In defence of Flickr

On hearing the news that Marissa Mayer was taking over at Yahoo, some people's thoughts immediately turned to Flickr.

Please make Flickr awesome again, they pleaded on a one-page website that swept across Twitter.

That's the wrong message. I imagine the people working so hard to maintain and build Flickr felt quite insulted by that. They recovered well today, it's true, but still: I'd have felt insulted in their shoes.

The thing with Flickr (and I say this as a declared Flickr lover) isn't that it is no longer awesome (because it most definitely is), but that it is no longer fashionable.

The web has matured a lot in recent years, to the point where websites have become brands. Brands that can advertise and market themselves, brands that work hard to influence the minds of the younger internet users. The brands want to lure people in with the promise of free stuff and social networks, in return for personal information. Which of course, having grown up with Facebook, many of today's teens and 20-somethings are perfectly happy to give away.

I know I probably sound like a moaning old grandad at this point, but: Flickr has never been like that. It offered a service, in exchange for money. That's a tried and tested way of doing things. It worked very well before the internet came along, and there's no reason why it shouldn't continue to work now.

And what a service it offers. Flickr remains, in my opinion, a superlative community for photographers. Primarily because it puts photography first.

It does this by making the photo the primary content unit, and allowing it to be presented in many different ways. When you upload a photo to Flickr, it sits in your photostream by default. You can add it to a set if you wish, giving you a means of creating something analogous to a traditional photo album.

But there's so much more you can do with any one photo. Add it to a Gallery. Add it to a Group. Add it to half a dozen Groups. Groups are a fantastic concept, because they allow the community to curate themed content in a manner that no single person could ever hope to achieve. Groups can (and do) cater for almost every kind of interest you could hope to imagine. Anyone can create one. They can be private or public.

More: browse by tag (your own or globally), or by location. Join discussions, in which it's easy to embed the photos you're all there to discuss.

Some people (a minority, I think) seem to think that Flickr is a contest - that if your images aren't on Explore, they're worth nothing. I disagree. I ignore the Explore section, because I don't need it. What Flickr helps me do is connect with the people whose photos I'm interested in. It helps me find new acquaintances who might share my aesthetic taste, or who happen to own the same camera or lens. It helps me stay in touch with photographers who live near me, and helps us arrange meetings, exhibitions, and photography challenges.

For all of this (and much more), I am charged £25 for two years. That's a bargain. I'll repeat: Flickr is a service that I pay for. Almost all younger websites spurn the idea of charging a fee for anything, and perhaps that's a great idea for some of them. But it isn't always going to work for everyone. Charging a fee creates a contract, a relationship. Flickr says: "You pay us money, and we will give you a useful space to do cool things with your photos."

The relationship offered by Facebook (which is one place many people turn to for photo storage these days) is different. Facebook says: "Give us your photos! We'll look after them, we promise. Oh and, since you said you liked ChocoSnacks, we're going to show other people an advert that uses a photo of you and a link to ChocoSnacks. Cool? Cool."

I know which of those relationships I would rather have.

Flickr costs money, which makes it less fashionable than sites that claim to offer more for nothing. But to me, Flickr is the better choice. It has never stopped being awesome.

Long may its awesomeness continue.