Looking for a photography community? cloud storage? Try Flickr! solve it in one go!

Figure 1 A screenshot of the gallery. Flickr. All rights reserved
Figure 1 A screenshot of the gallery. Flickr. All rights reserved

The rise of Flickr played a significant role in the social-sharing platform. Over the past decade, Flickr emerged as an innovation leader in the photo-sharing industry, the widespread use of Flickr promotes to establish a huge community in its industry. Moreover, the innovation of Flickr has attracted more than photographers but also the network society.

This essay will first provide an overview of the Flickr operation, and also examine the development of the platform. Moreover, highlights about the Flick’s business model and also its role in internet ecology. In the last section will explore the internet revolutionary transformation from the approach of Flickr.

What does Flickr do?

Flicker is an online service that provides both free and paid photostream and sharing, and also involves an online community service platform(Chapman, 2017). The ability of the platform is far beyond other social sharing platforms. According to John(2016), the key to social sharing is distribution and communication which Flickr had significantly drawn on it from the features in the site. Flickr offers more than photo service, can be used as a photo searching engine, photo cloud storage, social application and so on. Flickr covered Photo service, contact service and community service.

Figure 2 A screenshot of Flickr. All rights reserved
Figure 2 A screenshot of Flickr. All rights reserved

Photo service

  • Share private photos and videos with the public
  • Photo cloud as a digital photo album

Contact service

  • Add family and friends into a contact list
  • Make for more friends in the community

Community service

  • Photos are categories by tags which allows users to explore in a similar community
  • Create a chat room for further communication
  • Flickr Blog allowed bloggers to share blogs

How did Flickr begin?

Flickr was initially designed for a web-based game “Game Neverending” by Ludicorp, a Vancouver based software development company(Anonymous, 2015, p. 103). It was not a photo-sharing website at all in the beginning. In the first stage, Flickr was a flash application that allows the users to share real-time photos in a group chat called Flickr Live. However, while developing the application, developers found that the trend, users interest and ability to use the application did not follow up the making policy.

After the developer observe more and more feedback from the users, they had made a big turn of making innovation. Considering the limitation of flash, they began to develop Flickr to a website which can reach a wide range of users to engage in (Jesse James, 2005). They began to pay more attention to creating a website that helps users of photo sharing. Moreover, EC stated that they also took advantage of the asynchronous nature of Web pages where all photography sharing can be investigated later. Instead of real-time chat, only able to access it in the real-time which can be easily missed.

Furthermore, they thought users would only want to share photos within a small community such as friends or family. Contrary to their idea, users demand a larger community to share and explore. According to Jesse James(2005), Stewart Butterfield had been inspired by the social bookmarking website Delicious. Flickr added the use of tags which enable users to tag their photography to a particular group. Therefore, Flickr engages this function for users to participate and communicate in their community and have wider opportunities to explore other’s photos. Besides, according to users different kinds of demand, users are able to choose the way they want the website to be, it can be photo storage, photo sharing, communication and inspiration. In the final stage, Flickr became a photography hosting and sharing online service. It launched in February, 2004 and users are widely spread around the world.

How different is Flickr under different corporations?

Figure 9 A screenshot of the subscription page. Flickr. All rights reserved
Figure 3 A screenshot of the subscription page. Flickr. All rights reserved

Flickr experienced three times the acquisition​ by different corporations which are Yahoo!, Oath and SmugMug respectively. This results in the business model having been adjusted several times according to each acquisition. The major business model which sustains is the model of paying accounts. ​Flickr offers two types of accounts which are Free and Pro respectively.​ ​It is obvious that in order to have more subscribers Free account has limited accessibility to the website than the Pro account.

In 2013, the uploaded photo was significantly boosted which present in the figure below.

Figure 3 Franck Michel from Antibes, France, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Figure 4 Franck Michel from Antibes, France, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

It is due to the major revision of the platform. The photo album for free account increased to 1TB which significantly attracted users to engage in the platform(Anonymous, 2013, p. 70). However, in 2018, after SmugMug acquired Flickr, it changed the model in order to sustain the platform. They kindly force the users to subscribe to the annual Pro account by removing the user’s photos and reducing the capacity to 1000 photos. However, it brought a great voice of opposition to this new model and also impacted on the traffic of the platform. Moreover, the rise of both photo sharing and storing platforms has beaten this medium-scale company(Entertainment Close-up, 2018).

Flickr Internet Ecology

Flickr Internet Ecology
Figure 5 Flickr Internet Ecology by Jitong WU

Flickr is the beginning of a photography hosting platform so that it played a significant role in its industry. It is a platform that accomplishes various functions of social media which are called multimedia platform. Flickr offers a wide range of services, from photo storage to photo sharing, from communicating on a small scale to a worldwide community. However, after a mass number of competitors arose the sustainability of the platform became weak.

Flickr is having a variety of competitors since it is a multimedia platform. From a social sharing platform perspective, Instagram, Pinterest and iStock are some examples of competitors that offer similarity of sharing photos with tags affecting the traffic of Flickr, since they are mainly focused on social sharing. Moreover, Google Photo, OneDrive and 500px are Flickr’s competitors from a cloud storage perspective.

In order to have a better experience and environment for users, Flick works with two major third parties. Flickr is working with Aviary for photo editing which enables users to adjust and edit their photos directly inside the platform. It raises and creates the quality of photography while cooperating with Aviary. Moreover, Flickr is also cooperating with OpenStreetMap to give a new experience for users. The feature of OpenStreetMap provided to Flickr is to help the uploader to mark the location and the viewer to learn more about the information of photos in a geography way. Figures below are two of the interface that Aviary and OpenStreetMap offer to Flickr.

Figure 4 A screenshot of the photo editor. Flickr. All rights reserved
Figure 6 A screenshot of the photo editor. Flickr. All rights reserved
Figure 5 A screenshot of the map. Flickr. All rights reserved
Figure 7 A screenshot of the map. Flickr. All rights reserved

What transformative effects did Flickr bring?

Flickr is one of the leaders of Web 2.0 which is the development of technology that enables users to share their values and create connections with other individuals or communities(Governor et al., 2009, pp. 1–3). The approach of Flickr changes the social and cultural world of the photography industry in the sense that Flickr provides the new shape of photo-sharing. The arrival serves to encourage more and more photographs taken which enrich social sharing in the photography industry(Cox, 2008, p. 509). Moreover, Flickr also encourages more individuals, not only photographers, to build up a hobby of involvement in photography. This results in Flickr not only cultivating the shooting interest but also providing a better environment for the connection of users and images.

Furthermore, Flickr also builds trust and responsible relationships between users and images in this internet culture world through licensing. According to the demands of uploaders, they are able to choose the way they want the photo to be shared privately or openly. Flickr offers users the ability to publish their image under certain common licensing or “all right reserved.” The major common licensing provided by the site is Creative Common(CC) 2.0 which attempts to maintain the flexibility of copyright. The use of CC in Flickr enables the images to be used reasonably, and also not only allows the users to set the copyright freely but also has the ability to share their photograph freely while reserving its copyright. This reflected the value of CC that not only build relationships between individuals and also broke the barrier between traditional copyright(Lessig, 2005).

Figure A screenshot of the option of CC. Flickr. All rights reserved
Figure 8 A screenshot of the option of CC. Flickr. All rights reserved

Unlike other photo-sharing platforms that stand in only one extreme copyright licensing. For example, competitor iStock, the platform reserved all copyright where users need to purchase the images before using it. This brought a huge barrier between creators and users. On the other hand, the platform Pinterest users can freely access and download to any images in the sense that users might consider the content is “public domain” with no copyright reserves. However, Flickr is in the grey area between these two. This not only offers opportunities for uploaders to adjust the copyright of their productions but also attempts to build up trust between uploaders and users. In the sense of users consciously comply with the copyright rule while accessing the images.

However, other than the uploader and viewer, the platform itself broke the trust between platform and users. In 2004 Flickr announced the new business model which is selling user’s images under commercial CC licensing as a wall art caused a huge controversy among the public. This action first violated CC which is a non-profit organization even though Flickr complies with the rule of commercial use. Moreover, all the revenue will not share with the creators. All profit from the production will belong to Yahoo! which is unfair to the creators and also against the author’s initial intention of sharing. Therefore, Flickr declared that they will end the program in the latter part of the year.

On another level, the tool of tags is also revolutionary in the photo-sharing industry. Tag clouds innovated the way to manage images and videos with the new model of the folksonomy by using tags(Cox, 2008, p. 509). Flickr connected the relationship between users by a collection of digital images that can be related to one and other based on its content(Stuart, 2019, p. 229). This innovation breaks the barrier of traditional classification. All categories are defined by individuals spontaneity and the tags are publicly shared within the range of users set. Meanwhile, tags promoted the establishment of a bridge between groups users and image content. From both a visual or functional perspective, it provides a better exploring and sharing environment for users.

Figure 9 A screenshot of the tag page. Flickr. All rights reserved
Figure 9 A screenshot of the tag page. Flickr. All rights reserved

It offers a more direct way for researchers to investigate and explore the image that they required. On the other hand, allows a faster way for creators to find out contents that share in the same tags. Although there might be a lack of accuracy, it forms a channel and network of communication in the social software platform. This new form approach improves the combination of public cognition where it reinforces the connection of similarity content.

Final Note

In conclusion, Flickr created a huge multimedia platform that innovated the photo-sharing industry. The innovation of tag cloud and the use of licensing are an expansion of interpersonal relationships and the organization of content in the social networks. This promotes to establish a larger community between individuals and also build up stronger relationships with the content and viewers. However, the lack of management for the platform leads to weak sustainability in its industry. Although the new approach of sharing platforms has influenced the sustainability of Flickr, the multimedia feature of Flickr still attracts love from netizens.



Anonymous. (2013). Flickr. Computer Act!Ve, 407, 70. 

Anonymous. (2015). ESSENTIAL TECH FOR PROPERTY PEOPLE: SLACK. The Estates Gazette, 103. https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy2.library.usyd.edu.au/docview/1987345110/fulltextPDF/9C4A51B1E70412FPQ/1?accountid=14757

Chapman, A. (2017). Turning Flickr into a useful Citizen Science Resource. Proceedings of TDWG, 1, e20348. https://doi.org/10.3897/tdwgproceedings.1.20348

Cox, A. M. (2008). Flickr: a case study of Web2.0. Aslib Proceedings, 60(5), 493–516. https://doi.org/10.1108/00012530810908210

Entertainment Close-up. (2018). SmugMug to Purchase Flickr. Close-Up Media, Inc. https://go-gale-com.ezproxy2.library.usyd.edu.au/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&u=usyd&id=GALE%7CA536236576&v=2.1&it=r

Governor, J., Hinchcliffe, D., & Nickull, D. (2009). Web 2.0 Architectures: What entrepreneurs and information architects need to know (1st ed.). O’Reilly.

Jesse James, G. (2005). An interview with Flickr’s Erice Costello. Adaptive Path. https://web.archive.org/web/20160610133433/http://adaptivepath.org/ideas/e000519/

John, N. A. (2016). The Age of Sharing (1st ed.). Polity.

Lessig, L. (2005). Free Culture. New York : Penguin Books.

Stuart, E. (2019). Flickr: Organizing and Tagging Images Online. KNOWLEDGE ORGANIZATION, 46(3), 223–235. https://doi.org/10.5771/0943-7444-2019-3-223

Jitong Wu
About Jitong Wu 2 Articles
2nd-year USYD student, studying in Digital Culture and Korean Studies.