A glimmer of hope on the horizon for Flickr

The appointment of Marissa Mayer as Yahoo's new CEO caught almost everybody by surprise. Even more surprising was the shockingly small number of proclamations of doom, despair and disaster for Yahoo as a result of her appointment.

Most seem to think that Mayer, having been one of Google's best, is capable of at least turning Yahoo around, making it relevant again. Her initial memo to the company's employees certainly makes her seem more level-headed than most CEOs these days; it looks as if she knows what's at stake.

(If you want to listen to a good discussion about Ms. Mayer and what she might mean for Yahoo, listen to last week's episode of Amplified.)

I wish her all the success in the world, but to be honest, I really only want Yahoo to fix Flickr.
I wasn't upset when Yahoo bought the service, even forcing me to log-in with my Yahoo credentials didn't really phase me. What bothers me is the state of the service that has gone from the photo sharing site on the internet, to a spam-overrun site that people only use because there's no real alternative. At least there's none for those of us who just want an easy way to store and share our photos — 500px is nice, but feels more like a portfolio for professional photgraphers and ambitious amateurs.

Flickr needs to rethink these three things:

  1. UI: This is the most obvious one. It's clunky, impractical, not optimised for anything and it takes to many steps to get anything done. The entire user experience is frustrating.

  2. Community and sharing: While the sharing features have become better, Flickr's insistance on adding links to their service anywhere and everywhere when posting one's pictures online is annoying. Integration with third party services for sharing is rudimentary at best, the commenting system is close to useless and SPAM is abundant.

  3. Orientation of the service: What's Flickr for? A portfolio for photographers? A place to save all your photos? A site to share your snapshots with the world? Else? Can it be all at once?

I realise that everyone has different needs and expectations of a service like Flickr, but these are the things I'd change had I any say in the future of Flickr:

  • A user interface that puts my content left, front and center, giving me an easy way to showcase everything from quick snapshots to photographs I'm actually proud of. Hire some talent for the UI revamp. Off the top of my head I can think of a decent number of designers who'd be up to the task of helping make Flickr better, the Iconfactory, Impending, Pacific Helm, Robocat and Blackpixel being among them.
  • Show photos in a way that gives the people I share them with the best quality whichever device they view them on.
  • Give the user the option to hide metadata, tags and other information on the site. This could be done as a per-user setting (Always show metadata or Never show metadata) or by making it visible at the tap/click of a button. It's the photo that's important, the EXIF stuff is uninteresting for regular users and secondary even for most geeks.
  • Make it easy for me to get my photos on Flickr by optimising the uploading process.
  • Offer an API for Twitter clients (and other services) that lets me push photos to Flickr from anywhere, retaining not only the photo's metadata but also information that puts the photo into context (like the tweet it was posted in initially). A second step would be to allow hotlinking in tweets, so photos shared via Twitter don't result in the client opening a slow and shitty mobile site that gives the user a picture not much bigger than a thumbnail.
  • Offer native apps that take advantage of devices's strengths and have their shortcomings in mind. For example: I'd expect an iPad app to deliver close to the same functionality the website does, while the iPhone app should let me easily view photos, upload and share them, as well as making it easy to edit/add basic information.
  • Emphasise sharing and commenting by pulling reactions to my photos from Facebook, Twitter and showing them alongside comments on Flickr. Oh and tell me when someone has commented on them — the current implementation of an activity stream on the site is pretty much useless.
  • Do something about mindless spam. Let me allow certain people to comment on photos, let me restrict the possibility for others to add my photos to groups, etc.
  • Most of my photos are important to me, they capture memorable moments and losing them would be disastrous. Allow me to backup my photos easily, giving me peace of mind that they're safe from things like harddrive failure on the one hand and prying eyes on the other hand.

The only thing I wouldn't change is the pricing scheme: A simple but limited free account and a pro account with all the bells and whistles for around $ 25,- (I wouldn't even mind it being a bit more expensive).

I was very close to deleting my account with Flickr a few months ago, but now I feel that there's hope for the service to become useful again. I guess we'll just have to be patient.

Alex Hoffmann @mangochutney