The Slow Steady Decline Towards the End of Flickr

Flickr

A few months after Google+ launched, I wrote a post called Flickr is Dead. “Anything is Dead” posts usually get alot of attention. Most products have their evangelists and their detractors and both tend to be polarized by such charged language. When I wrote that article, I wasn’t pronouncing the literal death that day of Flickr, but rather pointing to a shift that I was seeing take place in the online photo community.

The photo community was moving en masse from Flickr to Google Photos.

This trend has continued to accelerate over the past 6 months and I still stand by my initial pronouncement of flickr being dead.

Measuring online traffic is never easy (please don’t harp on how inaccurate or unscientific measuring online traffic is). The best we can do is guess — but sometimes some of the tools out there do tend to confirm what we’re feeling from the ground.

Google+ opened to the public for invite beta in June of 2011. The month before, according to compete.com, flickr racked up 22,794,460 unique visitors. Earlier this week compete released their November 2011 numbers and flickr has steadily declined down to 18,088,563 now. This represents a little over 20% decline in unique visitors and the lowest traffic number for flickr in over a year.

Anecdotally this feels about right to me as well. For most of the past few years, according to my own personal flickr stats, most days my flickr views fall between 11,000-16,000 views per day, with probably about 13,000 per day on average. The past few months I’ve been noticing that the number has decreased and is closer to the 10,000 mark. I’ve had two days in fact over the past month where my stream actually got less than 10,000 views. 9,968 on November 27 and and 9.978 on December 2. This is despite being added back into the popular Flickr explore area of the site (I was blacklisted by flickr staff from this part of the site for most of the past 2 years) and continuing to publish every day as usual there.

Last night in a Google+ hangout I was talking with another popular Flickr user +Billy Wilson. Billy said the drop off at Flickr felt even bigger to him. He said that photos of his that used to get thousands of views are now getting views in the hundreds instead. I’ve talked to other flickr friends who have noticed similar drop offs in their own traffic on the site.

Meanwhile, the photography traffic on Google+ could not be more explosive. It’s hard to track the individual views on Google+ for photos (you have to go to Picasa to see this) but as an example here is a photo that I posted to Google+ earlier this week. According to the Picasa views it’s racked up 12,919 views so far (the vast majority coming from Google+). The same photo on flickr (and one of my more popular flickr photos) only has racked up 1,033 views. Pretty much every photo that I’ve ever posted to Google+ vs. posting it to flickr has generated dramatically higher views on Google+.

Interestingly enough, the person in that photograph that I just cited, Shannon Jackson, is another former high profile flickr photographer who has moved her account to Google+. This was her post back in September — read through the comments to get more of an anecdotal sense of what is going on. There are posts about people leaving flickr and moving to Google+ all over Google+ just like that one. That’s just an example.

There are a lot of reasons why this shift is continuing to take place. Here are some of the main ones.

Google has invested heavily in the photography community. They have a talented community management team dedicated to Google+ and many engineers also do personal outreach. The entire company (and even part of employee compensation as has been widely reported) is dedicated to social. Googlers show up at community oriented events. They are part of the community itself — highly visible and engaged.

Google is innovating, rapidly. Just this week I got invited to the new On Air Hangouts feature. This is a beta feature rolled out to just a handful of accounts right now, but it’s the future. For the first time last night I hosted a hangout that we broadcasted publicly on Google+. We’ll be able to use this new feature to both broadcast and record our new photography video show Photo Talk Plus (check out this week’s episode with photographer and NASA Astronaut Ron Garan) that people will be able to watch live on Google+ and the Vidcast Network as well as watch recorded later on YouTube too.

Google Social Chief +Vic Gundotra just this week stepped the bar way up by adding his #seasonofshipping hashtag to a post announcing that to thank the community on Google+ that Google would be shipping a new feature each day for a week. Come on Blake Irving, instead of tweeting about Katie Couric and Dubstep how about offering us a #seasonofshipping for Flickr?

Speaking of hangouts. These are like social superglue. Flickr had something cool going on with groups, but hangouts blow groups away. There is something about interacting with someone with audio and video live, being able to share screens and photos, etc. that is just hard to describe. In our hangout last night we were watching +Ricardo Lagos edit a photo of his live. I couldn’t help myself and kept interjecting about how he might edit it. When you interact with people this way you become better friends then in a text based only way like on Flickr. Oh and who stopped by our hangout to say hi? The product manager for Google Hangouts himself +Chee Chew.

Flickr continues to fail at innovation. The most recent two innovations that flickr shipped were really poorly thought out.

Their Android app is really boring. It misses some key functionality. I can see my contact’s photos for example, but I can’t filter them by my friends, so it makes it less useful. When they show me my recent activity, they don’t show me how many faves my photo has received. And why in the world did flickr not include a reader for group threads in the mobile app?

Really Steve Douty, this is what Yahoo means when they say they are going to “Nail mobile?” Really? This is how you are going to take on Instagram, with this crappy new Android app?

The other innovation that they shipped is almost laughable — “Photo Sessions.” This feature allows you to share a flickr photo with a friend and text chat about it. Text chat? Really? As in old AOL text chat chatrooms? No audio, no video, just text chat, oh and you can doodle on photos like put a fake moustache with a MacPaint type pen tool on your friends photo that they are sharing — like photo etch a sketch. Nobody is using this “feature” of course.

Instead of improving the page that one of your former designers called the most important page on flickr (which has desperately needed an overhaul for years) you ship this crap?

The one area where flickr does have a chance to advance on social is with Flickr Groups. But these have been ignored by flickr. They have not improved groups in years. Because Flickr lacks effective blocking tools griefers, harrassers, trolls, etc. are allowed to pollute the flickr group infrastructure. I’ve watched so many accounts leave flickr recently over personal harassment. They’ve made no advancement towards giving groups mobile tools. There is no intelligent thread management for Group conversations (you should be able to mute or hide threads you are not interested in).

Yahoo is a miserable dead place to work and Google is an exciting interesting place to work. I think part of the reason also why Google+ is pulling folks away from Flickr is that they are able to get better people to work for Google. Google is winning. People want to be on a winning team. Not only that, social clearly is one of the most prestigious places to work at Google. Meanwhile flickr is laying off staffers. Yahoo is sort of sitting in no mans land right now. Will they be bought, won’t they be bought. Will they be chopped up, won’t they be chopped up. The press if full of negative stories about Yahoo every month while positive stories about Google abound.

Now, what some will point to is that Flickr still technically has a superior product to Google Photos in a lot of areas. This is absolutely the case. I’m sure +Dave Cohen and +Vincent Mo — who deserve big bonuses this year :) — are tired as hell of me asking for SuprSetr on Google+ over and over and over again. Set/album management at Flickr *is* superior to Google Photos right now. There are other things Flickr does better too. I made $552 last month through the Flickr/Getty photos deal. That’s sort of a compelling reason to use a site, the fact that they pay you $500 a month to use it. Google has no stock photography offering (yet). I think archived Flickr photos get more search traffic than Google photos (but remember Google is king of search and this will change in the future as they grow).

It’s easy to point to these feature advantages as proof to the continued viability of flickr, but don’t get distracted by features. Flickr is where it is 98% because of *social* photo sharing. That is their foundation, their core — and Google is now doing social photo sharing better, much, much better. The rest of the feature stuff will come with time, but Google understands the key to winning photos on the web is to create not just a technically great photo sharing platform (which they are doing), but in making photo sharing as social as it possibly can be. Photos on Google+ don’t just get more views, they get more engagement.

There are still places on the web by the way for people to do social sharing in more niche ways. 500px has carved out a niche with super high quality photo viewing. SmugMug (who sponsors my photo video show) has carved out a niche with higher end photographers with a paid high quality customer service platform for photographers who want to sell prints (85% payouts on print markups at SmugMug btw blow away 20% payouts at flickr for stock photography).

As far as the core sort of free photo sharing on the web goes though, Google will dominate here. At least if things keep going as they’ve been going. It is in fact probably too late for Flickr to turn this around now. They probably had a chance about 6 months before Google+ launched. Being the leader in social photo sharing is a powerful advantage, but they’ve squandered their lead at this point and what you are going to see over the course of the next year is a continue decline in Flickr and that big sucking sound that you hear? That’s those photographers one by one moving on over to join the party on Google+.

If you want to follow my photography on Google+ you can do that here.

Update: A robust conversation about this article over on Google+ here.

Loading Facebook Comments ...
22 comments on “The Slow Steady Decline Towards the End of Flickr
  1. I never go there anymore. I think it’s because I don’t just go to a site for a single purpose anymore. Photo sharing is integrated into FB, Twitter, G+, Path. And I can find you on most of those:-)

  2. Trevor says:

    I’ll ask the same question I’ve asked before, because I’ve still not found an answer. How does one easily control copyright and licensing on Google+. Flickr’s easy integration of Creative Commons licences works well for me, and I’ve not found anything when posting photos on Google+ that seems to fulfil the same function.

  3. Thomas Hawk says:

    Trevor, that is an easy question to answer. You can designate whatever license you want on your photos on Google+. You designate your photo license where the photos are housed on Picasa. Here’s the link for you: https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/settings#permissions

    Some people also include their license by adding their own text under their photo when they post it, all rights reserved, Creative Commons, whatever. You can add this in too. In fact if you add it into your EXIF caption field in Lightroom, it will automatically post it when you post your photo to G+

  4. neil says:

    I couldn’t agree more Thomas.
    I only use Flickr now to the Getty income… When is Google going to get that happening?

    Keep up the good work mate

  5. I have plenty of pictures on flickr, and I also earn a fair amount through the Getty Images deal (7 pictures so far); I have seen how G+ has become an incredible photo source, a realistic forum with more direct contact with the people involved.

    What would happen, in theory, if out of the blue, Yahoo let Google buy Flickr? I know it may not happen ever (maybe), but think of the incredible product it could become IF integrated into Google+… just a thought.

    This article is a great read, food for thought.

  6. Thomas Hawk says:

    Oscar, Google buying flickr would be amazing. I think with their dedication to social and their talented engineering and design teams that they could transform it into something really remarkable. I think they could integrate it into G+ and I think it represents probably the most important photo archive on the web at this point.

    I don’t see this happening for a number of reasons though — unless Yahoo actually gets chopped up and it’s sold off and Google had a chance to get it.

  7. Thomas Hawk: Yup, I know, google buying flickr is a very long shot but hey, I can dream (and hope, fingers crossed). thanks for the reply.

  8. Sly Vegas says:

    flickr is now just a photo depository, where you may perhaps bump into the occasional friend or acquaintance while depositing said photos,maybe say hi, fav a photo or two, then its jut a short jaunt back home to Google+ where all the REAL sharing is taking place :)

  9. El Sol says:

    I think Facebook may be interested to buy Flickr after their IPO when they are flooded with cash. Their photo sharing needs a lot of improvement, and to fend off any threats from G+, photo sharing has got to be done right.

  10. Gavin Stok says:

    All valid points, except for one very MAJOR point – https://accounts.google.com/TOS?hl=en-US Section 11:

    11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

    11.2 You agree that this license includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.

    11.3 You understand that Google, in performing the required technical steps to provide the Services to our users, may (a) transmit or distribute your Content over various public networks and in various media; and (b) make such changes to your Content as are necessary to conform and adapt that Content to the technical requirements of connecting networks, devices, services or media. You agree that this license shall permit Google to take these actions.

    11.4 You confirm and warrant to Google that you have all the rights, power and authority necessary to grant the above license.

    Do you REALLY want to upload your photos to Google?

  11. Lance says:

    Here are a few reasons why there is no way for us to know if what your claiming is true.

    1. Compete.com is highly inaccurate. Unless you have access to Flickr’s internal logs you’ll never know the truth.
    2. Comparing Flickr views to Google views is like comparing apples and oranges. Google likes to highlight its own content over any other in certain searches. (see google search on Thomas Hawk here: http://goo.gl/FZSyG).

  12. Cedric says:

    Hi Thomas, I would like to ask you a question if I may, purely out of interest and without any malicious intent or disrespect. Why write these articles? I get your enthusiasm for Google Plus and how this would encourage you to be their most outspoken ambassador but why beat a dying horse as it were if that is indeed what Flickr has become? Your assessment of Flickr may be correct but if it is than it is merely the nature of all things, nothing lasts for ever and in the online world lifespans are short indeed. It would be naive to think that Google Plus or Facebook will themselves last forever though these two will quite likely have longer lifespans than most. I am a minimal user of any social network (I still prefer networking old school) and as such I am not a good judge of what works and what doesn’t but that in itself is an indication that the Internet is made up of a wide variety of people, varied enough that no single network will satisfy all.

    It would be hard to know exactly why people are leaving Flickr or at least using it less but it may just be that content on the Internet is becoming so widespread that people are spread too thin. I do know that for me, the signal to noise ratio on the internet has become so atrocious that I find myself spending more time filtering the crap than actually enjoying the rare gems. This is true of Flickr and of Facebook and it is quickly becoming true of Google Plus.

    I’ve seen how many people you have in your circles and you can’t tell me that you are offering those people a more intimate social experience than what could be offered on any other social network including Flickr. In the end it’s all information/content overload and comments left on posts are mostly superficial and perfunctory. Sure there’s hangouts and such but that’s only ever with small groups.

    It’s possible that traffic on Flickr will lessen further but I would think that the likelihood of it “dying” is minimal. Like everything in life not everyone will hate Flickr, not everyone will love Google Plus. Just as not everyone went and bought an iPhone when it came out despite some people predicting this as a certain outcome.

    Similarly there isn’t going to be a fight to the death between FB and G+. Each performs functions and have a look-and-feel that are different enough to ensure that they will each retain enough members to continue to be viable.

    I guess in the end I’d rather hear your thoughts on photography, places you’ve been to, people you’ve met than debase something based mostly on bias.

  13. Bill Binns says:

    I have been unsatisfied with Flickr for some time but just can’t find a replacement that is any better and that includes Google+. I see a lot to like on Google+ but leaving glaring problems unfixed seems very Flickr-like.

    Google+ wants to be a serious photo sharing site but provides no way to know how many times your photos have been viewed? Seriously? This is a non starter for me. I have 5000 photos on Flickr and 3 on Google+ and that is not going to change until I get view counts and some kind of stats functionality front and center.

  14. Thomas Hawk says:

    Cedric. I blog and follow the social photo sharing space. I’ve done that for years. G+ and Flickr are the two biggest players in that space at present.

    Compete is reporting that Flickr’s traffic is down 20%. Maybe that’s BS and Flickr’s actually growing and compete is completely backwards in how they account for traffic. Or maybe competitive pressure is pulling people away from Flickr as some anecdotal evidence would suggest. But one thing we do know is that Flickr is not innovating fast enough. Flickr *should* be innovating faster. Yahoo *should* be allocating the resources to flickr for them to do interesting things with photography.

    My own belief is that Yahoo management largely just doesn’t care about Flickr. They leave the team to just sort of do whatever they feel like and that the team’s mostly been content to just go with the status quo.

    This does not benefit us as users.

    What benefits us as users is to see flickr improve and get better and better. My hope is that at some point the executives at Yahoo will realize that by not innovating, Flickr is eroding value of that Yahoo property. I hope that some Yahoo employee/shareholders who actually give a damn will address that problem at Flickr.

    Competition is a *good* thing. I will continue to watch flickr with great interest and hope for the best as I’m still very invested in that service from a time, energy, and emotion standpoint.

    In terms of my social experience at G+, even with thousands of followers, it is incredibly intimate and social for the people that I choose to engage with. Hangouts, online interaction, etc. is far more intimate than it ever was at flickr. This is true for many others as well. We can’t be friends with everyone but in general I see G+ as a far more social experience generally spekaing.

    Bill, you can see how many times your photo has been viewed by looking at it in your picasa account. I give an example in this post. It’s clumsy, but it’s there. I suspect a more refined stats experience is produced by the Google Photos team in time.

  15. Thomas Hawk says:

    Gavin, that FUD has long been debunked.

    https://plus.google.com/100623276740673202144/posts/dePgGRnYc7k

    Do you work for a PR agency hired by Facebook by chance?

  16. Funny, everyone else seems to be saying that Google+ is already doomed… just google “google+ doomed” gets 459,000 hits on Google’s own search engine. And then there are articles like this:
    http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2011/11/google_had_a_chance_to_compete_with_facebook_not_anymore_.html

  17. lakawak says:

    So we finally found SOMETHING that Google+ is being used for. I guess even though it hasn’t made even the smallest of dents in Facebook or Twitter’s traffic, at least it is taking some away from Flikr.

  18. Leif says:

    @lakawak & Eric
    You can’t compair those 3 networks. On Facebook you get spammed with content you often don’t care about, contacted by old “friends” you were glad about you no longer were in contact with them, and some use it to stay in contact with their family.

    On Twitter you skip most of the content in your timeline. It can be great to get in contact with a support, can be great to share your thoughts about things which happen right now, great to abuse it as news ticker – but discussions, photo sharing and really getting in contact with new people doesn’t really happen there.

    G+ is a place where you can have serious discussions. Actually they’re pretty interesting and enjoyable because you don’t find that much of trolling there so far. You can easily get in contact with people who share same interests, and discussions stay active because of the great notification system.

    In my opinion this little notification thing in the top right corner you see everytime you’re on a Google site is a big thing and has much to do with the success of G+. I read many news sites and blogs but usually you maybe drop one comment and then leave the article and never check it again. eMail Notifications are annoying and they would annoy me everytime someone writes a comment and not just when I get mentioned so I never used them.
    On G+ the notifications settings are great, the Android App is great, and everywhere I see this little red notification Icon. It’s perfectly integrated and keeps me up to date about what’s going on without disturbing me when I do my work.

    G+ isn’t Facebook, it’s not Twitter, it’s G+ and I’m glad about it. It’s the Social Network I was always looking for.

    Just my opinion of someone who doesn’t really like Facebook and is still uses Twitter, but for different things.

    Have a nice christmas

  19. Mike says:

    I still find Flickr has far better photos than Google+ (the type I like, which may not be the type you like). I also like the fact that many of the users are photographers first and social networking nuts second. As well, I like a lot of film based photography which Google+ doesn’t seem to be attracting for the moment (for obvious reasons, perhaps: film users are either slow to adopt new technology or consider themselves “cooler” than other photographers and Google+ is not considered “cool” by any means – just ask my 15 year old Tumblr/Flickr using daughter). Personally I find the Google+ “culture” incredibly annoying. I don’t want to be Trey’s 1000th follower. I don’t want to be tempted with “What’s hot” on Google+. Flickr definitely has one thing over Google+ and that is that it’s a PHOTO site. Not a social networking site, not a blog, but just PHOTOS. I can live without the newest U.I. when it comes down to that. Frankly, the only person I see bitching about Flickr most of the time, Thomas, is you. That’s because you no longer get the attention from the Flickr community that you so crave. Christ, you’ve become the Ken Rockwell of Flickr.

  20. Eric Atkins says:

    Flickr was cloud storage before there was cloud storage. Yeah, it was about the community. But, now it’s about cloud storage and ease of exporting to the cloud.

    I’m sticking with Flickr because it’s too easy to use for the purpose of storing photos in the cloud.

  21. Glenn Kelly says:

    I find it misleading for you to compare your viewcount on flickr with that of Google+. When I joined the photography and art circle you and around 40 other high profile blogger/photographers were added to this circle. As I write this 732K people have you in their circle. I doubt you have anything approaching this on flickr.

    Many of your criticisms of flickr are valid however I find your praise of Google+ a little self serving given your priveleged status in the G+ world.

  22. Hi Thomas! It’s a compelling article… I’m still thinking about it…

    What I have trouble reconciling is how many people feel that Google+ is dead-in-the-water, that Facebook vs Google+ is already over and Google has dramatically lost.

    Clearly Google won’t bail on G+ the way they did on earlier social projects, so the demise predicted may be way too premature… and I suppose it’s also possible for Facebook to dwarf Google+ and yet for Google+ to, in turn, dwarf Flickr…

    —-

    Your first comment from Francine was interesting, that she doesn’t go to single-purpose sites like flickr anymore, that she wants a multipurpose site like G+. The truth may be that I’m more like her than I realize, but at least in theory, I feel the opposite. Facebook is both a crappy site for photos, and the banality of every distant cousin and every work colleague I ever had years ago, all being there at once, while probably nice for baby photos, isn’t really the ideal environment for more conceptual work.

    For me Facebook is, essentially, the new email or the new phone book, but I find other places, like flickr or a blog/website, to be better locations for “serious content.”