The USS Quad Damage

Understanding the new Flickr

I talk about the new Flickr model and how it isn't quite how Flickr advertise it, nor is it quite how people are perceiving it.

It's not "extra space" -- Flickr would still have to provide that; rather a change of model.

People talk about Flickr as now being ad supported as opposed to freemium, and see the one terabyte disk space as a brand new feature, with the newer, more expensive offerings as sort of tacked on. However, I disagree, and think you need to think about it from Flickr’s perspective.

Flickr has always stored an indefinite amount of data: terabytes, even, but it has never shown you that it is doing so. Instead, the way this was mediated was with a small upload quota of 20-ish megs per month. There was no limit on image size, only on the quota. Also, Flickr would always keep an unlimited amount of pictures. However, if you didn’t go for the pro edition, you could only see 200 pictures. Then, whenever you went pro, your quota would become unlimited and you could see all your pictures, even the ones which went past the 200 picture limit when you were a “free” customer.

This has some problems for storage, namely that if a customer goes pro for a few months, uploads gigabytes, then goes back to free, you still have to keep all their data around indefinitely. However, most free customers would only use 20 megabytes a month and it would be ages before their data usage mattered.

I actually think this model worked best for Flickr’s community. I would only upload original images, which amounted to a handful a month, but I would be really careful when selecting which image went onto Flickr. The quota became a way of “managing” your photo uploads: high quality, consistent, slow drip. It was like This is my Jam but for pictures. It also made me an aspirational pro user. I could imagine when I wanted all my pics on flickr, or when I wanted to upload more than my 20 megs, or maybe people would start to buy my pictures and I would want all of them to be available.

However, when Flickr was bought by Yahoo, they really wanted MOAR PICTURES, which meant the limit was increased from 20 to 200 megs, but pushed the maximum quality way down. As you can imagine, this broke the model for the customers — the aspirational, self-curated community, but was just fine for Yahoo. However, Flickr was also keeping every single picture, the uploads were still unlimited, but the user was limited to seeing only 200 pictures.

In this light the new announcement makes sense. It’s not “extra space” — Flickr would still have to provide that; rather a change of model. The high quality uploads are back, but instead of unlimited space and limited upload bandwidth, instead we get a huge (but limited!) pot we can throw our pics in. It takes the aspirational pro user and makes them a free user. However, this is really a compromise, because Yahoo still want all your pictures. They want this to be a cloud storage facility for pictures, and they’ll pay for it with advertising.

However, they also know their customers well. Pro users would likely be whales. That is, they’d put a huge strain on the system but would also likely be willing to shell out a huge amount. This is why the prices have gone up. A lot of people who want the old Flickr back actually want the aspirational model back. They’re not paying customers, but still want to become those paying customers with unlimited everything, and have that shelter as slowly uploading curated people.

In the end, Yahoo will probably do well from this. However, the Flickr we all know and love, where professional photographers mingled with people working on their art — the true community of Flickr, is gone. I don’t know if people will treat Flickr like they treat GMail, but if so, good on Flickr for knowing what works.