Friday, May 08, 2015

How's Flickr Doing These Days?

How's Flickr doing?  Pretty well!
I saw some usage numbers which looked good for Flickr this morning: 50 million active users. I was curious to see what I could find to back that up. As of April 2015, here's what I find:
  • Over 16 million active users per month, U.S. alone (growing since mid-2013):
  • Flickr users upload 3.5 million photos to the site each day.
  • Now 92 million total registered users:

The 50 million active users seems plausible given the U.S. visitor and daily upload figures, and given the U.S. user graph, the trend is solidly up over the last 2 years. I have over 4000 photos there and contribute more just about every day that I have Internet access, so it's good to see that they're doing well.
Why is Flickr growing? Even after 10 years it had feature advantages over many other sites, with strong tagging, group functionality, strong search capability with and the ability to sort by "interestingness". Given those features, here are some of the things that I've found the site to be good for over the past 10 years:
  • Seeing amazing pictures 
  • Getting inspired by those pictures to travel new places 
  • Reading and posting techniques tips. People can come here and become a better photographer. 
  • Getting feedback on my photos, usually positive, sometimes constructive. 
  • Interacting with people about photos and the places they depict. 
  • Meeting other photographers and shooting with them. 
  • Searching for the best photos from a place, the most interesting viewpoints, before I visit there. 
  • Making some money from Getty and from direct contact by image buyers has helped fund both gear and travel: my continued development as a photographer.
On Flickr, photographers interact around the content, so pursuing producing quality photographs is inherently recognized as participating in and contributing to the community.  If you like photography, if you want to learn more, if you want to share and discuss your results with like-minded people, Flickr is a site where you can find an incredible diversity of photographers and knowledge.  So Flickr enables social interaction around photography as well as or better than than many sites called "social".   Being focused around photography, Flickr doesn't attract volumes of people simply looking for a place to become "Internet famous".  And taking this narrower target audience seriously, Flickr actually does something about copyright violators who steal our work.  Often someone tells me that someone has take my image and re-uploaded it, by the time I get that message and go look, the offending account is already shut down.  Social media sites seeking high transaction numbers thrive on photo theft, and rarely will delete any more than the one image you own and are reporting, often leaving hundreds of obvious infringements active, rewarding the person who stole them.  Some of the people stealing photos and presenting them as if they were their own are posing as professional photographers.  Some social media sites shelter and even promote these faux-tographers if they're driving enough precious "interaction".  It's a huge plus for photographers on Flickr that Yahoo! maintains higher ethical standards than that.  Hollow click-trading statistics are like Monopoly money.  Some people get caught up collecting them, and sites even try to compete to some degree on that basis, but it's not the same as lasting value.  Those games get old fast for most people, and the people who get caught up most in them tend to get rather aggressive towards other photographers.  Flickr doesn't provide as many tools for pure social interaction without photos, but that excludes the anti-social use of those tools as well.  
Flickr has been very good at attaching valuable context to photos/content: map location, tags, inclusion in thematic groups, and that can all be searched against.  In addition it has been very good at introducing me to other avid photographers and quality work from them, and it's fantastic that we haven't been inundated with images from everyone with a mobile phone camera and their cats.  While counting total users is a game that industry pundits may use to have something to talk about to compare one site to another, but it's a fairly meaningless comparison, like comparing apples to broccoli and potatoes.  If you want to connect with fellow avid photographers, it's not particularly useful to have 10X or 50X more general users on a social media site.

So while the social aspect of interacting with others around photos has been a key to Flickr delivering value, that's valuable to the extent that it supports a photographer's aspirations to be out shooting more, shoot in more stunning places, to be a better photographer, and to connect with other like-minded people.  Over the past year Flickr has been busy working on an image licensing system, so earning money for your photography could soon become a reason to spend more time on Flickr as well.