At the start of the year I decided I needed to review my use of social media and where my time and energy is going and make some changes. I’m now making the first of those changes, so I thought I’d discuss them here with all of you.

I’m leaving Instagram

About a week ago I put up a post on Instagram letting everyone know I was going to be deleting my Instagram account, and pointing them at other places to follow me. I’ve also removed any pointers to the instagram site from this site (if you see one I missed, let me know!), and after this posting goes live, I’ll delete the Instagram account.

Why?

A couple of reasons. First, Instagram is owned by Facebook, and I’m increasingly uncomfortable putting time and energy into Facebook properties and letting them have access to my personal data. On Facebook itself, I’ve removed the apps from my mobile devices so that I can only access it via browser (and so their apps can’t do any data diving when I’m not looking), and I’ve significantly reduced my presence, slimming my friend list, dropping a lot of liked pages, and generally reducing what I do on Facebook to those things that I can’t do elsewhere. I haven’t deleted Facebook completely, because there are some people and groups I simply can’t replace via other services, so I’m keeping it for them, but resisting the tendency to play the “as long as I’m here…” game and do other things as well. My goal is to spend as little time on Facebook as I can, to interact with those things that don’t exist elsewhere — and no more.

But more important to this discussion: I simply never figured out how I wanted to use Instagram, and how using it might benefit me. I think under Facebook ownership Instagram has changed, and has become less about sharing photos and meeting other photographers, and more about promoting influencers who use images. Becoming an influencer is just not my interest these days, so I’m not sure what use Instagram would be for me, and I’ve never really found it that interesting.

So I’m moving on. If you find it useful, awesome. Needs and interests differ. This just isn’t a thing I want to spend time on continuing to try to figure it out.

Why I’m returning to Flickr.

Back in April, Smugmug announced it had bought Flickr off of Verizon, who got it when they bought Yahoo. Flickr was, ten years ago, more or less the best place for photographers to share their images and interact with each other, but over Yahoo had no idea how to manage the community and starved it for resource and then more or less left it to rot and decay. It was pretty clearly not a priority to fix for Verizon, and so I was expecting at any time to see the PR release announcing it’s closure.

Instead, Verizon handed it off to perhaps the only people who might actually fix it and make it viable for photographers again. I pretty quickly created a new Flickr account (having deleted my old one years ago when I gave up on Yahoo) and dumped a lot of photos on it until I had time to get organized, because I wanted to support them and be a small part of the revival.

The last few months have been fairly quiet in terms of Flickr news, mostly because it seems the Smugmug/Flickr folks have had their hands full migrating the Flickr system off of aging, decrepit servers owned by Verizon onto a new server suite owned and managed by Smugmug.

They’ve made some business and policy changes, one being restricting the capabilities of free accounts, and starting to change usage policies with a new restriction on how many groups a photo can be posted to (from infinite to 30/60 depending on whether it’s a paid account or not). This, of course, has really honked off the people who loved using Flickr as a photo dump for free and spamming hundreds of groups with an image hoping to get it onto the explore page — but in all honesty, since Smugmug bought a failed business and is trying to stop it from failing, I’m all for it, and the posting limits to groups? I actually feel they should go further, and I’ll talk about that in a bit.

Right now, Flickr is very much a work in progress, and I expect 2019 will be the year we start seeing bigger and better changes. I’m hoping to see Flickr groups get revamped. I’ve started one as an experiment, moving the 6FPS discussion list from email, and I’ll be starting a second one for Silicon Valley Birders shortly as well.

It hasn’t been a good time for photographers online: Flickr faded from dominance due to neglect, and possible replacements haven’t exactly fared well, with 500px going from a photography haven to actively hostile to its users, and with Google+ going from an interesting option to neglected to being shut down, there aren’t many options, and I hope Flickr fills that void. Another site that might be interesting on Nature photographers is the recently rebooted Nature Photographers Network, which I’ve heard good things about but haven’t had a chance to investigate.

Moving into Flickr

As I noted at the start, I basically paid for a pro account and dumped a bunch of images onto Flickr and did some quick organizing, and then left it until I had time to figure out what to do. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks diving into Flickr, visiting images on the Explore page and seeing how featured photographers set up accounts and what groups they tended to use.

After a few days of this exploration, I came to the decision my Flickr account was set up completely wrong, so I tore it down to the bare walls and rebuilt it again.

My Flickr best practices (for now)

What I ended up doing was creating three upload channels to Flickr from Lightroom using the Flickr plug-in. Since these are publish modules, any changes I make to images will get queued to be uploaded without a lot of manual work, which is nice. Those three channels are:

  • my general photos (rated 3 stars)
  • my portfolio images (rated 4 stars)
  • my “best of show” images (rated 5 stars)

As part of this move to Flickr, I removed all the 3star images from my Smugmug account so it’s only about my “best” images now. By doing it this way, I can manage uploads so that the “best” images end up first in the camera roll, making them easier to find.

On flickr metadata and groups are important and huge aspects of how people find your images. There are zillions of groups on Flickr, but most of them are dumping groups with no real activity or interest, so one thing I’ve done is look for the groups of interest with some actual member activity in it beyond image dumps and complaining about the 30/60 limit. I ended up deciding to follow/use about 20 for now.

Tags (aka Lightroom keywords) are another big way to get seen, so I spent some time identifying popular tags that fit my images, and I created a set of lightroom keywords that match those, so when I upload, they get added as tags on flickr. The list I’m currently using is:

  • naturephotography
  • animals
  • nature
  • sunset
  • blue
  • green
  • landscape
  • bird
  • blackandwhite
  • white
  • sky
  • beach
  • water
  • flowers

I went through my 5star images and added these as appropriate, limiting my use to 3 tags per image so I didn’t start spamming tags, and then uploaded those updates.

And that was about it. I’ve been adding some images to some groups slowly over time, trying to judge how useful that it. And over time, I’ll continue to refine my usage as I start to understand better how Flickr ticks, but in all honesty, I’ve been pretty happy with the response so far, especially as someone who’s basically putting an hour or so a week into this right now, and wanting mostly to focus on new images, not trying to drive older images into virality or anything.

I recommend people moving to Flickr embrace the photostream and not try to re-implement it in albums, as I did my first try. Also the about page seems really important to people exploring what you do, and I think it’s crucial to set up the showcase well — it’ll be looked at more than a similar set of images as an album.

From my analysis, it’s tags first and group posting second that drives new people to see your image, and your photostream first and showcase on the about page second as the places they visit to see what the heck you’re up to as a photographer, so I think the idea is to focus on those. Albums is a distant third in where they visit, and collections effectively don’t exist to users.

My suggestions for Flickr

In general, I’m happy with things so far. The image spammers hate the new restrictions, which I think is great, because that’s a big negative for usability of the site overall.

I’d like to see them take this a step further as part of the work to revitalize groups: remove the ability to post photos to a group anywhere but the group page itself. Right now, you can do it from an image page, and I think that encourages mindless image dumping, because you don’t actually have to interact the group to dump images on it. That just encourages spamming of images, which we want to see go away. So make people click into a group to post an image, which will both discourage wide spamming (or at least make them waste more time doing it) and get them on the group page to see the group rules and the discussion areas.

Discussion areas are still in most groups a wasteland and a ghost town, and I want to see Smugmug do some updating here to make them more interesting and relevant. They seem to be making good progress on the general forum spam problem, which is nice.

I’d also suggest they identify all of the groups where the admins are no longer active on flickr, or groups who’s admins have left flickr — and delete them. Flickr groups would be a stronger feature with 50% fewer groups seeking attention, honestly. Or maybe 90% fewer. Clear out all of the deadwood, and let the new Flickr population start building a new community there.

Oh, and god, I wish Flickr had Smugmug’s smart albums. I really miss them. On the other hand, albums are a lot less important on the site than on Smugmug and that took a bit of getting used to, but now I like it, and collections are so well hidden that basically, nobody uses them. Smugmug probably ought to either make them a peer tool to albums, or just kill them. I’m not sure which is preferred.

I’m curious how Flickr and Smugmug will eventually interact, or if they will. I’d like to see it in some way, but I haven’t really sorted out what that means to me. I’d also like to see really good social tools, not just better groups, but interacting with other services, strong embed capabilities for blogs and the like, and good tools for sharing to the major social sites all built in and easy to use.

2019 should be interesting

I’m really curious what Smugmug intends to do, and hopeful. Right now what I’m doing is experimental and I’m not depending on it, but I think things are trending in the right direction, and I can’t wait to see what they have in mind. If you’re a photographer looking for a place to be a photographer (and not an influencer with images), maybe get back on Flickr now and help make it what it can be.