Time for a Flickr-Yahoo Divorce

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Disclaimer: I’m a huge Flickr fan.

Why? To start, it’s a photo-sharing service that works extremely well. It features a large and passionate community, and it has a well-known and respected brand. (It also doesn’t hurt that Flickr has Canadian roots!)

But Flickr has the potential to be so much more – more innovative, more creative, more flexible, and – excuse my grammar – more better.

Let’s be honest, since Flickr was acquired by Yahoo for a reported $50-million in 2005, it’s been pretty much the same old, same old. Sure, there are some new features such as Flickr Places (which, by the way, are buried deep in the service), new editing tools through a deal with Picnik, and a new and, well, new logo tagline – “Flickr Loves You”.

But when you’re the world’s leading photo-sharing service, it doesn’t mean you can’t push the envelope and be strategically aggressive.

One of the big problems with Flickr is the role it’s now playing. Within the Yahoo empire, Flickr’s main function seems to be its ability to simply generate traffic. That’s fine but, frankly, Yahoo is simply leveraging the same attributes Flickr had three years ago – a strong brand, enthusiastic community, and a good service – to pull off the traffic trick.

Okay but boring.

In an ideal world, Flickr needs to be a different beast. It needs to attract more traffic with exciting new services. It needs to jump-start its employees and community by rolling out new and innovative premium services so Flickr can become more of a business (nothing like trying to make some money to give everyone a reason to wake up in the morning!).

With the future of Yahoo now up in the air, maybe it’s time to think about whether it’s time for Flickr to be spun off or sold….or something. For Flickr to regain its mojo, it needs a fresh start and the freedom to be, well, Flickr again.

It could be a matter of letting Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake, Flickr’s co-founders, to take the reins again. Or maybe Flickr should be sold to a company focused on digital photography and photographers. Can you imagine what Flickr would look like if SmugMug, for example, was allowed to run it? (Not withstanding SM’s recent privacy troubles.)

Or perhaps it’s time for a Flickr IPO. Surely, there will be lots of investor interest in a company with millions of users, a great brand and huge potential to grow the business.

For more thoughts on Flickr, check out CNet’s Gordon Haff, who wonders if Microsoft’s bid for Yahoo will be a threat or savior for Flickr.

Update: According to Hitwise (via Techcrunch), poor people use Yahoo while those who are better off use Google.

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  • /pd

    “Can you imagine what Flickr would look like if SmugMug, for example, was allowed to run it?”

    Eh ??? do you remember this ??

  • Venu

    I for one signed up for flickr expecting a good photo sharing service
    But off late, the service has so many issues.
    1. Flickr sometimes becomes so slow and so unusable and in the forums the support staff seem to blame the ISP
    2. The new uploadr is not working for so many people (I guess its one of the ways of reducing load on their servers)

  • Mark Evans

    You’re right.

    I guess what I meant was having people who were passionate about community and photographs/photographers.

  • Daniel Gibbons

    I love Flickr, too. After almost half a decade it remains for me the best of all the web 2.0 sites.

    The difficulty is that by all accounts Flickr loses money as a stand-alone business and opportunities for monetization beyond the existing Pro accounts, photo albums, etc. aren’t clear. The user base would almost certainly not tolerate heavy advertising across most pages, so its value is the passionate user base, but those users are most valuable when they complement and drive traffic to other web properties.

    So perhaps Flickr’s value *is* greatest when it is part of a larger portfolio of web properties — it could be that Yahoo! is simply the wrong home. Y could probably sell Flickr for a massive premium over the original acquisition price (which I think was $30-$35MM, not $50MM), and I’m sure there would be a long line of suitors. Imagine a Facebook / Flickr combination, for example.

  • Mark Evans

    Daniel: Good insight. My take is there is more room for Flickr to monetize operations IF it has to do it. You have to believe that users wouldn’t object to advertising that was relevant.

  • Robert

    Mark you have hit the nail on the head once again. I would hate to see what happens if Yahoo is purchased and taken over. But I think Flickr is a great service I have been really enjoying it.

    But watchout for Facebook, their terms of service says they have the right to use any photo uploaded for anything they see fit. But Flickr says you keep all rights and they have no right to any of it. Which is why Flickr apeals so much to photographer who love to keep their own work and make a living from it.

  • Shaun Rotman

    I agree that Flickr needs a bit of a makeover, but not a complete overhaul.

    You point out that Flickr employees need a reason to go to work in the morning, but aren’t there tons of paying Pro account customers to attend to? I know I’m a happy one.

    I think Flickr has done more to create itself as a “VIP”-like club than a more integrated solution. It’s like they’re the “Mac” of the “Mac vs. PC” fan-boy war in regard to photo sharing sites. Die hard fan base but the average person couldn’t really care less and uses what comes to them easiest. I didn’t even know about their partnership with Picnic until reading it here, but now that Facebook has eclipsed Flickr as the largest database of photos, why not make a Flickr Facebook app? I would LOVE to be able to tag my friends in all of my Flickr pics rather than selecting my “favourite” ones and having to re-upload them to Facebook as I am doing right now.

    Also, Arrington posted back in the summer that Flickr would be adding video to its bill of services ( If you ask me, once they add that to their game, they’re going to be a surefire knockout!

  • Mark Evans

    Shaun: The fact Flickr hasn’t jumped into video yet illustrates why Flickr seems to be strategically stalled. I mean, video is the big thing these days but Flickr hasn’t capitalized on its brand to establish a foothold. Perhaps Flickr wants to stay true to its photo roots but branching into video is not a strategic reach.