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If you’ve been near Flickr in the last couple of days then, assuming you’re familiar with how it looked a week ago, you’ve probably noticed that it’s changed quite a bit. Like anything that changes on the internet this has been wildly unpopular with a large number of people, with frankly unacceptable levels of abuse directed at Flickr, their staff, Yahoo’s CEO and anybody who disagrees that change is bad. Inevitably a number of “petitions” sprang up demanding that the changes be reversed. This happens any time anything changes on Flickr, and as far as I’m aware not once has it made a blind bit of difference. The current official “feedback” thread has racked up 18,000 posts in 2 days, most of it hostile, and also unlikely to make any substantial difference.

photostream

My personal view is that the changes were overdue, the old layout was looking quite dated, and the last attempt to redesign the photo pages wasn’t entirely successful. However, overall I’m fairly ambivalent about the new look – some bits of it I like, but there are many things wrong with it. I posted my thoughts in the feedback thread, but as they have since drowned in a sea of digital bile, I thought I would also post something here.

Starting with the photostream, which is what what most people would see if I sent them a link to my photos, the new design introduces a full width view, with a customisable “cover photo” banner and below that a scrolling justified view of all your photos. As you scroll down it loads more photos as you go, up to a limit of 200 which is the same as clicking through 11 pages or so of the previous layout. The photos are separated only by about 10 pixels and unless you hover over one with a mouse there are no titles or other text visible.

I quite like the minimal nature of the new look, but I have reservations. I think the “cover photo” is a little pointless, as it’s a very awkward aspect ratio to crop an exisiting image to if you want to use something representative of your work. Also you can only choose from your most recent 200 images, so even if you had the perfect image somewhere in your archive, you might have to re-upload it to actually use it as your banner.

Also I think the justified view diminishes the impact of vertical and even square format photographs, at the expense of horizontal shots. For example in the screen capture above, the most recent four photos are all the same 6×9 format, but the two vertical shots appear half the size of the horizontal ones int he new layout, and the most recent shot seems hidden away in a corner. On a practical note I also feel 200 photos is too many for a single page; not everybody has a fast internet connection with unlimited bandwidth, or a speedy machine to browse on.

The new view also makes it much harder for me to see what photos have received views, faves and comments. The recent activity page (unchanged for now) only shows comments or faves, and hovering over a photo only shows comments. The old view (which can partly be accessed by the edit option on your own photostream) showed at a glance all that, plus the number of views. Another thing I miss is the ability to display some featured sets on the right hand side, which I think were more likely to be investigated by a casual browser than a button labelled “Sets”.

sets
So, on to the new sets pages. On the main page we have nice big square thumbnails, which is good. But for some reason they’ve arbitrarily zoomed in and cropped a portion of the thumbnail, which works for some, but mostly just looks a bit sloppy. The “Birds” set for example now shows only half a sparrow, and many other sets show the main subject cut off.

On individual sets pages we again see the justified view, for which my comments above apply, although few of my sets are large enough for the scrolling to be annoying. What’s diffrent on the sets page is that the descriptions – some of which I have put a good deal of effort into – are casually discarded by the new layout. Across the top banner you might see 100 charcters or so from the description, and if you hover over that you can read the full thing, but all HTML tags are ignored and just rendered as plain text, thereby losing formatting, and breaking links. The full thing is visible, for now, if someone leaves a comment on the set, but that’s not obvious.

photo
Photo pages have also received a makeover – now we get most of the browser filled with a black background and a large photograph. Again this is okay, but all the extra information, including description must now be scrolled to view, and when you get there the two- or three-column layout (depending on browser width) is, in my view at least, messy and is also missing features that were present before.

Some is just now hidden by default – including basic EXIF data – which they specifically added less than a year ago. And some have vanished – the mini map is missing, although if a photo doesn’t have a location they’ll prompt you to add it to your map in two different places. The “Actions” button has moved from top-left to botttom right and has no tooltip, so is not very obvious. Also it open a menu upwards only, so you have to be scrolled to the top of the page to access some entries.

I suspect some of these things might get addressed over time – they’ve already fixed the removal of the ability to delete a tag from a photo without going to the “edit title/tags/dates” page via the actions menu. I’m ot expecting much to change on the layout side though.

For this roundup I’ve been saving the worst until last. The new home page is, for me anyway, a real mess. I used to use it to keep up with recent activity primarily, and secondarily to catch upon contacts photos. I had some control over what I viewed on it. Now however, there is just one big infinitely scrolling feed on the left, in which activity on my photographs is impossible to spot because it is dwarfed by the size of photos in the feed from my contacts. As you scroll down, the items on the right hand side jump up and down as you get to the end of the page, and it then loads more photos. This is both quite annoying, and bad design, since it is now impossible to get to any of the links in the footer, when you’re on the flickr home page. Really, if you’re using true infinite scroll, you shouldn’t have a footer at all.

So that’s a long list of things wrong with the new Flickr but, if I’m honest, probably nothing I can’t live with or at worst ignore. And again, hopefully some of this sort of feedback will bubble to the surface of the forum threads and be in some measure addressed by the developers in future.

The other aspect of the new Flickr is less visible, but also deserves comment. The new Flickr business model is very obviously geared towards generating advertising revenue. They’re no longer offering new “Pro” accounts, the only options are “free” which now gets you 1TB of space and most of the previous “pro” benefits; and “Ad free” which costs twice what a previous “pro” subscription did and is the same as a free account but with no ads in your browsing experience. It seems that exisiting, recurring subscription, “pro” users can continue as such and at the same price, but with very few advantages over a free account other than no-ads and the current referral Stats capability.

The new web design reflects this move. All these justified views are a clear attempt to push images to the fore at the expense of text, and make it easier to insert ads into pages. Looking at the justified views, it also seems obvious that they’re trying to standardise as many pages across the site as possible. For example even logged in and looking at my own photostream, the mouseover information includes my user name and a link to the page I’m currently on, for every photo. The only reason for that is that they’re using the same the code on all the pages across the site, both presumably as a maintenance cost saving and also so that there’s a standard way to inserts ads.

This is the most concerning thing for me because it feels like these changes are explicitly about using our content to sell advertising space, whereas before I had the sense at least that Flickr was still at some level about photography. The seeming lack of importance attached to the information around photographs and sets in the new design will I fear lead to a further diminishing of the community spirit that to me has been one of the most valuable things about Flickr for the 7 years I’ve been a member. Dangling 1TB of “Free” storage in front of everyone is a big giveaway in more ways than one. It’s a statement that Yahoo wants our content on its servers instead of the competition because they think they can use make money off the back of it. Even if we stump up to avoid seeing ads, they’re still selling the ad space and anyone who hasn’t paid will see ads amongst our content.

For the first time I really do feel like instead of being a Flickr customer, I’ve become their product. That’s the change that I really don’t like.

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