I’ve been using the Flickr app for iPhone since it was revamped, and occasionally dumping a batch of photos onto my user profile. But until recently, I’ve been waiting to see what comes next with Yahoo’s social photo platform. And as I branch out my own small business out to include professional photography, I wanted to pay close attention.
With its recent update to Flickr, Yahoo went out of its way to completely overhaul Flickr’s design. It’s exactly what I was waiting for. Does it have what it takes to compete with other offerings like 500px? Read on for my thoughts.
1TB of High-Resolution Photos
Let’s be clear here: These changes go beyond the user interface. Flickr now includes 1 TB of free storage, which is phenomenal, and Flickr doesn’t compress your files. Flickr says 1TB is over half a million photos if they’re all taken with “a typical smartphone camera,” but the reality is that it’s practically infinite storage space in real world terms — in the same way that, for most people, Gmail’s 10GB of email storage is practically infinite.
I’ve been moving around my Aperture library a lot. I’ve got a couple thousand photos stored in it, for reference, and about half of them are full-quality RAW photos. It takes up just under 43 GB on any hard drive. And most of those photos aren’t worth putting on Flickr. If Flickr is used as a showcase of your absolute best photos, and you’re a professional shooting RAW with a 12mp camera — which is my case — then it’s going to be really hard to reach Flickr’s limits. In fact, it would take over a hundred thousand shared pictures in that case, if my quick math is correct.
I know a lot of pros in the business, but I don’t know any with that many photos they want to share on an Internet portfolio. That’s what I mean when I say it’s limitless. What Yahoo and Flickr are achieving here is the same thing Google achieved with email: They’re purchasing their users in order to eliminate competition.
Some things haven’t changed with Flickr’s visual overhaul, but they’re worth mentioning because Flickr still does them better than the competition. Mainly, Flickr’s an easy way to get your photos organized. It doesn’t have the Portfolio feature that 500px has (although said Portfoilio feature does require a paid 500px membership), but it’s a lot easier to organize photos in Flickr with Set presets like capture time, file name, or other attributes. Of course, you can also order your photos manually, but why would you? Matching Flickr with an organization system like Hazel on OS X is possibly the best possible setup for professional photographers there is.
Beyond that, Flickr’s more social than most other photo sites. You can tell from every aspect of the design that they’re meant to be shared. That’s why Flickr is so focused on organization. It’s important that the viewer feels like they know where they are. In that sense, Flickr’s got everybody else beat. I’ve been getting used to using Sets as mini-portfolios of sorts, and have yet to be disappointed with Flickr’s organization options.
That being said, there are a lot of perceptual changes to the way Flickr organizes photos thanks to the new user interface. So, without further ado…
The New User Interface
This is where the money is. It’s where Yahoo’s team clearly spent the majority of their time, and that’s a good thing. The Flickr of yore was in dire need of an upgrade, to the point that Yahoo almost had to offer 1 TB of free space to lure people back from the competition.
The interface brings in a ton of changes, but the biggest one is an obvious refocus on the photos themselves. There’s no text cluttering anything, and a Photostream essentially becomes a collage. Zooming in on any photo focuses on it in a slideshow-like view with a black background. In fact, it’s easy to start a slideshow now with the tap of a new Play button on the top-right of a photo.
It’s high-resolution, of course, so I need to tell you this looks incredible on high-density screens like my Retina MacBook Pro or my iPad 3. That being said, if you’re a pro photographer worried about people stealing your high-quality images, this isn’t going to assuage any of those fears. (Whether those fears are rational or not is a discussion best saved for another day.)
Speaking of iPads, this interface is perfect for tablets. It scrolls well and it ends up becoming a decent web app for multiple devices. I imagine a lot of time was spent thinking about the future of tablets, and Flickr didn’t want to miss that boat. It’s perfect for tapping, zooming and, yes, flicking.
But the new user interface isn’t without its problems. There used to be a lot of text, and it was easy to both search for photos on Flickr and find things like EXIF information. Now, it takes a few more clicks to do any of that. And because everything is high-resolution, if your connection is slow, those “few more clicks” really start to add up.
The new user interface also introduces some layers of inconsistencies. As an example, Groups haven’t changed a lot, so they look different than a user’s Photostream would. Comments haven’t changed at all, so while the presentation might look a lot better, the people sitting at the table criticizing the meal look the same (I kid; Flickr’s user community is one of the finest on the web).
On the other hand, these minor cosmetic flaws are more likely to get corrected now that we’ve seen the Flickr team make big adjustments with the user pages. I imagine they can only get better, in all actuality.
Turn a Light On
There’s never been a better time to move to Flickr, and I suspect a lot of people already have. Most of the flaws are minor in comparison to the major overhaul we’ve seen here. Flickr’s already got a great foundation to build on, one that’s both immediately social and intimate, and this visual overhaul is a great sign of things to come.
That being said, I don’t think it’s perfect. The interface’s inconsistencies bother me more than anything else. But huge overhauls take time, and Flickr’s 1 TB of space gives it a huge leg up over any of the competition. The only reason I can see to stick with 500px is its Portfolio feature (which, again, isn’t free), but otherwise, I’m very excited about Flickr — both where it’s at and where it’s going. If you haven’t used it for a while or never gave it a shot, now’s the time to get back into it.