01 May 2014

The new Flickr app is trying too hard to be Instagram

In their effort to regain the top spot among photo-sharing apps, Flickr has focused lately on redesigning the site and releasing improved mobile apps on iPhone and Android. The latest version has been released a couple of weeks ago with a long feature list – and, as much as I try, I keep coming to the conclusion that I liked the old app better! The new design is too flashy, the excessive use of iOS 7-styled animations, zooming and translucent layers is tiring and confusing. While implementing the annoying design innovations, the team left out another much more useful iOS 7 gesture, swipe-left-to-go-back. There are some good design touches, for example the introduction of the popular flick-to-dismiss gesture and the awesome reloading animation using Flickr’s two-circle-logo – you should check it out especially on profile pages: swipe down until the blue border around the profile pic becomes full circle, then release.

Speaking of profiles, if you see a small checkmark on the top right, don’t click it! That’s showing you are following that person and clicking the checkmark unfollows them – without confirmation or any other prompt! That’s probably the stupidest decision I ever saw in any app! Of course you can immediately re-follow the person clicking on what has now become the ‘follow’ button, but wouldn’t it make more sense to label the button or have an extra step so that doesn’t happen in the first place?

The stream design has gotten worse as well in my opinion, loosing many of the good ideas in the previous version. Now, like on Instagram, you can only see one photo at a time, leading to a lot of unnecessary scrolling. Until now, recent photos were arranged in a nice mosaic, letting users glance about 10 at once. This is made only worse by the decision to include buttons for several actions at the bottom of the photo, as well as the names of people who faved the photo and a couple of comments. In my opinion these extra info should only be shown in the full-screen view – or when one of the people you follow faved or commented on the photo. I don’t mind the square cropping much, it provides a closer view of the photos – and let’s be frank, if the cropped center area cannot capture the attention of the viewer, it’s unlikely the full view would. If you tap photos you will see them in full, but you no longer can swipe to navigate between photos in your stream, another cool feature that has been inexplicably removed. But this still works for batch uploads from a given profile and in Explore, making the design inconsistent and confusing. And the inconsistencies don’t stop here: you can double-tap to fave a photo in the stream, but that doesn’t work in full-screen view; the photo description is shown below the fave-number in the stream (a bad decision on its own, since it emphasized what people think of the photo over the original caption of the author), but above it in full-screen.

  • Flickr for iOS 3.0: photo view on user profile
  • Flickr for iOS 3.0: same photo in full view
  • Flickr for iOS 3.0: detailed Info screen for photos
  • Flickr for iOS 3.0: Loading animation for profiles
  • Flickr for iOS 3.0: Notifications panel
  • Flickr for iOS 3.0: another photo in-stream

I would say the root problem here is the different way people perceive and use Flickr as opposed to Instagram. A veteran web service, Flickr is used by photography enthusiasts and pros to highlight ‘their best work’ taken with DSLR cameras, to build an online portfolio and to store it indefinitely for anyone to browse. Instagram is basically at the opposite end of the spectrum: photos come exclusively from smartphones (at least in theory) and the content is mostly ‘throw-away’, a quick snapshot to be smiled at and then forgotten as others stream in. The new design serves the latter type of users, who probably haven’t even heard of Flickr, while ignoring the first type, the veteran audience of the service. One might compare this to blogging vs. Twitter: while both serve text, a blog post is long-form and should stay relevant over a long period of time, a tweet is short-lived, with most of the value coming from the fresh, instant information. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but they can live side by side and complement each other; there’s no reason the same can’t be true about Flickr and Instagram.

I think Flickr should focus on their strengths and build a better product for long-term photo storing and sharing; chasing after Instagram would only hurt these core strengths and alienate the pros who bring high-quality content to the site. The improved search with object recognition is a great example of going in this (right) direction, as is the detailed Info screen for each photo, matching the information density on the website. Instead of offering instant back-up for mobile snapshots they should improve their desktop uploader tools, neglected for years – a web uploader doesn’t cut it if you are offering 1TB of free space! Another idea would be to showcase the most viewed and favorite photos on people profiles, it would give visitors a quick overview of the photographer’s ‘best work’.

Actually I discovered later that Instagram uses the same kind of interaction (with the same button shape) on the ‘News’ screen, so even this decision was copied from Instagram! Except Instagram does show a banner notification that you unfollowed the profile, so you know what’s going on.

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