Sometimes when a company is bought by a big corporation, you can’t really tell the difference. People said a lot of negative things about how sad it was when Ben and Jerrys sold out, but, I couldn’t tell the difference. I like ice cream but not enough to buy it and keep it at home. When I was in my twenties, I liked having Cherry Garcia around the house, but we haven’t had ice cream around for a long time.
So what happened to Flickr? It used to be this really cool site where you could find photos and art work to use for book covers. I spent hours perusing Flickr. But then, it was sold to Yahoo, and now it’s not a useable site. You can’t find anything on it; it’s completely useless. That’s what happens when a big corporation comes to take over. What used to be easy and helpful is now just like reading a dictionary. You could, but do you want to?
Anything that is small can be crushed.
Here’s the story of what went wrong with Flickr.
Web startups are made out of two things: people and code. The people make the code, and the code makes the people rich. Code is like a poem; it has to follow certain structural requirements, and yet out of that structure can come art. But code is art that does something. It is the assembly of something brand new from nothing but an idea.
This is the story of a wonderful idea. Something that had never been done before, a moment of change that shaped the Internet we know today. This is the story of Flickr. And how Yahoo bought it and murdered it and screwed itself out of relevance along the way.
Do you remember Flickr’s tag line? It reads “almost certainly the best online photo management and sharing application in the world.” It was an epic humble brag, a momentously tongue in cheek understatement.
Because until three years ago, of course Flickr was the best photo sharing service in the world. Nothing else could touch it. If you cared about digital photography, or wanted to share photos with friends, you were on Flickr.
Yet today, that tagline simply sounds like delusional posturing. The photo service that was once poised to take on the the world has now become an afterthought. Want to share photos on the Web? That’s what Facebook is for. Want to look at the pictures your friends are snapping on the go? Fire up Instagram.
Even the notion of Flickr as an archive—as the place where you store all your photos as a backup—is becoming increasingly quaint as Dropbox, Microsoft, Google, Box.net, Amazon, Apple, and a host of others scramble to serve online gigs to our hungry desktops.
The site that once had the best social tools, the most vibrant userbase, and toppest-notch storage is rapidly passing into the irrelevance of abandonment. Its once bustling community now feels like an exurban neighborhood rocked by a housing crisis. Yards gone to seed. Rusting bikes in the front yard. Tattered flags. At address, after address, after address, no one is home.
It is a case study of what can go wrong when a nimble, innovative startup gets gobbled up by a behemoth that doesn’t share its values. What happened to Flickr? The same thing that happened to so many other nimble, innovative startups who sold out for dollars and bandwidth: Yahoo.
Here’s how it all went bad.
I miss Flickr, now I’m back to meandering Google to find book covers. It’s a wilderness out there.