The Slow Steady Decline Towards the End of 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+.