Last month, Flickr made a very bold move and they changed their website design and changed their business model. To be blunt: The new design is cluttered, difficult to navigate, filled with bugs and appears to be sourced by someone who is not a photographer. On the business model side of things, they pissed a lot of their paying members off by essentially eliminating the advantages of the pro account. That is to say that the free account now has all the benefits that the pro account used to have. And the paid account seems to eliminate just ads. This polarized the community along a definable line. Those who had free accounts seemed to gain a lot from the changes, and they seem to be happy about it. But the pro accounts holders were angered. Many simply left the site.
I’m still on the site, and activity is down. Severely down. Many groups are reporting a decrease in activity. Uploads aren’t slowing, but the quality of the uploads seems to have diminished. The reason is simple: Those who were very active on the site were probably pro account holders. So there’s a pretty good chance that the most active and the highest quality contributors moved on. But where are they going? We have two options that we’d like to share with you, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. If you’re leaving or have left Flickr, maybe you’d like to hear more…
We discovered 500px in the summer of 2011. Though it really wasn’t that young at the time, it had just reached its stride and had gained enough attention that it started to grow….rapidly. Our article introducing the site is almost not even relevant anymore because the site has evolved a great deal. They’ve evolved their interface (small increments, not a blatant redesign like Flickr) and have added a lot of great features. Back then, we were concerned that the site might lose it’s reputation for quality submissions as the site’s popularity had grown. That has not been the case. Maybe it’s the slick design. Maybe it’s their voting and favorites system. I’m a fan of their “Flow” interface that nicely blends the works of those you follow with the photos favorited or commented on by those in your circles. Since Flow content stems from the minds of those you admire, it’s quite effective and finding things that you will also like. It’s an incredible discovery tool, though you will find yourself losing hours to the system.
Once you get past Flow, you start to understand where Flickr got the ideas for their system; there are some striking resemblances. Unlike Flickr’s new design, however, 500px’s designers understand the importance of white space and interface. The site is as easy to use as it is beautiful. Even uploading is smooth and clean.
But 500px is not perfect. Where it falls short is it’s community interaction. The voting system is a little too simple, too easy. You can “like” or “favorite” a photo, and then move on. Comments get left, but they are often very short and not very insightful. And the service does not have any sort of community building in the way of groups or community pages. Allegedly, that aspect is in the works (something they have hinted at via Twitter). But at the moment, it is absent; many will not be able to look beyond that.
JPG is another community we discovered and wrote about last winter. The site and its interface takes a no-frills type of approach. It’s clean and functional, but it lacks some of the flare that 500px might have. But don’t judge this book by it’s cover. Actually, that’s an appropriate cliche because JPG has a unique slant: Photojournalism. They have a unique “stories” type of submission where you can upload a series of photos and present them either as a photo editorial or you could write an editorial story to go along with the photos. It’s like photojournalism for amateurs. Good practice, and the stories are well received by the community. If photojournalism isn’t your bag, no worries…you can submit photos just like you would at any other site. This is where JPG’s community building thrives. You can leave a normal comment if you’re feeling insightful. But if you’re feeling lazy, you can “give props” with a short compliment. For the narcissists, you can even add links, a feature that I could see getting out of control, but somehow manages not to be intrusive. As a viewer, you can filter by those types of responses…so I can choose to ignore the narcissists (and I do) and I can drill down to only the full-blown comments. It’s a browse-the-way-you-want type of system, very user-centric. For more community building – and to earn some acclaim – JPG also offers regular competitions (for prizes) and challenges (for fun). It’s a fun way to interact.
Where JPG falls short is discovery. They do have their challenges, competitions and weekly photos as a means of discovery. But that’s all a bit to concentrated and not at all dynamic for the user. You really have to work hard to discover new photos and photographers. I believe that many passionate photographers will spend time trying to find new inspiration and influences. But it’s much harder to penetrate the community as a newcomer.
I’m coming out of left field with this one because the site is not designed as a Photo sharing site. But hear me out. For those who don’t know, Google+ is a social network, not unlike Facebook but with a different approach. Google+ allows you to follow whomever you wish (even if they don’t follow you) and you can organize your contacts into groups called “circles”. From a social networking perspective, it allows you to direct your posts to specific users. For example, I have a circle for photographers where I post my photography-centric thoughts; because my bonsai contacts have no interest in that. You can also browse based on circle, allowing you to filter content, delivering exactly what you wish to digest at that moment (that’s enough photography, let’s see what’s going on in the world of competitive sleeping).
So how does this pertain to photography?
The side effect of a social network like this is that there is a way to concentrate the flow of information through the site. Ergo, photographers – who have taken particular advantage of the service – have developed quite a community over there at Google+. It’s open-ended: You never know if you’re going to get new photos, new tips, rants or brief product reviews. That disorganization could be a hindrance for some (I admit, it takes some getting used to). But it’s a great place to discover new photographers, new works and be discovered. The more you contribute yourself, the more you get recognized, reshared and followed. And because of their phone apps, tablet apps and the always-online members, conversations are quick and often involved. If that’s not quick enough for you, you can also do “hangouts”, which is a video chat between yourself and several others – think Net Meeting for dummies.
As an extra layer, Google+ now has Community Pages (shameless plug, we have a new one). Community pages are much more specific and a good way to interact in a number of different ways. For example, I’m now part of an Urban Exploration group where people post and discuss awesome photos. I’m also part of a group for Philadelphia Photographers, so I have discovered a whole slew of great photographers right in my backyard. All of this makes it possible to have a community of any size within a much larger framework. It’s an ingenious design on Google’s part, which is why the service is the fastest growing social network on the planet. But it allows me to temper the greater photography community to fit my needs, in the way that I want.
Of course Google+ isn’t for everyone. Some do feel that it can be information overload. And I respect that. When the service first made its debut, I felt the same (and for the record, that’s one of the reasons I dislike Facebook). But I’ve got used to it, and now it’s part of my life.
Regardless of what the doomsday theorists believe, Flickr isn’t really going anywhere. It’s going to be here for a very long while. And if the exodus continues, Flickr may change some things to try to bring those photographers back. But their changes have been cause for many to leave, and so options will be explored. Flickr’s falter could be the keys to the success of another service. Maybe one of these three will thrive. You owe it to yourself, and your photography, to check these services out. Maybe one will appeal to your needs.
For the record, our Flickr Group is not going anywhere. Our Google+ Group, at this moment, is only intended as a compliment. Maybe if 500px or JPG offers groups, we might expand into those areas as well. If there’s one thing the Flickr debacle taught us, it’s that the tides change. I’ve learned not to keep all my eggs in one basket.