The death and the expensive rebirth of Flickr

The death and the expensive rebirth of Flickr

My name is Jake and I…was a Flickr fanboy. 

I can’t remember exactly when I uploaded my first photo to Flickr, but it was in its early days. I’ve since removed my initial uploads, but the earliest photo I still have on the platform is 2007…when I met then-candidate Obama. 

Flickr was a marvel of social sharing, collaboration, and connection. I met friends through Flickr I still talk to today. I grew my technical and creative skills through hours of reading and posting. Flickr was a damn miracle of the utopian social media dream. 

And then Yahoo bought them. 

The Flickr team left, the Yahoo folks struggled to understand what to do with their new acquisition, the site was left to die on the vine. And now, with the most ham-fisted way possible, they’ve announced that making significant changes to Flickr free accounts, ostensibly to get things back on track. 

You can read the details here. (This is a surprisingly good post for how to announce big changes)

It’s a surprisingly honest and insightful look at what went wrong. tl;dr: when you buy something because of its success, when that success was based on community engagement, then kill the community engagement because you’re only interested in scale to sell ads and ad data, things don’t work out. 

Community is a commitment. 

Community is a foundation. 

Community is more than a feature, its a way of conducting your business. 

Flickr has a nearly impossible feat of trying to reclaim their once thriving, marvelous community. And if they ever can get that moment in time back, it’s going to cost Yahoo an arm and a leg. Building a community reminds me of the journey of parenthood. Finding out you’re going to have a baby is an immediate societal and mental agreement that you will be there through thick and thin. If there are problems, you’ll seek help. At some point, it’ll be time to push the baby out of the nest. But simply not showing up to maintain a commitment you’ve agreed to is not acceptable. 

Building a community for your customers needs to take an equally serious mindset. Just because your budget cycles change, or your leadership changes, or your priorities change, doesn’t justify walking away from your community. Especially one that’s critical to your business. That decision nearly always comes back to haunt you. 

Over the years, I’ve spent my fair share of money on Flickr Pro account renewals. I’ve put stickers on my laptop advertising them, convinced countless friends to sign up with them, and participated in helping scores (hundreds) of people engage each other on the Flickr forums to better learn photography. I loved what they did, and truly hope this giant of the online social revolution reclaims their rightful place. 

But can they do it at this point? I honestly don’t know. All because they lost sight of what made them truly remarkable: the community. 

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