Flickr Groups Are the Hidden Social Network That Yahoo Doesn’t Even Realize It Owns

Flickr Groups Are the Hidden Social Network That Yahoo Doesn't Even Realize It Owns

Probably the number one thing that Yahoo has squandered over the years is the early mover advantage that they had when they bought Flickr and along with it one of the best basic frameworks for group social networking on the web today.

Flickr groups are a potentially powerful social network, even more powerful in fact than Flickr itself as a photo sharing platform. Instead of recognizing and exploiting the full potential of Flickr groups, groups have been left behind to languish in a new more nimble mobile world of instant communication.

Yahoo never even understood what they had. They barely understood Flickr, how could they understand an obscure part of Flickr and the seed for greatness that existed there? Carol Bartz, Scott Thompson (and now Marissa Mayer) couldn’t/can’t even be bothered to set up Flickr accounts.

Today more powerful, wealthy, and connected internet businesses are rapidly building out group oriented features (Google+ Events for example) that will further diminish Yahoo’s potential in the social networking space. Yahoo still does have a chance to try to turn Flickr groups into something larger, but the time is short. Understanding the power of Flickr groups means actually spending time using it and studying it. Like her predecessors, we can’t even get Marissa Mayer to open up her own Flickr account, so my outlook for Flickr groups is not great.

Those that have lived in Flickr groups for various periods of time over the past 8 years know exactly what I am talking about. They know how powerful groups can be. This small population of outliers on the web know that for many of them Flickr groups have been the most addictive thing they have ever experienced on the web — more addictive than Facebook, more addictive than Google+, more addictive than any social experience on the web for them ever. Groups of tight knit communities have flourished in obscurity on Flickr but have resulted in some of the most significant offline real life communication and life involvement for those who know.

The power of Flickr groups is that they allow small interest groups (that oftentimes end up transcending their own interest and purpose for existence) to turn into tightly knit communities — strangers bonding in ways that are unusual for the internet. A lot is said about how busy people are today, and people are — but at the same time people are basically bored and lonely. As connected as we are with people that we know, we thirst for more. We thirst for real interaction on the web. “Nice photo,” “wow,” “excellent composition,” are not what we are really after. We are after something deeper — something more real, authentic and meaningful. We long for connection. We thrive for real understanding and admiration. We want to belong to associations. We’ve lost touch with our churches and political parties and social clubs and even our families at times. In our isolation the web becomes our new wild, wild west. We seek connection and group association even if we do not realize it. We want to belong.

Exploring the full potential of Flickr groups and how this structure and format can be improved upon should be a major directive of Marissa Mayer. If Yahoo cares about social networking (and they should) this is where they need to start.

The power of Flickr groups basically comes down to one thing. The threads are super easy to read, bumped and interactive. Simplicity really is the power of groups as much as anything.

Below is a roadmap for how to unleash the real power of Flickr groups. As part of a longer-term plan, Yahoo needs to figure out how to roll out the group framework on Flickr to every single property on Yahoo.

1. Flickr needs more robust blocking tools. If people are going to get up in each other’s grill, they will eventually get up in each other’s grill. If groups are going to bring people to extreme levels of connection, inevitably there will be the destroyers. The basic group format allows group administrators to remove pariahs from the group experience, but this is not enough. Those in the know understand that destroying a group is largely a matter of will power. With the ability to install an unlimited army of Flickr troll accounts who can wreck havoc on a group experience, many have abandoned Flickr groups for this simple reason alone.

Google+ and Facebook understand the need for true and complete blocking. When you block someone on Google+ they are 98% gone. The blocking action renders them invisible to you anywhere in the network. Occasionally you are puzzled when you see the mention of someone’s name in a thread and then you remember, aha, yes, you’ve blocked that person. Not so with Flickr groups. When you block someone on Flickr they are free to roam any group you are a member of and continue harassing you. This drives the most social among us away. While group administration and Flickr themselves may take action if the harassment is significant enough, this is not adequate. It is not immediate. Even if action is taken, a new troll is quickly introduced to allow the same actions (98% of the time this harassment is done anonymously).

Allowing us control over our Flickr social experience should be the first priority for Flickr. Allowing a complete and total block should have been implemented a long time ago, before so many were driven from the Flickr group experience. If someone does not like someone for any reason whatsover, they should be equipped with a tool to remove them from their personal space — even within a group. A total block has deeper implications than simply removing unwanted harassment from your group experience. A total block introduces the threat of group membership shunning another member. This provides a powerful incentive for a group member to engage in more respectful social engagement and interaction.

2. Flickr groups need a mobile experience. This may need to even be a stand alone application for Android and iOS. Flickr needs to introduce a simple interface that allows you to scroll and fave group photos (Instagram style with easy scrolling and tapping to fave). More significantly though they need to introduce a basic thread reader that is as simple and easy to read and respond to threads on the mobile platform as possible. At present Flickr’s mobile app cannot interact with group threads. Trying to browse group threads on the non-mobile web version of Flickr on a mobile device drives all but the most hardcore away from group threads when they are away from their computer. We are increasingly mobile, a proper addiction should follow you from your computer to your phone. Lost non-computer time reduces engagement. Engagement begets engagement in Flickr group threads and giving people 24/7 access should be a goal.

3. Groups need better filtering tools. The goal should be engagement. Every thread in a group that will not produce engagement is noise and wasted opportunity. Allowing individuals to filter out threads that they do not care about is essential. If I do not like football, I should not have to see the “who will win the superbowl” thread in my social group over and over and over again because other group members want to talk football. This also gives group members a key tool to prevent against thread bumping abuse. Sometimes to make a point, a troll will bump one thread over and over and over again. If members have the power to simply hide that thread, it diminishes the power over the group that a troll will have.

4. Groups need subscriptions. The most active potential users will go to more than one group. They will spend time in several. In order to get someone to return to a group though, there must be a payoff. After checking group threads and finding them inactive 10 times in a row, I will come back less and less over time. Even when a thread I care about is updated, I won’t know because by then I’ve lost interest due to low payoff. By allowing me to subscribe to threads across all Flickr groups I can be assured that if a thread I care about is updated I will see it. A page of all threads that I’m hyper interested in and care the most about will be irresistible to me. If done right, this page could become the most viewed page on all of Flickr. This page would allow faster more frequent responses to powerful group threads. Again, activity begets activity. Faster more frequent payoffs make it more difficult to walk away from the thread experience.

Letting me build my own personalized group forum of threads that I am 100% interested and invested in across all groups on Flickr would significantly increase the chances that I would engage in threads as other activity took place. Zeroing in on the threads that I care most about would perhaps be the most powerful tool of any social network ever. Too often conversations that we care about are lost on the web forever. Bookmarking them and them bumping them based on activity has never been done by anyone that I’m aware of and would represent one of the most powerful tools in social networking ever.

5. Groups need a significant events page. See Google+ for how to do this right.

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  1. David says:

    Totally agree Thomas. Flickr groups are the one thing that keep me moving over to 500px completely. They are a great way to ask questions about particular lenses of techniques. I actually do subscribe to mine via RSS. You are right though there can be long periods of silence. I think the fact people can post photos to the groups remotely might be an issue, if people had to visit the groups to post to the pool there is more of a chance they will see others work. I think there are photos being posted to groups that are never seen in that group as users aren’t coming back 🙁

  2. brendan says:

    you talk sense – flickr groups can be great.
    said it before – i would hire you immediately for flickr

  3. sergey says:

    Thomas, you have some great ideas on both social media and improvement. Have you ever thought about being on a ‘board’ for any of the social media websites? I think you would be a great addition!

  4. Ken McMahon says:

    Agreed Thomas. I’ve had a Flickr account for many years, then got a pro account, then let it lapse, now mainly upload for friends and family. But if Flickr has a social network it doesn’t realize it owns, Google Plus has yet to pick up the ball. Curated daily themes are the closest thing that G+ has to Flickr groups and they’re a long way from anything that allows engagement in the way that Flickr groups do. I never fail to be surprised by the way that photography has thrived on G+ when the space it provides to display and talk about images is so limited. And yet it does?

  5. Steve says:

    If you want to learn the power of flickr groups, just ask David Hobby.

  6. I’ve been trying for awhile to find Flickr groups that are still active. It seems as though a lot of Flickr groups are now victim of people adding to the pool and bailing without participating in any discussions. Yahoo had a very powerful social network at one time but I think a lot Flickr groups have been abandoned. Getting people to return to flickr groups could prove difficult. Perhaps I just haven’t been able to find the right groups though, in which case can someone make a recommendation?