If Flickr Is About Community, Let’s Build On That

It was just about a year ago that I stopped using Flickr as my primary platform for sharing my photos.

Today, I went on to the site just to see if I had been missing anything. The quick answer is not much.

Sure, I do like being able to see people’s work in high-res on a desktop monitor – the way the photographer intended it to be.

I also like that that its search function is pretty robust. If I wanted to find a landscape photo shot with a Nikon, it’s pretty easy to find among all the groups and camera info. 

Other than that… it’s still a hot mess.

With Flickr CEO Don MacAskill’s penning an open letter recently confirming that the company is operating at a loss and urging more people to become Pro subscribers to keep the site alive, there’s been a lot of discussion whether saving Flickr is worth it, and if not, what the alternatives are.

Returning to Flickr after a year’s absence, I had a few thoughts of how things can be improved. And they all have to do with better tools for building community among its members. 

When I first joined five years ago, Flickr was a way to share the images I made and also hopefully make online connections with people who have similar interests and learn from each other. I did actually connect with a couple of people who gave me advice as I was starting out.

The sharing part though, is as random as anything.

Among the groups I joined is one called “FlickrCentral” with 307,000 members. The group pool is full at 10 million images, and the admin seems to be trying to work on a solution. (They add, though, that Flickr has been non-responsive to this issue. What’s up with that?)

So two issues here (and I mean no disrespect to the group and their members)… The group has no definition. Who is the group for? People who like landscape? Are members international? Canon enthusiasts? No idea. But I joined because, hey, it’s a large group and I want to show off my work to as many people as possible and get some likes, right?

There are so many other groups that are broadly or ill-defined, that it’s hard to build a sense of community or to learn about a specific subject matter. Search for “Nice photos” and you’ll get a dozen groups.

One way to add some structure to the over-abundance of groups is to perhaps make better use of geography. That is, set up groups based on location and then by subject matter. So if I were to create a group for Toronto-area photographers who shoot black and white flash studio photography, people would have a much better idea whether this is the group for them. 

Yeah, I’m advocating for a cull on groups that are so general, they’re meaningless. Not very popular if you happen to be one of those groups. I also know that this is a huge job for someone to do. 

When I started, I really did like how some groups encouraged people to introduce themselves as a way to build community. A random look at a couple of groups I’m in shows that no one does that anymore – the last introductory posts are from years ago.

The user interface needs to be cleaned up and more dynamic. A search function for topics within discussions would be great so there are not 100 posts all discussing how to shoot in aperture priority.

If Flickr is selling itself as largest photographer-focused community, how else can we strengthen that community? We already know if you want a dopamine rush from getting likes, you go to Instagram for that. 

One of the best things when I am part of a show is engaging my viewers. I like listening to them discreetly, just to hear their thoughts without my presence influencing what they might see. I also like have a full conversation with them if they ask me anything about my work. 

If critique is an essential part of an artist’s life, how can we encourage that in our online spaces? How can we encourage more thoughtful comments beyond “Nice shot”?

I think Flickr still has a lot of potential. I’ll probably return to it after I do my own culling of groups that aren’t useful to me. I do think it filters out the “influencers” so I don’t have to see what anyone else had for breakfast. Whatever Flickr is doing to improve the platform, I do hope it is listening to what photographers want. 

Using Format