public beta, absolutely no discussion at all. The real shock and awe of the whole operation, in fact, was watching the public spectacle of tens of thousands of mournful complaints pile up in the Help forum, and then go completely unaddressed by Yahoo. Has there ever been a corporate hard-line to users like this in the history of the Web? "If you don't like it," Yahoo's silence appeared to tell the community, "then get lost."

And sadly, they have -- even more than the photos, what I'm missing most are the users who have abandoned the place. Many photographers I've spoken to have already left, setting up on Ipernity and 500px and other photography-centric sites. I haven't, but for now I've set my profile to "private," so that none of my images appear on Yahoo's network. My heart knows that Flickr is over, but I guess I'm still a sentimentalist, waiting to see it out until the undeniable bitter end.

So I log in again, as I've done nearly every day since the New Flickr nightmare began, hoping beyond hope that Yahoo takes it all back. But they won't -- it's still there, and today Flickr is cheerily showing me how to say hello in Swahili. This again is another backwards user-interface blunder: to be consistent, they should be giving the word for goodbye.

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