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Is Flickr’s New App an Instagram Killer?

by Hrag Vartanian on December 17, 2012

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Which one do you delete? (GIF by the author for Hyperallergic)

I was working on this review of Flickr’s new smartphone app when the online world started to grumble about Instagram and some matters that should concern us all. First off, Instagram will begin sharing user data with its parent company, Facebook, and the new rules will take effect on January 16, 2013, and it will impact images uploaded after that date. Perhaps this jolt of news has finally made people realize that Instagram, not to mention Facebook, owns a lot of our personal data and yes, the word is “owns” not hosts. This is, needless to say, distressing.

Instagram reassured users today on a company blog that nothing has changed and they highlighted the positive outcomes: “This means we can do things like fight spam more effectively, detect system and reliability problems more quickly, and build better features for everyone by understanding how Instagram is used.” Sounds great, but it doesn’t appear everyone is convinced.

Facebook VP of Global Marketing Solutions Carolyn Everson said in an interview last week that, “There are many brands that use Instagram right now to try to get a feel for how to engage with their followers. We will definitely be figuring out a monetization strategy.”

Don’t get me wrong, monetization isn’t a bad thing. Here at Hyperallergic, we are very aware of the need to monetize in order to sustain a business that can guarantee a professional and quality product. But Instagram, like Facebook and other social media services, store and own our personal data. There is a lot more at stake, and then there’s this paragraph in Instagram’s new Terms of Service, which should raise eyebrows (highlights mine):

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All this comes on the heels of the Instagram CEO’s recent testimony (under oath) to the Californian Corporations Department that is being called out by Nick Bilton of the New York Times as containing some potentially false information. But that’s another story. My advice: stay aware.

APP-solutely Awesome

flickr-01-320Now back to the new Flickr app. Two words (in all caps): IT ROCKS!

As a longtime user of Flickr who has amassed roughly 8,000 photos on the photosharing site, I am delighted to see that Flickr has finally gotten something right. After years of floundering in cyberspace as a plaything for aspiring amateur (and some professional) photographers of all kinds, Flickr’s marketshare was slowly eaten away by Facebook, which quickly became the largest online photosharing site in the world. Many people wondered if Yahoo!, which purchased the service in 2005, had any interest in the site that was obviously beeing bypassed by Instagram and others in the mobile field. But Flickr, which in 2011 had over 51 million registered users and hosts more than 6 billion images, may be back, and it may be better than ever.

Their new app, which was released last week, is a sleek, user friendly mobile app that had me debating all weekend if I was going to delete Instagram, of which I’ve been a rather vocal fan, from my phone.

There are a number of reasons for choosing Flickr over Instagram but I’ll try to be concise: your photos are more accessible, they can fall under a Creative Commons license, and there is more flexibility to the way you capture, edit, classify, and share them.

If Instagram has cornered the market in the square photo format, Flickr allows you freedom to crop and adjust your pic any way you’d like (including into squares). The controls are intuitive and clean (pictured left) but they’ve also added filters, a la Hipstamatic (remember them) or Instagram, and that will satisfy the casual user who may need them to hide their photo’s flaws or simply because they adore them.

All Flickr’s filters are named after animals (Panda, Mammoth, Ocelot, Chameleon, Wallaby, Iguana, Aardvark, Narwhal, Salamander, Flamingo, Toucan, Orca, Peacock, Chinchilla, Orangutan), and they are as effective as any other filtering photo app on the market. But the real pleasure isn’t from this parlor trick but rather from the next screen that allows you to tag, organize, and label photos with great ease. Organizing photos into sets, collections, and other categories (groups, person, safety levels of photos) are hidden for casual users but those of us who are image-inclined can do as we wish. Did I mention you can upload high-resolution images? Yes, and that matters.

The editing capabilities of the Flickr app are light years ahead of Instagram. Not only can you rotate, color adjust, and brighten images independent of the set animal-named filters, there are numerous ways to adjust and nuance your images using text, drawing, red eye adjustment, and a slew of other tweaks. This added bonus renders many of the other photo apps on my smartphone unnecessary.

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This new Flickr app also highlights some issues I’ve long had with Instagram, namely that they feel fleeting, but so are tweets, right? Not exactly. Instagram feels more ephemeral than any other service and while it can create a false sense of intimacy (like a private moment whispered into your ear from a distant place) it can be frustrating. From what I’ve been able to discern that ephemerality comes partly from the fact that Twitter, Tumblr, and other social media networks allow users to reblog or retweet significant content, which suggests that even if you miss something your network will almost guarantee that you’ll eventually see it. On Instagram that ability to share and discuss outside the image is limited. Unless you screencapture an image and re-upload it into your own feed (which is often frowned upon in the Instagram community) then there are few options (you can share an Instagram image via tweet but that’s outside the app).

The new Flickr app has also built on one of the real innovations of Instagram, which was the ability to share your images across platforms. From Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Email, Foursquare, and even Flickr. Flickr has reproduced that sharing ease — minus the ability to check-in on Foursquare, though you can tag images using Foursquare, go figure — and I should mention that you can’t automatically upload your Flickr app image to Instagram, but that seems minor.

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Left, The labeling and classification screen of Flickr (with Advanced features open), and my personal Flickr profile on right. (screencaptures by the author)

Now, onto the biggest advantage. For people like me who love to control the ownership and use of their images, there are two words you should know: Creative Commons. Flickr has long been a stronghold of Creative Commons licensing and those of us at Hyperallergic are strong proponents of their use as they “provide a flexible range of protections and freedoms for authors, artists, and educators.” As online citizens, it seems crucial that we find ways to share imagery that is respectful of others. I often think about a conversation I had with Leila Nadir and Cary Peppermint (EcoArtTech), about applying environmental principles to the world online. Why not cultivate principles of recycling and reusing online? Licensing your images under Creative Commons, in my opinion, is the internet friendly way of living in a sustainable online world. You can use my image as long as you cite the source, and I will do the same. Anything else becomes a form of dumping and a waste of pixels and resources, but that’s a longer discussion for another time.

Browsing in Flickr is a pleasure as well. Rather than giving you an endless river of images with likes and comments, Flickr organizes your stream by contacts or groups and it offers you the ability to see their uploads sequentially with ease so that you can view the images from an exhibition (for instance) without being interrupted by a photo of a turd (happened to me in Instagram) or someone’s embarassing party snapshot. Instead of “Likes,” Flickr offers “Favorites,” which linguistically may feel more committal but practically functions in much the same way.

Will I stop using Instagram? Not yet, but I may in the not to distant future, but I will certainly be storing all my photos on Flickr going forward and using that social site to engage with fellow art lovers. An added bonus is that most museums (Brooklyn Museum, MoMA, British Museum…), institutions (Library of Congress, New York Public Library…), and others are already using Flickr.

The only downside of Flickr I can see is the nominal cost for dedicated users. With a free Flickr account you can upload 2 videos and 300MB worth of photos each calendar month and view your last 200 photos but PRO account users ($24.95/year) get an ad-free service that allows unlimited uploads and unlimited access to your archive.

What Do You Do?

Thankfully, the story of Instagram and its distressing privacy issues is not over. Jenna Wortham and Nick Bilton, both of NY Times, have already been investigating what the service’s new terms of use could mean for users and there are positive signs. In regards to a fear expressed by many people that they could potentially “star” in an advertisement without their permission, the journalists discovered this:

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, an advocacy group in Washington, said that the use of a person’s likeness in ads could run into some state laws protecting people’s privacy.

“Most states have laws that limit the use of a person’s ‘name or likeness’ for commercial purposes without consent,” Mr. Rotenberg said. “The legal purpose is to allow people to obtain the commercial value of their images and endorsements, which is a big issue for celebrities and others, but also a reasonable concern for Facebook users whose images are used by Facebook to encourage friends to buy products and services.”

Yet, as a longtime online citizen, I know that the online frontier continues to seem nebulous but Flickr has demonstrated over the last eight years that they (mostly) respect their users and content creators in a way few others have. I suggest trying the Flickr app (Apple, Android — see note below) and judging for yourself.

And just in case you decided to jettison Instagram, here’s a useful link: “How to Download Your Instagram Photos and Kill Your Account.”

NOTE: A number of readers have pointed out that the Android APP is not yet upgraded to the new and improved version that is available on iPhone. Apologies for the lack of clarity on this issue.

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  • Philip Hartigan

    Funny, I just exchanged emails with Veken about Flickr last week. I was about to delete my account, but will give it a second look after reading this. Great info, monsieur.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fabianistheword Fabian G. Tabibian

    I read through the terms today and found them distressing as well. Will be holding off on posting any new images to Instagram until things are clarified and adjusted.

    I do wonder if the Flickr app and the Intragram app are two different beasts though. Is Flickr app functions fore as a broadcaster to social media sites (Tumblr, Twitter, etc..) rather than a destination spot for users to view images. Would you happen to know how many of your Instragram followers are also on Flickr?

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      I can tell t least 100 are on Flickr but that’s fine with me because I think many are on Acebook or Twitter.
      In terms of Flickr as destination. I think there’s real potential, but only time will tell. I have a good feeling though. The discussion groups on Flickr can be quite active.

      • http://www.facebook.com/fabianistheword Fabian G. Tabibian

        Agreed on Flickr community being strong via groups and such, but I wonder how does that transfers over to Mobile App usage. Still, I downloaded the flickr app – it is pretty good indeed. I like that as you dig deeper it provides more complex tools and options.

        Unless there’s a policy change, I’ll be closing my Instagram account on 1/16.

  • minkoff

    You link to the android app, but don’t mention that android’s is still the old blah version of the app. Hopefully the iphone version comes to android soon.

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      Apologies, I’ll correct that.

  • http://twitter.com/dadalinski Dada

    I’ve long used Flickr for my photography and only jumped on the Instagram bandwagon when I got an iPhone. Though I only use Insta for silly photos and daily updates, it still bothers me that they are asserting ownership for the sake of improved advertising (or whatever their reason was). The Pro account is worth the 25 a year, especially since you can upload high res and it’s unlimited.

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      I agree. It’s a rather sweet deal for an ad-free, high-quality service.

  • http://twitter.com/MatthewBarnaby Matthew

    what a great article.
    I’ve been a user of Flickr for many years and it’s great to hear of its comeback.
    I doubt it’ll reach the social heights of instagram due to its free account restrictions but as a pro account user I’d champion the buy in any day.
    anyway …. what I hope some one can answer is ….. when is this due on android?

  • http://twitter.com/AppInnovations Apply Innovations

    It will be interesting to see how many people adopt it.

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