August 20, 2007

Flickr's Decision on Video. Good or Bad?

I have had a couple of conversations both online and offline around Flickr's possible addition of video to their service. Mostly, those I talk to want to tell me what an awful idea this is and how it will ruin the photo sharing service that has become quite popular. Now, let me say up front I don't know if Flickr's implementation of video will be a success or a failure or even if they are actually doing it. Providing web-based services is a very complex and challenging game. But I imagine if it fails those who said it was a bad idea will argue they tried to do too much and should have left it alone. However, the idea that Flickr shouldn't try new ideas such as video is just crazy to me. In fact, I suggest not doing it could be the death of the service.

If you know a little about how Flickr became the poster child of web2.o and social networking then you might know that they actually started as a online game developer. They had created an online game and were building a fairly passionate user base. However, they noticed that it was not generating enough revenue to sustain their employees for the long term. At some point they decided that they would use the remainder of their capital to develop a photo sharing site. However, it was not looked upon favorable by everyone and they actually had to take a vote on changing the direction of the company. (Please note, I listened to a podcast where one of the Flickr founders discussed these events and if any of the specific details are wrong, I am sorry, but generally this is how the story went.)

I'll bet those who think Flickr should stay away from video would have completely advised them against developing an online photography sharing site. They would have voted no and decided to keep things the same. "We've been doing games for a long time and that is what we do." They would say, "I don't think we should try something new at this point."

But as history has shown the Flickr team made the change, understanding that they knew how to engage users, executed the new plan, and made history.

Now, as part of Yahoo, they may be considering how to leverage that understanding of providing engaging and useful tools to people who want to share video on the web. Thus increasing their reach and providing a much needed service to a market desperate to get better online tools.

Now that said, if you as a user/person can't get excited about video and really can't stand the idea of an icon or button one your flickr page that says video or having to search images only to filter out the videos. Then yeah, it might be awful or ruined and as with all software, using it is a personal preference and you will have to make a decision on whether you want to use it or not.

I've got to believe that if Flickr implements a solution for video that is as useful and easy as their solution for photos it will be a huge success. I also wonder, if they don't innovate, continue to push the envelope, change directions, and continue to prove their value in the market, then someone else would come along, create a new awesome service that allows me to manage all my media online and I would start looking into how to transfer my 8000 images from Flickr to this new service that already houses my 400 videos. But that's just me ;)


  1. Lee -

    Firstly, good post. Secondly, where to begin?

    Is it fair to compare the relatively unsuccessful vaporware gaming application (that was basically just a test, anyway) to something of the capacity of Flickr today? I mean, if their gaming app would have been as successful enough to build their company, I don't know that the desire to create a photo sharing site would have presented itself. Since they needed to do something else, they did. And obviously, it worked well for them.

    I'm not saying I'm against video, I just don't think it should be incorporated into the existing Flickr interface. Yahoo! bought JumpCut, so why can't that be their new video interface? Why torment with something that is perfect and very successful? I'm not even opposed to Flickr Video, as long as it's Flickr Video at and not It needs to be separate. And what about some sort of mashup to integrate the two, instead of messing with their (in my opinion) most promising application (i.e., Flickr)?

    You know first hand from our work together, keeping it simple is often how to reach success. As a developer/designer, I can't help but think about what it would be like to mix in something that deserves it's own interface. And a video application definitely deserves its own interface. Design decisions will automatically become flawed because now there are two services, and their respective features, they have to take into account. Remember the original Learning Cast screen editor? It was functional, but what was wrong with it? It was terribly cluttered and tried to do too much. That was its downfall. Upscale that thought to the application level, and that's what I think will happen.

    Granted, I am biased toward photography over video, I do see your point(s). A lot of people view Flickr as just a place to store photos, and would like an integrated place to store videos, too. Most people I know who use Flickr have never even though of reading a discussion or joining a group. People who care enough to do that, care about how focused it remains. I look at Flickr as much more than photo storage, and so I'm naturally concerned about what will become of it. From my somewhat shallow experience in interface design, I know how overly complex things get when you add more and more and more.

    The web evolves, and things will change. I'm not trying to be close-minded about it, and they may indeed come up with an elegant solution to Flickr video, but until that day comes, I'll be skeptical.

  2. I think that it is important to reflect on that point in the business for the very reason that Flickr has so much capacity today. But they didn't know that then. So making the decision to change was a challenge. It is tough to argue that they "need" to build a video application, and again, it might be tough to hit a homerun the second time at the plate when you may not be as hungry.

    So our differences seem to be that you can't imagine them being able to integrate video into the existing interface without somehow subtracting from what they have now. And I would love to see them create a video service that makes me as happy as Flickr makes me now. Both could be possible through a separate site or an opt-in solution, but I doubt they would do that because they would want to capitalize on all there existing user base.

    I completely get your point, but I hope they do it. In a completely selfish vain, I hope I get an awesome video solution and you blog about how they just should have left it alone. OK, not really that last part. I hope you love it.

    By they way, thanks for the kind words and I have actually had this conversation with a few other people who COMPLETELY take your side on the issue.

  3. Well, my point-of-view is for completely selfish reasons, too. I can see both sides of it, and if a team or company has enough talent to make a great service like Flickr, it honestly may not be fair to say they shouldn't do that for those who like video, too. I think you stated it perfectly: if they can integrate video without subtracting from what they have now, it won't bother me.

    From my experience, most videos are for humor or random entertainment (a goofy David Hasselhoff video was featured on YouTube two days ago). That's the part that really bothers me. With Flickr now, the "interesting" section shows the amazing photos, not the goofy one's that people take. I'm afraid it may lose it's professional appeal, but hopefully not.

    And of course, it's much easier to stand on the side and say "don't do this, don't do that" and put on the "I know what's best" mask, but I honestly don't. It's just my opinion and I could turn out to be completely wrong. I'm sure it's going to happen either way, so we'll see.

  4. We'll have to remember to discuss it again after the service has been up for a month or so. It'll be fun.

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