It won’t be easy.
Flickr, the pioneering online photo-sharing community — whose rise and purchase by Yahoo in 2005 was a key storyline in the “Web 2.0” era — has a surprise new owner.
SmugMug’s founder and CEO Don MacAskill has taken to Twitter to talk up his hopes for the deal. “We will move heaven and earth to thrill you and photographers everywhere,” he told one Flickr Pro user.
If MacAskill can engage the most serious of remaining Flickr users — the site reportedly has “more than 100 million unique users who post tens of billions of photos” — it’s easy to see how the deal could be lucrative for SmugMug, which has long successfully operated in the small-but-profitable model.
And long-time Flickr fans sound excited at the news. Yahoo, to be sure, was a mostly bad owner; it’s sort of a miracle Flickr still exists.
( I am excited to see an independent company that cares about photography and has a long-term sustainable business model become a steward for Flickr. We need open, indie social platforms more than ever on the web right now.)
— Anil Dash Dot Com (@anildash) April 20, 2018
But can Flickr start growing and really matter again? That’s a different proposition that will be much harder.
A lot, obviously, has changed since Flickr’s heyday — Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, squares, vertical, etc. More than anything, mobile has taken over, and photo sharing has evolved from albums to streams to Stories. Photo sharing isn’t just a thing anymore — it’s part of many things.
Google and Amazon Prime now offer effectively unlimited photo libraries and backup for free. Apple has made photography a core part of its operating system and messaging service. Instagram has become the culturally dominant visual community of the day.
And while Flickr has an app, it hasn’t cracked the top 150 iPhone photo apps in the past month, according to App Annie.
Perhaps that isn’t the point. If SmugMug can stabilize Flickr, please its enthusiast users with an excellent service, and build things on over time, that will likely be a better future than Verizon could have offered.
But unless something significant changes, it’s hard to imagine a major Flickr comeback.
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