Flickr releases a major update tomorrow but they still don't get social networking

Flickr are releasing a major overhaul to their platform tomorrow centred around improving how photos from your friends are displayed. The problem is their whole approach to friends needs an overhaul, not just a facelift. I love Flickr and have discovered many inspirational and highly talented photographers through their site, but they don't make it easy for me. Yes, they do have groups and Explore ( I have made my opinion clear several times before on the latter and other algorithms, so won't again now).  The problem for me, is that the team at Flickr seem to fail to understand (or refuse to acknowledge) even the most fundamental principles of social networking.

Social Networking, at its core, is about friendships and personal connections. Although this update is an improvement to this area, it is still hugely underplayed and Flickr are missing out on a huge potential. I know Flickr is not a social network, it came along before all of that, but it's core purpose is to share photos. Flickr's whole approach to sharing, is about self promotion. This is too user centred and they need to make it easier for you to share other's photos. This is the very reason why Flickr photos don't go viral on Flickr. There is no mechanism for images to propagate.

Here is what I believe Flickr should focus on and why:

1. Friend feed

The friends that we connect with on Flickr are either photographers we like or "real life" friends, so it is not unreasonable to think we might be interested not only in what they upload but also the photographs that they like and comment on. Flickr should do away with the current activity feed that has limited purpose and focus more on your friends activity. This will benefit users, as it helps build relationships and networks as well as discover new images through our friends. Flickr also benefits as it increases engagement and user interaction on the site and in turn Flickr's value to its users.


2. Facebook and Twitter integration

Currently Flickr would consider itself integrated with Facebook, which is designed around you uploading pictures and Flickr announcing this to your friends. It would be far more socially interactive, if it also shared photos we favourite and/or comment on. There are some great photos out there and if we chose to favourite or comment on them, there is a good chance that our friends on Facebook and Twitter will like them too. This benefits Flickr's users again by increasing the network value of the platform. Flickr benefit massively, as it brings extra traffic to their site.


3. Better User profiles

The current user profiles are okay but it would be great to have more prominence on photo and stream pages. If we like a photograph, we often want to know who it is by. We may want to find out if they have a blog, Facebook or twitter account that we can follow  or if we have any friends in common. This would help users find new friends. Flickr can only benefit from this increased engagement on the site.


4. Clearer and easier user to user messaging

You may be shocked to know that Flickr already has user to user messaging. They do, honestly, it is just well hidden. It would be better if this was clearer on all profile pages and then re-organised so that messages show the full transcript. The current messaging in Flickr is so poor that I often resort to email or Facebook. Better messaging would prevent users leaving the site when they want to message each other and once again increase engagement. Win all round.


5.  Password protected sets

Sharing pictures to a select group of friends of family is not easy without making those pictures public. You can create a private set, but it involves setting all the images in that set to private and then finding the share URL that allows anyone with the URL to see the set. A far simpler and elegant solution would be for Flickr to allow users to password protect a set. That set could then be accessed by anyone with the password and you have the option of revoking access by changing the password. This would make Flickr more attractive to professionals that need to securely and privately share images with their clients.


6. Print Fulfilment

A lot of photographers would love to be able to sell their work directly from their Flickr page. Both users and Flickr could benefit from this financially and this also incentivises the user to market their own Flickr pages, bringing more fresh users to Flickr.


I am sure there are people at Flickr that recognise the potential that features like this could add. I don't suspect we will see any big changes soon but at least tomorrow's update is a step (albeit small) in the right direction.