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.

You can follow me on Flickr here.

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16 Comments

  1. William Beem says:

    I’ve been a Flickr user for years, but my “Pro” account expires at the end of this month. For the first time, I’m considering letting it lapse. It won’t close my account, but it will only display the 200 most recent photos on my stream. The other photos will still be there, but I’m unsure if they’ll also still show in the groups where I added them.

    Flickr honestly doesn’t garner that many views of my photos. I get far more views on my blog or Google+. On the other hand, Flickr makes it easy to share photos on message boards or other web sites.

    The cost itself isn’t that much. I’m just not sure that I care much about Flickr anymore. They’ve used up a lot of the goodwill from their user base.

  2. Cedric says:

    I wonder if there is more to Google+ or the possibility of Google buying Flickr than merely building a database full of information on people. Sure the more info Google has on us the more direct advertising they can put our way and I suspect that translates to more earnings from vendor adverts. But what does that mean in an app economy? What does that mean if the Web will soon be dead? (And by that I don’t mean the Internet but the Web, the URLs, the web sites, the need for search). Two years ago I used search and URLs 90% of the time to get the information I needed. Now I use that method less than 40% of the time since I now use apps to get the info I want, apps which do not display Google ads. So what does this mean to Google? How would Google earn money if apps do the searching and we just do the consuming? Via apps. I’m just thinking out loud, so to speak, but I know I’m not alone in using apps more and the web less. Google’s entry into the social makes more sense to me from that angle. G+ gives them an app from which they can leverage lots of other stuff like games, videos, other apps. Kind of like Facebook have been doing. And Flickr makes sense if they’re after having more apps under their control.
    Just wondering.

  3. kelly hofer says:

    I feel that the only thing wrong with flickr is the UI. It’s a little dated. Beside that, flickr is by all measures the best photo sharing website. They just need to update the look.

  4. tgsf says:

    I like Flickr, still get some amount of contacts there, and have no problem with the interface or the layout. One of the most annoying things about internet businesses is the perceived “need” to always change everything, to add & remove features like it’s some race; it always struck me as arguing over a the details in a small tree amid a massive forest – that’s doing fine as it is. (We might disagree over the definition of “fine”, but the problem isn’t the sites or the services: it’s the annoyingly fickle people, who bitch & whine whenever they don’t get exactly what they think they want, then change their minds the next day. I actually have to credit Facebook with their attitude of “fuck the users, we’re rolling out the product we think is needed, in this market…” (even if they’re wrong, but hey….)) :P

  5. Shane says:

    Interesting idea but how would Google deal with the (art) nude photos on flickr? I believe G+ doesn’t allow nude photos?

    I shoot art nude and flickr is one of few large scale websites that lets me post these sort of photos. (Haven’t looked at 500px).

  6. Thomas Hawk says:

    Shane, Google could deal with it simply by keeping the property independent like Facebook is keeping Instagram independent. The huge library of underground porn on Flickr might scare of Google, but it’s kept very well hidden and buried on Flickr. Unless your looking for it, it’s largely underground.

  7. Clearlight says:

    With the new UI, and even before that, it’s Google+ that appears to be losing traction, at least among some of the photographers that I have talked to. So, who knows, it may only be a matter of time before we see my ‘ol Pal penning another hyperbolic post: “Google+ is Dead”!

  8. Citysnaps says:

    >>> For the first time, I’m considering letting it lapse. It won’t close my account, but it will only display the 200 most recent photos on my stream.

    Do it! I did almost two years ago and never looked back. It’s extremely liberating getting off the machine. My goal was to only have 10 photos, but it’s crept up to 20. Needs a severe editing now.

    Having tons of photos out there only makes your composite look ho-hum. Having just a few good ones speaks volumes…

  9. blurbomat says:

    Agree. Google makes the most sense… if they kept it on its own and supported it like it should be.

    The only other company who might make a good fit as a Flickr purchaser would be Apple, but Apple has a horrible social pedigree.

  10. Andrew says:

    None of the above. Flickr deserves to be its own entity. The best photography hosts on the web are the ones dedicated to only photography, run by photographers.

  11. Ritchie says:

    i think g+ should buy flickr it would make them very very big in the industry and maybe the updates to flickr would have happened faster. there webpage has not change much the last years. except for some different views to contacts flickr is starting to look dated. i seem like google has a very fast turnover to how they change their different webpages all the time coming with updates :)

    Ritchie – Norway

  12. Bill Binns says:

    Flickr badly needs a sitewide redesign. The current look is second only to Craigslist for being horribly dated. The thing I want the most is some alternative to the photostream. That being said, I’m not going anywhere. Flickr is part of my backup scheme and being able to store an infinite number of photos in the cloud on a service that probably won’t fold in two weeks is well worth $25.00 a year. If I really get tired of Flickr, I will probably just start dumping every shot I take onto the service and make everything private.

  13. Thomas,
    Good points. I think there is a connection between Flickr and Google that I would enjoy. Currently Flick provides a map in which images can be located. Google uses Panaramio. When I travel, I use Google to tip me off to photo-ops and localities that are significant to my theme of “Gone to Look for America” which is my Photostream ID. The photos from Panoramio are not quite up to what I’m used to from Flickr users, though some, naturally are excellent. As I pass through unknown territory, say from Silver City, New Mexico to Lincoln, New Mexico studying Billy the Kid, I wish that the Flickr photos were on that map instead of Panoramios. Patrick Smith at Flickr has well-exponded on the use of Google Earth in helping him in his photography and uses it in yet anothrer way. I don’t like how Google lends itself to corporations and government in accessing data on individuals (futuristic fascism, I believe) but I do believe in the terms in which I was speaking it would be good. Hope you’ll comment — I’ll check back.

  14. Ed Devereaux says:

    If it was not for this post I would not have checked on my Flickr account. I have used it so little I have forgotten about it. The apps for my Ipad just do not meet what I get from 500px. I use the Ipad to consume media and my computer is now dedicated to work and Lords of Ultima.

  15. in the know says:

    google could have bought flickr, they passed up on the opportunity and that’s why it fell into the hands of yahoo…

    old news…

  16. Anonymous says:

    ahh…i see…for some reason i read that bottom part as available now and not available soon…my bad