Michael Arrington on “The Flickr Gunners”

TechCrunch The Flickr Gunners Arrington posts this morning on four small hungry and obsessive companies that he sees as gunning for Flickr to wear the crown of coolest photo site: BubbleShare, Ookles, Smugmug and Zooomr.

In his article Arrington points out what he considers three central weaknesses of Flickr. 1. Flickr is not the biggest photo sharing site. 2. Flickr hasn’t done much in terms of new features and that they missed the video boat entirely and 3. There are a number of UI issues that could easily be fixed but remain unchanged.

It’s an interesting conversation and one that I’m very interested in given my affinity for digital media and more specifically photography. In addition to the new cool places for photo sharing mentioned by Arrington I’d also definitely throw Riya in with a mention.

To start with I’m very happy to see the competition. As an advanced user I LOVE the feature implementation. Zooomr in particular seems eager to grow and build a better and better site. Riya also is doing very interesting stuff with facial recognition software.

What these sites lack though and what they need to develop if they hope to become as successful as flickr is the true glue that makes Flickr sticky — the social glue. I have not seen a photo sharing site yet that gets this. Why do I spend hours each day on Flickr? It’s because I’ve become a part of the Flickr family. It’s not just about sharing my photos with my family and friends or even the attention I get from sharing them with the general public.

It is that fact that I can have rich and meaningful conversations with people online about photography and flickr and life.

A ways back in one of the groups that I’m active in, deleteme uncensored, I gave a bunch of the participants names from the television show Cheers. Mr. Chalk seemed best matched to Woody’s wacky personality. BigVern seemed a perfect match for Frasier, BigFrank a personality match for Cliff Clavin. Beebo? Definitely Norm, etc.

But this Cheers thing got me thinking. Is Flickr in fact the virtual version of Cheers? Here each night a bunch of us would each have our cocktails in our own home and pretty much chat back and forth via Deletme Uncensored. On the one hand we probably all have big “Ls” for loser written on our foreheads, but one thing I will tell you is that for all of us, although we enjoy taking photos it’s much more than just about the photography.

Since meeting people online on Flickr I’ve gotten to know many of these people in the offline world as well. Now THAT is sticky. Until someone comes up with something that is as addictive from the social networking side as Flickr if I were Flickr I don’t think I’d be too worried.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the innovation going on at these other sites and I do wish Flickr would innovate more. I do think that they will be innovating more shortly though. Heather Champ recently posted in a group on Flickr as much:

“We’re working towards completing a rearchitecting of the backend servers (what worked for 20,000 is not so special for over 2,000,000 members).

It’s not been possible to release any new major features while this has been underway, but I know that we all are chomping at the bit to do so when federation is complete.”

Still at the same time a group of us were having this very debate over at Flickr Central and one user, Striatic, had some interesting things to say about how Flickr needs to in fact get simpler, not more feature rich. Striatic seems to feel that what is in the best interest of the Flickr community longer term is that it attract more users and that to do this it needs to get easier and easier for users to use and that the energy should be channeled there rather than in developing cool new features for nerds like me.

Stiatic put it this way: “flickr needs to have a much shallower learning curve. this site scares the punk out of a lot of users who don’t have the ego to invest a ton of time climbing the learning curve just because they get a handful of hits.

think flickr doesn’t need to get more mainstream? well that’s great, but i don’t agree. casual users don’t “fit” in flickr, and it is a bloody shame. flickr is swim or die and the ‘pure blog’ model alienates a lot of casual users.

“so what?” you say, the casual users go to yahoo photos and will be quite happy. they probably will be content over there .. but it is ME who won’t be happy, because population diversity benefits the “heavy” users.”

Striatic also pointed out that through Flickr’s open API that innovation was in fact still happening. I happen to agree with him here and feel that Flickr Leech Scout and Slickr are all great examples of this. All three are very much worth checking out if you want to get deeper into Flickr.

I’m looking forward to the new features coming out shortly for Flickr and I’m looking forward to innovation happening at the other sites. I upload my photos to multiple places but my advice for the sites that want more of my attention is that they should not lose sight of how very important the social networking side is to the stickiness of the whole photosharing experience.

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3 Comments

  1. Jeff Clow says:

    Very interesting article, Thomas – thanks for posting it for the rest of us Flickr addicts to ponder…

  2. Jeremiah says:

    Striatic is right – Flickr has become very “gadgety”, one of the many post-Yahoo! symptoms that’s plaguing this community.

    I’m a convert to the idea of “skinning” a website based on the user’s preferences. Flickr! could have two or three “skins” – a Simple, Expanded, and Pro. This could make Flickr! a little less intimidating to people like my parents…

    …who would love flickr! if it wasn’t as overwhelming as it is (thank you, Yahoo.) I think the simpler interface would make it more welcoming to people who are not comfortable using web-based services.

  3. Albert says:

    Thomas,

    i agree with your comments about attacking and attracting the larger market which is the other 5.9 billion people on the planet that arent’ geeks. 😉

    We’ve been working hard at bring cool tech to normal non geeks to help them share photos in more interesting ways.

    I hope you’ll take a peek at BubbleShare yourself and let us know if we do in fact provide a less steep learning curve for the average user (to quickly and simply share photos and tell their stories).

    Looking forward to hearing from you again soon… gonna and make a posting to your other more recent posting that i saw from scoble’s recent blog.

    – albert | founder | bubbleshare