cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by larskflem

Has the [quasi] exodus from Instagram to flickr already faded? After what future students of business may use in a case study of corporate idiocracy over their not so friendly terms of service. Reports suggested Instagram lost 25% of their users, but as noted by the New York Times, that data is based on users connected to Facebook, and that the big drop is reflected across many social media apps– because people are busy Christmas shopping or traveling (? really that activity seems prime for Instagramming).

And actually, if you take Google trends at face value, Instagram is still “hot”

It was rather interesting timing that flickr’s new mobile app came out at the same time as the Instagram’s TOS-gate scandal. There was a lot of fawning that the new flickr app had made headway on the huge Instagram audience by having more ease of use for posting mobile photos and filters.

Is that all?

Now the danger of wading in here is the human characteristic of generalizing to all the experience of one. I am more than guilty of that. You have a bad service experience with a company, then it becomes a broad brush applied to everyone and the obvious conclusion is that “MegaCorp sucks” or “MegaCorp #Fail” (I might interject that the one case this is always true os in reference to AT&T) (see, I just did it).

But the point is, we look at how we use a technology or a site or a service and frame it around our own experiences. We cannot avoid this, we do reside in the perspective of our own experiences.

Keep that in mind as I generalize my experience with photography and apps to everyone. Sue me.

I have enjoyed using Instagram over he past year, yet have not quite put my finger on the why. It was always a secondary focus for my photography, as I do my oen Daily Photo project, compulsivel organize my photos in Aperture, post my better ones to my own photo gallery site.

I played with Instagram almost solely for the throwaway pics, photos of food, or weird signs, more ephemera. I actually do not use either mobile apps to take the photos; I always use the iPhone camera, and often crop/edit in tools like PhotoGene or more recently, Snapseed. I still cannot isolate the decision patterns, but there was a somewhat strand of “this would be good on Instagram”.

And I agree with others who said that it kind fo felt smaller in a way, one did not have large numbers of contacts swimming in the same place like mainstream social media.

So I did not have this thing of “migrating to flickr” because my photography was already there, and also, I do not contain all of my output to any single entity. And therefore I am not ready to say one service is the “right” one; nor is there a reason one has to make that kind of commitment. They are similar and different in key ways (for me).

But I am excited and pleased with the new flickr app. I have used the old one for a while, and pretty much accepted its limits and crude features, but in the long run, it was more reliable than the other batch of upload apps I had tried.

I am not here to extoll features, well I will take a few. To me, the most exciting feature is the interesting interface they have crafted for viewing your contacts photos. Keep in min that for Instragram, all streams are linear. You scroll through photos chronologically, but it is one dimensional (you can swipe right to comment on a photo):


Now this worked not badly, you got a mix of photos depending on your contacts (though any one person who posted 10 photos in a row of their kid falling off the swing could make you groan, but it was in a way, interesting to swipe through a stream.

But what flickr has done, is slick. It is actually a dimensional view of the photos of your contacts (or comparable, looking at your groups). You scroll vertically so glance at people who are contacts, but scroll horizontally to see one person’s photo stream:


It is one click to go to a person’s photo to comment (and from there you can also swipe horizontally through their stream), but one return click to go right back to the contacts view, and it keeps everything as you left it.

I have found this greatly simplifies the process of commenting on photos from people I follow in flickr, it is actually way more efficient than the web site. This is where mobile design works well. It truly takes advantage of the gestural interface.

But if you want, you can go to a more directly flow; I find the layouts of different sizes more interesting than the universally square dimensions of all Instagram photos:


I found it interesting as well to compare your own activity streams. In Instagram it is sequential, and it foregrounds the message, comment, like, -notice how small the icon is for the photo it is connected with:


It is not bad, and it foregrounds Instagram’s focus on the social-ness. it is completely chronological. In flickr, the photo gets more emphasis over comments and favorites:


It actually accomplishes the same thing, and I am sure the flickr approach may work less for folks that want to see a lot of status updates.

Now I have to pause and bring up the idea of “Likes”. I, who spends little time in Facebook, pretty much abhor “likes”, I don;t like “likes” – to me they are cheap, tiny low meaning tokens. The very reason people “like” them, that they are easy to do, so me is the problem. If it takes little effort, if you can “like” 40 things in an hour, does it really say much? If there is such minimal effort ro register an opinion, is it really….?

Frankly, when you “like” my photo, what I hear is “I am making this quick token gesture, it is really not worth it to take 30 seconds to type a real message.” I really cannot stomach the idea that people are too “busy” “liking” to actually register even the smallest of comments, the idea usually in that is “too much work” (excuse me while I gag on my beets).


Likes are lazy.

And now, I admit that in Instagram, I have “liked” quite a few photos. It’s kind of addictive, like small pieces of candy you gobble from a bowl. That taste good but have no nutritional value.

I have enjoyed bantering Cole Camplese on this over in his blog — notice that in the “like” space, our conversation might go like this:


“Don’t Like”


“Don’t Like!!!”



Pretty useful, eh?

The thing I don’t like is Cole’s assertion that flickr needs to meet what he infers as some accpeted social media norm:

My real question relates to more of how people will push the current feature set of flickr to bend to meet existing expectations

And my thought is that the greatest designers were not people who made what people thought they wanted, or as Henry Ford so aptly said:

“If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”

In this case, flickr has a similar feature of “favorites” which ost people, like me, have used to mark photos of others they might want to come back to, like bookmarks. It’s a different mindset than “likes”, but the action is the same, and it may happen that favorites become “likes” — but that is something that people’s usage patterns should force (e.g. the less on twitter adopting “@” and “#”) then it be coded in my the app developers.

And they have already suggested new meaning for favoriting by making it as easy as a double tab on a photo.

But here is a question for Instagrammers.

Open up your app.

Now find me all of the photos you have “liked”.

Don’t worry, I will wait a while.

You see, flickr is a more robust architecture, so its quite easy for me to find my favorites– because they actually have more value to me than just stuff I might have “liked”


And flickr, being built around photos, gives you a lot more information, meta data, tags, groups, sets, for each image.


the most important differemce? Check out the “Edit” button. YOu can modify a photo’s title, caption, tags, etc.

No open up Instagram and try to edit a photo.

Now, I know the answer here, Instagram grew popular because it is a simpler, more basic app. To me that is fine at first, but in the long run? There’s not room to do much more than the basic functionality that everyone does.

Wow, I have gone down the route of feature chomping. Now let me list the things I don;t like about the flickr app:

  • There is absolutely no way to get the URL of a photo, like if I want to copy to my notes, to maybe a blog post I might compose in the WordPress app. When you use the Share options to email or tweet, it obscures the URL from you. This is how you have to do it email the photo to yourself, open the email, click the picture, go to the web, copy URL… flickr you can do better.
  • I get notifications when other people commented in a photo I have commented on, but I cannot find any way to get to that comment. Or I am missing it. Not killer, but annoying.
  • The search button is buried.
  • Worse, there is no option in search to limit results to creative commons.

I’ve pretty much retired Instagram, I am not madly deleting my account and leaving angry notes, I am just relegating it to the equivalent of the back of the closet.

You can dismiss as a flickr fan boy.

I have no qualms about expressing a Public Display of Flickr Affection. I do not assert that flickr is better for your photographic strategy, I assert that for me.

cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by jm3

I care about way more than one being “the place where everybody is at” – way more than likes or filters, I am wanting people to go beyond apps and tools to the act of creating interesting photos themselves. And what works for me may not be what works best for you.

And that is O-K. I can like that (a lot, no quotes, the general kind of affirming like).

If this kind of stuff has any value, please support me monthly on Patreon or a one time PayPal kibble toss
Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. I’ve enjoyed instagram in a throwaway fashion. But the really wonderful think about flickr is the API and creative commons features. Hope the mobile app refresh is just the start of a flcikr comeback.

  2. I’ve been trying to get into some other apps since the Instagram wake up call … primarily the new flickr app and experimenting with various film and lens packs in hipstamatic. One thing I should say is that most of the photos I took with Instagram that *I* liked also got auto posted to my flickr pro account. Here’s the rub, the views on those photos were in the single digits. The reasons are plenty — I’m not a good photographer, my pictures don’t warrant eyeballs, my network is small(ish) there, etc — but my bet is that my other embedded social networks didn’t point people to them. When Instagram would tweet about a photo I took and posted it linked to the Instagram version, not the flickr version. I have my own personal repository in flickr and Aperture, but as you point out, most of the conversation around my photos end up trapped in the Instagram world.

    I chose the word conversation purposefully there. I still contend, that while “likes” are cheap, they are an example of the new types of conversations that are happening online.

    I don’t need, or want, flickr to bend its design to please people who are used to pressing a like button. On the contrary, I am wondering if the same type of thing that happened with the evolution of twitter will happen on flickr — twitter didn’t design the @ or the # as part of the service … we did, and it stuck. That is interesting — a service and its designers knowing that they don’t know everything and allowing their product to be flexible enough to meet the changing needs of its community of users.

    I do “like” that flickr finally decided to take mobile photography seriously and released a redesigned app. I bet even without the Instagram stuff many of us would be spending a lot more time with the new flickr app.

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful informative comparison. I was considering using fllickr or something other than Instagram for my second attempt at #365project. Your post has convinced me to try new Flickr App.

  4. Interesting that we have had such parallel experiences with these two photo apps and have come to similar conclusions. Instagram also has a limited number of interesting filters. I use Magic Hour for photo filters because users are constantly adding new filters. I have a crazy collection of favs that are my go-to photo filts. I am unashamedly in love with running photos through multiple apps for increasingly cool effects.

    I manage them in flickr becaus it is easy to move photos between devices.

    Okay, I’m thinking of using Tumblr for my poetry writing class next term (yes, it is really quite peculiar, but I have a masters degree…in POETRY!). I find teaching blogs takes up a lot of air time in my ten week classes, and as I want students to post images and poetry, Tumblr seems like a good choice. Any thoughts?

  5. Great post, thank you. I’m a Flickr user mostly on iPhone & iPad when out and about. FlickStacker is my all time favorite app, it covers those frustrating issues with the Flickr app. PhotoSync is another favorite, way faster to upload images.

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