December 30, 2019

The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of Flickr

Flickr’s plight is heartbreaking. It missed the boat on becoming a major player in the social media space (perhaps thankfully), but it remains an important part of the internet’s foundations that’s suffered tremendous damage from neglectful owners.

When SmugMug bought Flickr from Verizon/Oath (who got it from Yahoo) earlier this year, it was the first positive news about the service in a decade. It was, as Ferdy Christant puts it in this excellent deep-dive, a titanic rescue operation.”

Unfortunately, what SmugMug purchased was a hemorrhaging hulk of old code, bad business models, and directionless design. They had their work cut out for them, and after an initial round of tidying up loose ends like excising the Yahoo login, they were left with the biggest challenge: staunching the tremendous financial losses the service incurs.

SmugMug published a charmingly self-deprecating plea for help as it embarks on this challenge, and the internet reacted as it usually does: poorly and superficially.

This excellent long read breaks down what the service is and is not, why the current ire is misdirected (SmugMug is not the bad guy), as well as setting out the full story of Flickr’s winding journey to this point. It’s a balanced, thoughtful, and refreshing take and if you care at all about photography and the internet, you should set aside some time to read it.

As someone who never really used or liked Flickr, I can still appreciate the tremendous role it plays and the importance of keeping it alive.

Much of it boils down to the same toxic entitlement that’s allowed ad-based businesses to flourish on the modern web, at the expense of quality, privacy, and nuance.

Ferdy’s advice for us applies to much more than just Flickr:

When you support free, you support billionaires. When you pay, you support sane businesses and real creators. Start paying for things that cost money. If you can’t afford to, use fewer things, which generally makes you happier anyway.


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