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.
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