What’s the best way to put your pictures on the Internet these days? There are at least two answers to that question.
If you’re just asking which photo sharing service is the most popular, then Facebook is the hands-down winner. People upload roughly 350 million photos to the social network every day.
Snapchat isn’t far behind, at 150 million photos per day. (The difference being that Snapchat photos are hidden—but not deleted, it turns out—up to 10 seconds after you open them.) Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, is in third place with 40 million new photos per day.
But if the question is which photo site is the best for annotating, curating, storing, and otherwise managing your photos, the answer is definitely not Facebook. It’s Flickr. I’ve been using the service since 2004—even before it was bought by Yahoo—so I speak from experience.
Measuring by sheer upload volumes, Flickr lost out to Facebook years ago. Flickr users upload a measly 1.4 million photos per day. Mary Meeker, the prominent Internet analyst now at the venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, dramatized the difference in a bar chart from her Internet Trends report this week; Flickr appears as a tiny yellow sliver atop a column dominated by Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram.
The lesson seems to be that for most people, the act of sharing a photo is more important than the photo itself. This means Facebook’s sheer reach, with more than 1 billion active users worldwide, gives it a huge advantage. On top of that, years of neglect on the part of Yahoo’s higher-ups meant that Flickr missed out on fundamental changes like the social and mobile revolutions. Things got so bad that I wrote a column in 2011 wondering what comes after Flickr.
But change is in the air. Yahoo’s new leader, Marissa Mayer, thinks Flickr is cool and has sent more resources its way. In December the company finally released an iPhone version of Flickr, which has won much-deserved praise, and this week it followed up with an Android app. Flickr just overhauled the design of its flagship website, making it far easier for users to browse photos. And most astonishing of all, Yahoo announced this week that all Flickr users will get a terabyte of photo storage space, free.
A terabyte is a ginormous amount of data. When Google informed the world back on April 1, 2004, that Gmail users would get 1 gigabyte of free e-mail storage, most people dismissed the extravagant figure as an April Fool’s joke. A terabyte is 1,024 gigabytes—enough to store half a million photos at the 6-megapixel resolution of most smartphones. A hard drive with that much space would cost you $70 to $100.
So here’s my point: Flickr is back. Which is great, because Facebook is a terrible place to store and manage your photos.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s okay to throw the occasional photo up on your Facebook timeline. If your picture is pretty or funny or provocative, it’s bound to spark some conversation, which doesn’t happen so much on the other photo-sharing services (with the possible exception of Google+). A couple of days ago I posted a picture of my dog modeling as a fur hat. It immediately drew a couple of comments and 19 likes.
But sharing is the only thing Facebook is good for. Once a photo slides off the bottom of your timeline or your friends’ news feeds, you might as well kiss it goodbye. If I had to describe Facebook’s tools for curating and managing older photos, I’d place them somewhere between “nonexistent” and “incredibly frustrating.” In fact, one of the great puzzles in Silicon Valley today is why Facebook, with its vast wealth and its army of engineers and its hundreds of billions of photos, has put so little effort into building decent tools for creating, editing, and browsing photo albums.
It’s probably because a photo, to Facebook, is just a vessel for social interactions. The one thing Facebook makes sure you can do pretty easily with your photos is tag the other Facebook users who appear in them. Still, it seems like a missed opportunity.
Maybe Facebook will get its photo act together someday. Meanwhile, here are 11 good reasons to use Flickr, not Facebook, as the default online home for your digital photos.
1. Flickr stores and displays your images at full resolution. Facebook compresses them by as much as 80 percent, resulting in a huge loss of information and detail. For serious photographers, this is the single biggest reason to avoid Facebook.
2. Flickr’s redesigned website showcases big, beautiful versions of your photos on endlessly scrolling pages. It’s vastly superior to Facebook’s photo albums and a huge improvement over the previous Flickr design.
3. You can easily share your Flickr photos back to Facebook—or Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, WordPress, Blogger, or LiveJournal.
4. Both Flickr and Facebook are ad-supported, but so far, Flickr’s ads are a lot less obtrusive and creepy than Facebook’s.
5. Flickr offers easy drag-and-drop tools for uploading photos and organizing them into albums (they’re actually called sets). Uploading photos to Facebook is much more tedious.
6. If you like maps, Flickr can display your geotagged photos on a world map. If you don’t have a camera that automatically geotags your photos, there’s an easy way to assign each image to a location.
7. Flickr lets you store videos of up to three minutes in length at 1080p resolution. Facebook allows longer videos, but limits resolution to 720p.
8. There’s an amazingly welcoming and supportive community of photographers on Flickr. They’ve formed groups around every conceivable subject, from HDR photography to the color orange.
9. Through a partnership with Aviary, Flickr provides a range of basic photo-editing tools, including the all-important redeye reduction. Facebook offers no photo editing tools.
10. Lots of other people have built apps and services that interact with Flickr—for example, if you use iPhoto on your Mac, you can upload photos straight to Flickr. This is also true for Facebook; the point is that you don’t lose anything by switching to Flickr.
11. In case you missed it before: a terabyte of free storage. (“Pro” subscribers who formerly paid $25 a year for unlimited storage get grandfathered in.) The upshot is that you can use Flickr as a backup location for all of your photos, not just the ones you want to show off.
12. (Bonus reason) The Flickr mobile apps for iOS and Android are really quite good, allowing you to browse, manage, and snap and upload photos directly from your smartphone. The iOS version comes with about 15 free Hipstamatic-style filters.
Flickr isn’t perfect yet. If you have a lot of photo sets, it’s hard to organize them for easy browsing and searching. It’s ridiculously difficult to order photo prints from the site—you have to specify the number and size of the prints you want one image at a time, then export the photos to Snapfish. There’s no official Flickr app for the iPad or Android or Windows tablets (though there are some decent third-party apps that work with Flickr—my favorite is called Flickr Studio).
Moreover, the recent changes to Flickr’s design have left many users, especially pro photographers, unhappy—for example, the technical “EXIF” data about each image is now buried a couple levels deeper. And there are folks like Mok Oh, founder of Moju Labs, who argue that the whole idea of the online photo album is obsolete, and that the next generation of photo organizing tools needs to be far more automated and personalized.
But overall, Flickr has made an amazing comeback. My fears back in 2011 that I might have to lug my 16,000 Flickr photos over to Google+ or some other service turned out to be unjustified. I’m thrilled with the recent redesign and hopeful that Mayer can get Yahoo back on solid ground, the better to support Flickr—which, to me personally, is the single most interesting and valuable product in the whole Yahoo lineup.
Facebook wants to be the catch-all location for everything you share digitally. But like all omnibus solutions, it comes with compromises. A great photo is a terrible thing to waste—so consider putting your photos on Flickr instead.
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