Neil Turner's Blog

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Flickr’s new version 3.0 app

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Screenshot of version 3.0 of the Flickr app on the iPhoneLast week, Flickr launched version 3.0 of its apps for iPhone and Android. It builds upon version 2.0, which was a complete rewrite of its previously lacklustre app, that was released in December 2012. Since then, the web version of Flickr went under a complete redesign and all users were allowed to upload up to one terabyte of photos, beating just about every other photo site out there.

Whilst version 2.0 of the app was very well received, last year’s redesign was controversial (and it has recently changed again since). And this version 3.0 will also be controversial.

Firstly, the good bits

Yahoo! has been busy re-designing its apps over the past year or so, and this design aesthetic has now come to Flickr. This is no bad thing as the app looks gorgeous, and feels right at home on iOS 7. Lots of use of blurred transparency makes it a joy to use – and it’s quick and responsive too. And there are nice little touches like the animation for pull to refresh on the home and profile pages.

It’s also been simplified. The ‘Explore’ and ‘Other’ tabs are gone, for example, with the functions of the fifth tab rolled into the third tab which shows your profile. ‘Explore’ is now the compass which is shown when the home screen is dragged down, along with a search bar.

Terminology has also been simplified. Rather than placing photos in ‘sets’ as before, they’re now called ‘albums’ which more people will understand. ‘Sets’ is a bit mathematical and whilst I assume that it was given that name to show that a given photo can be in multiple sets, ‘albums’ are more widely understood. In any case, they work the same way, despite the name change.

One major new feature is that the app can automatically upload all of the photos on your phone’s camera roll to Flickr. They’re set to private, so that only you can view them, until you want to make them public. This in the same way as Google+ already does.

And what’s missing

I mentioned simplification, and whilst it is mostly welcome and makes Flickr easier to use for those not so familiar with it, it has been done at the expense of some features. For example, when you upload a photo from the app, you can give it a name, a location, add it to one or more albums, set whether it’s public or private and whether you want to share it to Twitter, Facebook, or Yahoo!’s own Tumblr. But at no point, in the app at least, will you be able to add tags, send it to a group, or even provide a description. Indeed, if you view a photo that has a description that has been added on the web site, it’ll show as a comment on the photo by you.

Update: Since I wrote this blog post earlier this week, Flickr has released a 3.0.1 update which re-adds the ability to send a photo to a group.

These are big changes and I’m not so sure if I like them. Whilst the mobile app probably isn’t the best place to add long descriptions, being able to full describe photos is important to me – particularly when it comes to having those photos turn up in relevant web searches. And ‘folksonomic’ tagging was one of the things that defined Flickr in the early days, so to see this effectively removed from the app is a worry (although it will convert each word in the title into a tag). Similarly, submitting your photos to groups is one of the best ways of getting your photos noticed by other users, and is a major part of the community aspect of Flickr.

Flickr imitating Instagram

But fundamentally, these changes worry me because it seems like Flickr is trying to become more like Instagram. Instagram doesn’t have descriptions for its photos, and focuses on a single stream of photos, which is now front and centre in Flickr’s new app. If it weren’t for Flickr retaining the ability to add photos to albums, then it would, in effect, be no different than Instagram. Sure, Instagram is still wildly popular in spite of its acquisition by Facebook and it screwing up its terms of use (later revoked), but just trying to clone it will most likely annoy old school users like me who have been there for almost a decade.

I accept the fact that sometimes services need to change or pivot to survive. Indeed, Flickr itself is a great example – it was originally part of an online game called Game Neverending, and ended up being a photo sharing service in its own right, with the game eventually being shut down. But there are those that have invested a lot of time and effort in establishing communities and huge portfolios of photos over the years, and who have paying for the privilege. They have stuck with Flickr throughout the years when it seemed like it was being merely maintained in a solid state with no improvements. They want Flickr to be great again. They don’t want it to morph into an imitation of a rival which overtook it. Flickr needs to keep these people on side.

I hope that a version 3.1 update comes soon that adds back some of the features that were dropped, but we’ll see what happens. In the meantime, you can download the app for Android, or iPhone and iPod Touch (iOS 7 required). It’s still not available as an iPad-optimised app, sadly.

One Comment

  1. Heh, I recognize that photo.

    Like you I’m a long time user of Flickr, 2004 for me, and I love the changes they’ve made to the site in the last 12 months. From reading the forums it seems I’m definitely in the minority mind you. The site had sat stagnent for some time and I think a new lease of life has been given to it.

    With the 3.0.1 update I’m happy with the mobile app again. Being able to add photos to groups is a key feature. Personally I never use the description field so haven’t really missed that. Overall the app is very very polished and they did a great job.

    I totally see your point about the stream now being very instagrammy. I imagine there was some measure of “well, instagram ate our lunch at mobile and plenty of people like their stream view so let’s copy what’s popular” at their design meeting.

    After using 3.0 for a bit I must say that I do prefer the 2.0 stream view that listed those you follow who’ve uploaded something new and then you can swipe right to see the actual pics.

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