Is Flickr’s Flame Fading?

I found myself asking the question “Is Flickr’s flame fading?” this week as I was preparing images from recent shoots. I’ve been a big fan of Flickr since I joined 5 years ago, and I’ve met so many wonderful people through Flickr as well. Flickr has been instrumental in helping me develop as a photographer. Not only have I been introduced to photographers that I admire and respect through Flickr, but I’ve had the advantage of getting feedback from them along the way. This feedback as been very helpful in my understanding of what works and what doesn’t work in an image.

But lately I’ve just not been feeling the same level of community and sharing on Flickr that I’ve enjoyed in the past. Several of the photographers that I enjoyed following are no longer active posters on Flickr. The number of comments that I receive and that I see on other photographer’s streams have dropped off. If it was just my images that were getting less attention, I would conclude that my images aren’t working or that my work has become stale. That’s valuable feedback for any photographer. But I’ve noticed that the quality of comments and the number of comments for some of the most respected members I follow have fallen off as well.

This week I posted an image that illustrated my thoughts perfectly. I didn’t post this image of Big Red with any intent other than to share it, but the results spoke volumes.

A Little Privacy, Please on Flickr
A Little Privacy, Please?
Big Red at Fort DeSoto

Besides Flickr, I have also been active in sharing images on Google+, 500px, Facebook , Twitter, and Pinterest. I usually will post the same image to all of these social media sites at the same time. And that’s where the light finally dawned on me about Flickr.

When I posted this image of Big Red peeking under the wing on Flickr, I got 84 views, 14 favorites and 18 comments over the course of 4 days. However, on 500px, the image scored 240 views, 36 favorites and 50+ comments in just a few hours! On Pinterest, I got several reshares within the first few minutes as well. The image was the same on all the different sites that I posted, but the response was worlds apart on each of the sites. In the past, an image like this would have scored 50+ comments on Flickr after 4 days.

Part of this is the way that 500px promotes images that are posted. They have a link to see new posts, a link to see upcoming posts and a link to see popular posts. They also have a link for Editor’s Choice. You can also follow different photographers and also have the images that these photographers comment on show up for your review. But I think it is the first three links that make the big difference in getting eyeballs on your image. I believe that many 500px users use these links throughout the day to keep up with fresh material.

There is no question that 500px displays your images better than Flickr, but they way that they promote your work is what I find most valuable. I also believe that the images posted to 500px are of a higher quality than many of the images that are posted on Flickr. That’s not to say that excellent, high quality images cannot be found on Flickr. But I believe that the better photographers are showcasing their work on 500px more frequently than they are on Flickr. If you are trying to market your work, 500px is working for you in that regard.

Another change that has happened that I think has hurt Flickr is the explosion of Facebook. In years past, many of my photographer friends would use Flickr to schedule meet ups, plan outings, share hot spots, etc. In the last year, there has been very little activity on Flickr in this regard. The discussion lists are eerily quiet. Facebook has replaced Flickr as the social media hub for personal communications. And to some extent, Facebook has replaced Flickr as a place to post your photos and get feedback on your work. Personally, I don’t like the way my images look on Facebook, but that may have more to do with how I process them before posting them. My workflow for images is designed to get images to my website, Flickr and 500px, so I think I have to make some changes to improve the quality of Facebook postings.

Flickr is also very time-consuming, and with so many other social media options, I find it burdensome on some days to post to Flickr. There is a culture on Flickr that if you don’t comment on my work, I won’t be commenting on your work. I can understand that philosophy and why you would use that to maximize your limited time for social media. To avoid this, I don’t post images on days where I won’t have time to review and comment on my contact’s work from that day.

But that same culture doesn’t exist on 500px. If you like an image, you can easily say something, add it as a favorite or simply vote for it…or do nothing at all. Voting raises the image up in the rankings which gets more eyeballs on the image, but if you don’t comment, it isn’t held against you by other members. Flickr does have their Explore, but that remains a mystery to me how images get selected for Explore.

I have no plans to leave Flickr and will continue to post there in the future. However, I won’t be posting there as often as I find myself spending more time interacting with other photographers on Facebook now. Flickr will always hold a special place for me as it was the medium that introduced me to some wonderful friends and fun times. I will always appreciate what I was able to accomplish through my interactions on Flickr. I am hopeful that Yahoo will invest some development resources into creating a platform that competes more evenly with what 500px and Facebook offer today. The Flickr user interface has changed little over the years, so it is due for a facelift and new features. If not, I’m afraid that the day will come in the not too distant future where Flickr is the America Online of the photography social media world.

Let me know what you think.

17 Comments

  • Josh Clark

    March 31, 2013 at 11:49 pm

    Very interesting write-up Michael. It’s funny how you feel about Flickr is how I’ve come to feel about 500px. No matter what I put up there I can hardly get any views of anything. No matter what time of day or day I post it. That site is a mystery to me. For me, it has only gotten worse on there lately. Really enjoyed your write-up though, very thought provoking. 🙂

    • Michael

      April 1, 2013 at 6:02 am

      I will admit that there are times when 500px is quiet after a post. But I usually chalk that up to posting a poor image or an image that doesn’t create excitement. In those cases, usually both Flickr and 500px are quiet for the same image. But recently many of my Flickr posts have been quiet while the same 500px posts have been quite active. It’s the same image on both sites, so something has to be different to cause such a disparity in activity. Thanks for taking the time to read my post and comment.

  • Robert H Carney

    April 1, 2013 at 10:42 am

    Always enjoy your posts, Michael. I too feel like Flickr is no longer a player. The examples you list are similar to my own experiences. I had a bad experience with losing my whole account there and had to start it over. When trying to get help to fix the problem there was not even a response. Felt like they couldn’t care less…

    • Michael

      April 1, 2013 at 11:36 am

      Ouch! I can’t imagine losing all my work on Flickr. While I certainly have the images stored here at home, it is all the comments and banter that makes the posts special. I think if I lost everything on Flickr that I would probably just close the account. That’s easy to say today, but I hope I never have to make that decision. Thanks for reading the post and taking the time to comment, Robert.

  • Jessie Dickson

    April 1, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    I was just commenting on this very same subject. It seems not many of my friends that I met on Flickr are posting there anymore. Comments have definitely dropped off. I have never tried 500pix, but Facebook is not a comparable replacement for Flickr. What I did like about Flickr was the ability to meet new people, Facebook is good with keeping up with old friends, but not with making NEW ones. I believe I met you through Flickr as well as many others. I will miss that.

    • Michael

      April 1, 2013 at 8:46 pm

      You are absolutely correct, Jessie! We did meet through Flickr and through a Flickr meetup at Viera. You’re also right that one of the endearing qualities of Flickr is the number of quality friends that we’ve met over the years. We may not have seen each other often, but we got to know each other through our images and meetups and real, lasting friendships were created. I’m connected to a lot of people on Facebook, and while I have become good friends with many of them, Flickr was the place where I met the bulk of my photography friends.

      I miss the interaction as well and hope that something changes in the future to bring back those feelings. Thanks for taking the time to read my post and comment. I hope you are doing well!

  • Scott Simmons

    April 1, 2013 at 9:55 pm

    I used to use my flickr account, but now I rarely do. It wasn’t a conscious decision on my part, but it is a little more a hassle to post to flickr from lightroom than to my smugmug account, and I like the way smugmug presents my photos. That said, I don’t get a whole lot of comments on smugmug, and I’ve been thinking about 500px. Just about every photo I’ve seen there has been wonderful. Thanks for the thoughts.

  • Laura Frazer

    April 23, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    Interesting you bring up this topic as I have just started posting a limited number of pictures on Flickr again. About 2 years ago I stopped my pro account on Flickr and left my webpage on Zenfolio for financial reasons. Flickr was a leading site for photo posts, and competition has, I believe, knocked it down a few notches as other sites were developed and became popular. The web seems to now be flooded with a number of photo posting sites which leaves me wondering which site/sites is/are the best for photo posting.

    • Michael

      April 23, 2013 at 4:44 pm

      I agree Laura! Today’s post on Flickr has generated maybe a half dozen comments in 4 hours. However, on 500px, the same image generated 40+ comments in the first hour. I’ve met a great many good friends through Flickr, but it seems that people are moving in different directions or spending more time on other things. I for one am enjoying creating the images more than posting them. But the feedback, both positive and negative, is important for my development. It helps me to know what works and what doesn’t work. The mixed signals between Flickr, 500px and Facebook have me scratching my head.

      Thanks for taking the time to read my post and comment.

  • Gail Spratley

    May 2, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    Hi Michael. I am not a photographer, but use Flickr to see what birds are being seen locally and sometimes for help identifying a bird. Occasionally I leave a comment, but after reading your blog post, I will do so more often. It is clear that many local people on Flickr know one another, so not knowing you personally, I don’t want to seem intrusive. Thanks for posting your photographs, I do appreciate them. As far as the sites are concerned, I like the way Flickr displays the photos and its search features better than other photo sites and much better than Facebook for my purposes.

    • Michael

      May 2, 2013 at 5:21 pm

      Thank you Gail for taking the time to read the post and comment. I appreciate your input. I’ve had two more experiences this week where reaction on Flickr was muted, but other sites were enthusiastic about my postings. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what that means. Thanks for your time to view my images. I’m glad you enjoy them.

  • Gabriel

    May 11, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    Flickr’s flame is not red hot in the media these days, but it still maintains a pretty steady presence. It’s an old warhorse and in some ways looking its age, but continues to be one of the largest photo sites in the world getting 3-5 million uploads per day. 500px is very small by comparison probably seeing no more than ~20,000/day. Due to their relatively small size at this time and the way their Fresh/Upcoming/Popular system is designed, there’s a good chance people you don’t know will see your images within that 30 minute window after upload and vote/fav/comment on them. In some ways this is a great thing, but in other ways I find that their Pulse rating system brings out and amplifies some of the worst “comment farming” behavior I’ve ever seen on photo social networks. Out of 100 comments on a single image I upload to 500px, I consider myself lucky if even *one* of those comments is actually genuine or sincere. The vast majority are completely generic “great shot! check out my stream” comments. They do this because of the frantic time sensitive nature of Pulse and after uploading just spam as many other images as possible. It makes the whole process feel very shallow. That being said, many fine photographers from around the world are showcased on 500px and I find their Editor’s Choice and Popular sections to be a great place for inspiration.

    In the end I still always end up going back to Flickr because the views and comments I receive are far more likely to be thoughtful, sincere interest. It’s a unique community that has a different feel to it than any of the other sites I’ve been on. The thing to bear in mind though, is that due to its sheer size, your success also depends on the connections and friendships you make there. No free rides. This tends to hold true everywhere. Look me up on Flickr (flickr.com/tronam) and I’ll be sure to share my genuine, positive feedback whenever I can. 🙂

    ~ Gabriel

    • Michael

      May 11, 2013 at 8:45 pm

      Thanks for the insightful comment, Gabriel. I never understood how the pulse/fresh/upcoming/popular thing worked, but your explanation makes a lot of sense. You’re right about the size difference being a big part in why 500px is more responsive than Flickr, and you’re also right about the networking on Flickr being a big part of creating lasting friendships. Still, with all the commenting I do and the amount of time I spend on Flickr, I just don’t “feel” the same value as I did, say, 1 or 2 years ago. Perhaps there are just too many other photo sharing opportunities that Flickr isn’t as popular with my contacts as it once was.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my post. I appreciate it.

  • Reed Benson

    May 17, 2013 at 4:54 am

    It is blocked at my work too, but I’m on there and I love it. I don’t know about replacing Flickr – Flickr is better for embedding images on websites and for the group function, but 500px is a fantastic place to put your best images. Being able to assign categories and sell through the website is a nice touch.

  • Sergio Holmes

    June 15, 2013 at 7:11 pm

    It is blocked at my work too, but I’m on there and I love it. I don’t know about replacing Flickr – Flickr is better for embedding images on websites and for the group function, but 500px is a fantastic place to put your best images. Being able to assign categories and sell through the website is a nice touch.

  • Jolene V. Suarez

    June 20, 2013 at 6:17 am

    You’ll also often see comments with one word of text. “Awesome”, “amazing”, “beautiful”, and other adjectives are the most popular words users describe images with. What happened to the spirited conversation filled with discussions about the composition and exposure of an image? Such things simply don’t exist on 500px. Instead, you’ll find a dull community that give you a one-word high-five. Once in a while you’ll come across another professional who cares to either analyze or critique your image, but not often enough.

  • Jamar O. Nunez

    July 12, 2013 at 7:05 am

    It is blocked at my work too, but I’m on there and I love it. I don’t know about replacing Flickr – Flickr is better for embedding images on websites and for the group function, but 500px is a fantastic place to put your best images. Being able to assign categories and sell through the website is a nice touch.