Flickr needs more than a facelift to return to former glory

Yahoo-owner Flickr has undergone reconstructive surgery and will emerge, in a week, with a new-and-improved face and a mission to recapture the glory of its youth. But even the best plastic surgery will do little to help the aging photo service compete with a new crop of vibrant photo-sharing applications.

Flickr’s makeover, as first detailed by BetaBeat, will feature a more colorful photo view that eliminates most of the whitespace members are currently accustomed to, and will soon include a new photo upload page that looks and functions radically different from today’s upload page.

“The product is going to change significantly, and the user experience is going to change significantly over the course of the year,” Flickr senior product manager Markus Spiering told VentureBeat.

Just don’t expect these significant changes to happen overnight. The first improvements, as explained by Spiering, will first start appearing next week. Flickr will introduce the new Contacts page, pictured above, on Feb. 28 and will roll out the upload page to users some time in March. Additional changes, not yet divulged, are slated for later release in 2012.

“Suddenly the photos look more than four times their current size and lie neatly justified on the page, somehow jigsawing together without cropping or changing the order in which they appear,” BetaBeat’s Adrianne Jeffries said of the new photo view.

If the screenshots are any indication, the fresh-faced Flickr will delight those with a penchant for a vivid photographic experience. The facelift, however, will do little to cajole today’s mobile photo-sharer to give the aging service a second look.

In 2005, Yahoo acquired the beloved photo-sharing community. And while Flickr has continued to operate with a personality distinct from its owners, it has languished as photo-sharing, especially by way of mobile devices, has thrived.

Instagram, an iPhone-only application with photo-enhancing features and filters, has captured the imagination of the iPhoneography community, which includes professional and amateur photographers alike. The service is tailored around expeditious sharing via mobile device and has successfully encroached on Flickr’s domain while Flickr sluggishly embraced the mobile movement.

Professional photographers, the audience most likely to pay for Flickr Pro accounts, also seem to be happily exploring their options. 500px has emerged as a vibrant community tailored around the professional, and even Google+’s photo features have gained photographer-appeal.

But Facebook is still Flickr’s most agile competitor. The social network has a mainstream audience that posts 250 million photos per day and is happily doing so without paying annual fees for the privilege. Flickr continues to see a substantial quantity of photos posted to its site each day — 3.5 million photos, Spiering said — but it is dwarfed by Facebook.

Without a time machine on hand, Flickr’s best chance for a return to glory will be under Spiering’s leadership. Spiering took over as head of product roughly one year ago and has talked openly about 2012 being an important year for Flickr.

Influential photographer Thomas Hawk, a big proponent of Google+, is impressed with the pending Flickr changes and believes that Spiering is the right man to spearhead a Flickr turnaround.

“It’s super positive to see innovation coming out of Flickr,” Hawk told VentureBeat. “I think Markus Spiering is turning out to be a pretty positive thing for Flickr.”

Flickr, as Hawk sees it, has needed a redesign for years, and Hawk thinks that a page focused on better photos will go a long way to encourage more activity.

“Hopefully, though, Flickr uses this redesign as a first step in a bigger overhaul that actually addresses site functionality in even bigger and more meaningful ways,” Hawk added.

This post was updated with statements and photos from Yahoo.


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