Flickr Could Be a Good Company for Google to Buy
On Friday I started a poll — similar to one I’d done several months back asking a simple question. Where is the best place to share photos? I was frankly surprised to see how well Flickr did, garnering the first place result with 41% of the poll. 2nd place went to Google+ with 36% of the poll. A distant third place went to 500px.
Given their size, both Facebook and Instagram seemed really poorly represented in the poll, garnering 6% and 3% respectively.
I posted the poll to my G+ stream, to my Flickr stream, to Twitter and to my Facebook account. I have lots of followers on all of these sites. The poll is not at all scientific of course and there are a million reasons why it could be horribly flawed, but it got me thinking more about flickr.
A few months after Google+ had launched I penned a dramatic post entitled “Flickr is Dead.” My feeling on Flickr at that time was that it was a sinking ship — a former photo sharing heavyweight who simply refused to innovate no matter what. The site felt poorly managed with an anti-user ethos. It felt like it had been left to it’s own devices by a dying parent company that was simply unaware or didn’t care.
Against an increasingly competitive backdrop of new and old photo sharing options (Google+, Instagram, 500px, SmugMug) it felt like users were jumping ship. Unique users were/are down as measured by compete.com at Flickr. But lately it’s starting to feel a bit like Flickr might be ramping up a bit.
In February Flickr rolled out a refresh to their photos from your contacts page — one of the first significant refreshes the site has had in years. The page still feels a touch clunky (infinite scrolling doesn’t feel quite as infinite as things like Cool Iris — or does any remember Flickrleech from years ago?) but it’s a huge improvement over the old page that was there. You can now see reasonable sized images in an attractive mosaic where they are easy to fave. Flickr should consider taking away the “more photos” paging button for paid Pro accounts who don’t abuse it — that would be a nice distinction to get people to upgrade to Pro. They’ve also rolled out their new page design to users’ favorite photos section as well.
Flickr also seems to be stepping up a bit in the community management area. They’ve set up a very nice new photo meetup board with meetup.com. They held a few successful photowalks on the East Coast and have a big San Francisco photowalk coming up on this Saturday (I’m attending this one myself).
In January Flickr Chief Markus Spiering promised us a renewed Flickr. So far I like what I’m seeing. I think more work still needs to be done (flickr needs circles/buckets, more robust blocking tools, notifications, an improved mobile experience that includes a group thread reader, and lots more) but they seem to be headed in the right direction. I’ve also noticed what feels like a pick up in activity on Flickr. I’ve noticed that the views on my own photos there recently seem to have picked up a bit.
Flickr seems to be doing better with fewer employees as well. At the end of 2010 flickr had 56 staffers. Today, after a couple of rounds of layoffs, Flickr has 41. They lost at least three people in Yahoo’s big restructure last week and they laid off a number of people in their customer service dept earlier this year. Nolan Caudill, a former Flickr staffer, blasted Yahoo after the January layoffs, but more and more I’m of the opinion that those layoffs were a good thing for Flickr, not a bad thing. In many regards Flickr’s customer service folks were some of the most disliked people by actual users. Getting rid of some of the staffers that were making things bad for users could have actually been smart management.
Which brings me to my next point.
Google should buy Flickr.
Now is the time to get this done. Facebook paid $1 billion for Instagram and I actually think that Flickr has far more potential than Instagram. Google’s got a ton of cash. Yahoo is dying. Facebook is Google’s biggest competitor now and Yahoo is officially at patent war with Facebook. As odd as it would be for these two former search foes to come together for a deal, Flickr makes all the sense in the world for Google who could throw some amazing engineering talent and legitimacy to the site.
More than anything else at Google, Google is betting big on Google+ — and for good reason. Google+ provides Google very valuable data that can be used for advertising. Yesterday I was talking with my friend Robert Scoble about the money Facebook paid for Instagram. Robert said that he thought Facebook bought Instagram for so much because they want the data that’s in the photos.
Think about all the data that is in our photos: who you are photographed with in a photo (maybe an algorithm should show you more of these people’s posts), when it was taken, where it was taken, what concerts you go to, what restaurants you eat at, etc.
What about the photos that you favorite or comment on or like? Isn’t this even more data and more signal that you provide? Do I favorite lots of photos of ice cream? Maybe I like ice cream. Do I favorite lots of photos of fashion? Maybe I care about fashion. Do I fave lots of photos of Nascar, or bicycles or surfing, or… you get the idea. By analyzing what is in the photos that we take and post and what we like and favorite, we provide an amazing amount of information about who we are as human beings. What we like. What we might buy if it were advertised towards us.
So what would Google get with Flickr? For starters they would get the largest highly organized library of images in the world with an impecable pedigree and social DNA. Other sites like Facebook may have more photos, but nobody has a library as organized as Flickr’s. For years people have tagged and organized their photos in all kinds of ways. This data around the photos is very valuable for Flickr. It tells us what is inside of a photo without having to resort to image recognition software.
Google would also get alot of potential high profile accounts. President Obama is on Flickr. The Royal Family is on flickr. The Library of Congress is on Flickr. Lots of big institutions, libraries, art museums, etc.
They would also get Flickr’s excellent photo organizational capabilities. This is one area where Flickr shines compared to anyone else. I have almost 1,700 sets on Flickr now. Why do I use Flickr for my sets instead of Google+ or Facebook or other sites? Easy, I can use Jeremy Brooks excellent program SuprSetr to organize my sets by keywords. Imagine if your Flickr stream could just autopost to your Google+ stream in full big size just like Google+. How cool would that be?
Facebook buying Instagram is upping the ante in the photo sharing game. Facebook paid a billion for Instragram. Google is sitting on over $44 billion in cash. The entire company Yahoo is only valued at $17 billion. Of that, most of the value is related to the positions that they own in Yahoo Japan and Alibaba.
If Instagram is worth a billion, Flickr is worth more. By selling Flickr to Google, this would allow Yahoo to unlock some value for shareholders with an asset that likely contributes very little to Yahoo’s bottom line.