Thinking of Starting a Photo Community on the Web? Should You Do It on Flickr or Google+?

Google+ Communities vs Flickr Groups

Google+ launched their new communities last week and I’ve spent a lot of time exploring how they work since launch. I’ve also spent quite a bit of time super active over the past eight years in Flickr groups. Google+ communities are a lot like Flickr groups, but there are key differences, advantages and disadvantages to both. I thought I’d write a post comparing the two. I’ve long held that Flickr groups represent Yahoo’s best chance for social going forward.

So here’s the smackdown.

1. Thread bumping. Flickr wins. Probably the most significant problem with G+ communities is that they do not bump threads. With Google+’s new communities discussion topics are only shown by most recent post. Unfortunately the most recent post is not always the most interesting/engaging post. What’s more, because threads are not bumped upon a new comment, almost every thread over 24 hours in an active community on Google+ dies. Good conversations should last more than 24 hours. Flickr solves this problem by simply bumping each thread back to the top of the discussion forum anytime someone makes a comment on it. This is a far better way to keep a discussion forum active and engaged.

2. Muting discussions. Google+ wins. One of the problem with Flickr is that there is no way to screen out discussions that you are not interested in. If I don’t care about football, why should I have to see a thread about football in my favorite photography forum. At Google+ the answer is simple. Just go to the thread and choose to “mute this post.”

3. Photo pools. Flickr wins. At G+ you are forced to try to use typical discussion threads to post photos. Flickr, by contrast has a group photo pool that is associated with each group. Although it’s tempting to see photo pools as more of a photography niche feature, I’d argue that every community potentially has photos to share. Even if the photos are not artistic oriented photography, every group of people will potentially want to share photos with each other. Ideally, a group/community should be allowed to have more than one photo pool/album with settings to allow how content can be shared in those pools.

4. Community activity. Google+ wins. Even less than two weeks old, communities on Google+ are far more active than Flickr. Individuals are far more engaged and the rate of velocity around community conversations is much higher at Google+.

I started a new community called Light Box on Google+. It’s based on a voting game similar to voting groups I’d created on Flickr in the past. On Google+ the group already has over 4,000 members in less than a week. At Flickr it would take me months to build a group up that large. The G+ community is already 20x more active than any voting group/game I’ve ever seen on Flickr. When it comes to community velocity there is simply no comparison. Google+ communities are some of the most active I’ve ever seen anywhere on the web.

5. Invite process. Google+ wins. Google allows you to invite participants in circles up to around 195 people max. Sending out one invitation to 195 people is a lot easier than the way that Flickr allows you to invite people. On Flickr you can only invite a single member one by one by one by typing their individual name — wayyyyy too much work.

6. Sticky threads. Flickr wins. One of the thing Flickr allows a group owner/moderator to do is to make certain threads sticky so that they always stay at the top of the discussion threads. This is helpful if you have a group/community FAQ or other material that is important to stay prominent to the membership. At present you cannot make sticky threads at Google+.

7. Adult oriented communities. Flickr wins. Although there are some deep underground private communities on G+ focusing on nudes, G+ by TOS doesn’t allow nudity and this content is subject to being removed. On Flickr, they do allow nudity as long as it is properly flagged as nudity. In Flickr’s case this has resulted in both communities discussing artistic fine art nudes, but also a pretty seedy amateur underground porn network as well. Flickr routinely deletes many of the most offensive adult oriented communities, but if fine art nudes are your thing, you’re probably more likely to find these communities on Flickr than G+.

8. Moderating community membership. Flickr wins. It’s much easier to moderate community members in Flickr groups than in Google+ communities. On G+ you must scroll through an entire list of community members in order to find the person you wish upgrade to moderator or ban from your community — page after page after page after page. With any large community on G+ this is a very cumbersome process. Flickr by contrast has a powerful search tool which allows you to search for a member my name to upgrade or ban them. [UPDATE: yesterday, 12-17-2012, Google released a new feature that allows you to upgrade someone to moderator or ban them from a specific post that they make in the community, this goes a long way towards addressing the previous problem with moderating community membership before.]

9. Blocking members. Google+ wins. It cannot be overstated how important a good blocking tool is to community management. Inevitably some community members will not get along. Especially since Flickr allows obvious anonymous troll accounts to inhabit communities, users need some way to immediately protect themselves against bullying and harassment. Flickr’s community blocking tools are weak and non-existent. By contrast Google+ provides users a powerful blocking tool which turns anyone invisible that you choose to block.

Even more important than this user option is the tone that is set in communities because of it. When you know that you can be blocked by other people you are nicer and more polite. I wrote a post a while back about how Google+ is the nicer community for photographers on the web. Flickr groups are routinely full of trolls, jerks and assholes. Even the ones who are tolerable oftentime pride themselves on abusing other community members with their snide, disparaging comments. They think it’s cool to be “snarky.” On Google+ these people are routinely dismissed and blocked and the overall tone is far more positive.

10. Mobile tools. Google+ wins Earlier this week Flickr rolled out a new version of their iPhone app that has a simple thread reader for Flickr groups. The app is AWESOME by the way. When Google+ rolled out communities last week they did not have support for mobile, but today they added it for both iPhone AND Android. I would suspect that a group thread reader will be coming to a future Android app for Flickr.

11. Group/Community recommendation. Google+ wins. On Flickr I am recommended groups that are years old, super dead and with zero activity in them. These are old groups that some Flickr employee chose to highlight years ago. By contrast on G+ I’m recommended communities that really are personally directed and targeted towards me. These are communities that are thriving and active. I’m guessing that there may be some Google curation of these recommendations, but what I’m seeing feels much more algorithmically based and the algorithm recommending communities on G+ feels super smart and personalized to me.

12. Hangouts. Google+ wins. From time to time you will want to get more involved with the members of your community than just discussion threads. With Google+ you can hold a hangout and do live video/voice interaction with other members through Google’s hangout feature. Flickr doesn’t have anything like this.

13. SEO. Google+ wins. While both Google+ and Flickr offer you private communities with an option to not index the community for the web, both also allow public communities that can be indexed for the web. With any public community you will want to have your community index well in search on the web. Google promotes Google+ posts by the people that you follow — if you are searching for a group on the web, there is a much better chance that you will find groups by your friends on Google+. Already my new Light Box group indexes for the first page search results for Light Box when I search regular Google and am logged in. Personalized search gives your group an advantage for being found on Google by your contacts and friends.

The final verdict? Google+ communities win. In my opinion Google+ communities are far more engaging, active, positive places to hang out than Flickr groups. As much as I enjoyed Flickr groups in the past, I think all of my community time going forward will be happening on Google+ instead. While I’m optimistic that team Flickr can/should create a better group experience for users, it may be too little too late at this point.

While Flickr does have Google+ beat on some important features like thread bumping and photo pools, these features are not enough to make up for the current velocity and dynamic advantage that Google+ communities have. Social photographers have been leaving Flickr groups over the past few years as they’ve been setting up camp at G+. Now G+ gives them the one thing that they missed from Flickr, a solid community experience. I suspect that communities on G+ will only get better and better in the weeks ahead. Google+ tends to release things in beta form, bugs and all, and then iterate very rapidly. I’m confident that some of their limitations today will be improved in the future. Hopefully they even give us thread bumping and photo pools like Flickr. 🙂

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  1. Claudia says:

    I’m purely a hobby photographer but have watched the development of G+ and compared it with Flickr. I agree and like that G+ is more active and has overall a better platform. It is also very fluid so likely will address the deficiencies you mentioned. But what I like about Flickr is the ability to view “contact” activity as a collage so I can quickly spot those pics of interest and posts made by my friends (rather than generic contacts) which is hard to do with all the activity flooding G+ ~ even with the “mute” post option. Thank you for the great summary of these forums.

  2. Thomas Hawk says:

    Claudia, Flickr’s mosaic view for your contacts is indeed a smarter way to view those photos. This is apart from the group or community experience of course. Hopefully G+ gives us a page like this at some point too.

  3. Jimmy says:

    If someone who’s never experienced Flickr comes along to G+, they’ll love G+. But I highly doubt most seasoned Flickr users would not think the same way.

    If someone who’s been using G+ dove into Flickr, I think they’d quickly realize that as far as photography goes, Flickr wins.

    Of course there will always be exceptions out here (TH for example).

    Reason I prefer Flickr more is simplicity and organization. You can navigate around Flickr groups so much easier than a G+ community. Both sites have pros and cons. And with the recent launch of the Flickr iphone app, it’s apparent that Yahoo is finally taking Flickr seriously and is making moves for it to be a serious competitor. The cons stated in the OP can and should be addressed. And in my opinion, the cons on Flickr’s side are low hanging fruit which can easily be addressed. Alternatively, G+ would require some serious overhauling to emulate what Flickr has done successfully for years.

    Anyway, just an opinion. Nice to see innovation on both sides.

  4. Jimmy says:

    Sorry… correction… “I highly doubt most seasoned Flickr users WOULD think the same way.”

  5. It remains bizarre to me that anyone would seriously consider either one of these, since neither of them actually keeps track of what you have read. It’s like debating which tastes better, horse dung or cow dung.

  6. Thomas Hawk says:

    Jef, where would you consider a better place for a photo community?

    And in my opinion, the cons on Flickr’s side are low hanging fruit which can easily be addressed.

    Jimmy, and hopefully they do! 🙂

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  8. Joe Sterne says:

    What about Facebook? We started our group out on FB first because it provided more conversation stuff than Flickr (and it predated G+).

  9. Steven House says:

    Without a photo pool the g+ community thing is worthless. Most people in a group/community only participate by pooling photographs not discussing photographs or photography. Pictures speak louder than words.