Flickr’s parent company Yahoo made some major changes to the look-and-feel of Flickr as well as its business model. Will the new look make Flickr more competitive with Facebook, Instagram, and Google+, or inspire a wave of alienation and doom the once-great photo-sharing site? After playing with the new design for a few days, here’s my list of rants.

For starters, all pages now have a black header on a semi-transparent background, used for the site’s navigation. The header sticks to the top of the page, wasting space better used for the main content when you scroll down. I believe Flickr had recently introduced a smaller version of this a few weeks ago. The site navigation isn’t as important as Flickr thinks it must be. I’d much rather have the extra vertical real estate and just scroll to the top if I need their navigation options.

flickrhomeThe home page: Flickr now really wants to force you to pay attention to your contacts and groups. Every little update now has a photo as a background, though for new faves and comments, the photo gets a tiny square thumbnail, while a large cropped version is severely darkened as a background for the text, to the point of being unrecognizable and pointless. And the fave announcements no longer have a link to the user’s collection of faves, which I use to judge their taste. The home page has a weird two-column format, but the shorter column stops scrolling when it gets to the end, until the other column has also reached its end, at which point the footer scrolls into view. It’s a cool effect, but frankly annoying as it over-complicates the page’s mental model.

One of the mandatory features of the home page is a “People you may know” section. This is the trend for all Web 2.0 applications, as they try to suck in more and more people into their webs. Maybe for some people this is a convenience, but for me it’s a transparent effort to milk my world for more customers. It’s like going to McDonald’s and being asked which of my friends might also like hamburgers.

flickrstreamThe photostream page has the biggest changes. They now require a bigger profile image and a new banner image. Again, the loss of vertical real estate is a bit sad. I don’t need to brand my Flickr site with a banner image, but it’s not such a bad addition. It’s a copycat move, echoing Facebook and Google+, but that’s OK. I’d just rather have a narrower banner.

That banner image is superimposed with a few navigation options and two personal stats: the number of photos and the “member since” year. The latter is a new tidbit, and frankly worthless. I don’t care when anyone joined and I’d rather not broadcast my own date. And they removed something worth far more: the number of views you have. On slow days I’d amuse myself by refreshing the page to see if I had accumulated any new visits.

Below the header, a photo’s size will depend on how well it can be squeezed into a row. Each row spans the entire page, and enforces a common height for its images, ranging from 240 pixels to 400 pixels high. It’s a neat trick to make the layout fill the width of the page, but it gives undue emphasis to certain photos just in order to keep the page filled with images.

The photo layout is completely devoid of text, until you hover over an image, in which case you see the author, the title, and buttons to fave, comment, or get the lightbox view. Again, the overall visual impact is stronger than before, but the price you pay is there is less information presented. The photo description isn’t even available until you click the image to go to its own page, and even then you have to scroll down to read the text. This also means I can’t review and edit the text description without clicking on each image, which is tiresome and cumbersome.

Furthermore, it’s now impossible to scan my photostream to see which photos are popular, as the view count has disappeared. It’s no fun to have to go to each individual photo to see if it’s gotten any new views. And this means my photostream is oddly static until I add new photos. It used to be each time I’d refresh it I’d see a change in the number of views.

The old page had too much gutter space, so I’m glad to see they were willing to make changes, but this is a bit extreme. I would have preferred for this new view to be given a special URL, like http://www.flickr.com/photos/mvjantzen/lightbox/

I had become so ingrained to the old 3-column format, I always uploaded 3 photos at a time, so I could control the flow of photos, and make sure each row had photos with the same aspect ration. Now I can’t be sure how the photos will be tiled together.

The “fluid design” is all the rage among web designers nowadays. It’s a way to make sure that web pages work with the wide variety of screen resolutions out there, from desktops to tablets to smartphones. So, their photostream page changes look better across more devices, but I don’t like losing the descriptions and the view counts.

The old photostream showed 18 photos at a time. The new one puts 200 images on a page. This works out great if you have a super-fast connection, but otherwise scrolling down is an exercise in frustration, as you’re presented with a series of empty grey boxes and have to wait for the images to be added.

But wait – the worst feature is yet to come! For some completely insane reason, Flickr assumed that everyone will be viewing their pages in a window with an inner width of 980 pixels. If your window is any smaller you will get a horizontal scroll bar. Having scroll bars in both directions is the user-interface kiss of death. Absolutely horrible! (The home page is even worse, with a minimum width of 1,200 pixels, most likely to accommodate that clunky banner.)

I discovered a hidden feature that lets you see your photostream in the old format, with the text and stats included: just add “?details=1” to the URL, like flickr.com/photos/mvjantzen/?details=1.

flickrphotoThe single-photo page also has problems. At first glance it looks like the old lightbox view; an image that scales up to fit the window, and a black background. But then you realize this page has two parts: the top half with a black background and a bottom half with a white background. That bottom half has all the info we had on the old version. But this is a horrible way to combine them. A two-part page that requires scrolling is a complete failure.

And I’m amazed that Flickr would remove one of this page’s coolest features. Geotagged photos used to have a map in the right-hand column that showed where the photo was taken, and as you hovered over the map it would zoom in. Now, instead, you get a textual description of the location. Clicking on the description still gives you that map, but I am stunned that they would have removed the map. Perhaps it was just to create more bandwidth for the larger photo.

This page also requires an inner width of 1,200 pixels, or else you get the dreaded horizontal scroll bar. The overall design is awkward and ungainly.

Membership rules were also given a complete makeover. I’ll give them credit for addressing what was probably the main reason newbies weren’t signing up: the limit on uploads and photostream viewing for free membership users. Flickr went big with a generous offer of one terabyte of data. I have over 56,000 photos, but calculating how much space I use is difficult because the photos I posted in 2005 are much smaller than the ones from 2013, and even with the same camera the file size can vary tremendously. And the math gets more complicated for Flickr’s administrators, since they make copies of each photo at a variety of sizes. Presumably those copies don’t count against the total, but I haven’t seen Flickr mention this.

Flickr was the only web service I paid for. Having them make such a big change to their presentation style and membership is a bit of a jolt. At this point I haven’t decided whether to turn in my pro membership. I would be nervous about being one of the first people to make that transition.

Does Yahoo not believe in focus groups? I’ve seen much hatred spewed on the new look in forums, and it’s clear users are upset about the changes. The folks at Yahoo were wrong to be confident that they were making Flickr more awesome. Remember the classic Steve Jobs quote “It’s not the customers’ jobs to know what they want”? It turns out that CEOs can ignore public input only if they’re Steve Jobs. Yahoo, you need to consult with your customers before launching major changes.

What’s Wrong with Flickr’s New Look?

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