How Yahoo! Killed Flickr

17 May 2012

Matt Honan of Gizmodo:

The site that once had the best social tools, the most vibrant userbase, and toppest-notch storage is rapidly passing into the irrelevance of abandonment. Its once bustling community now feels like an exurban neighborhood rocked by a housing crisis. Yards gone to seed. Rusting bikes in the front yard. Tattered flags. At address, after address, after address, no one is home.

It is a case study of what can go wrong when a nimble, innovative startup gets gobbled up by a behemoth that doesn't share its values. What happened to Flickr? The same thing that happened to so many other nimble, innovative startups who sold out for dollars and bandwidth: Yahoo.

Here's how it all went bad.

Also worthy of quoting is the description of Flickr from this MetaFilter post in 2004:

Flickr is a new kind of social software application (in the tradition ofFriendsterorOrkut) - but, after making friends and forminggroups, it actually gives you something to do! Created by a team led by Mefi's ownsylloge, Flickr is also a collaboration focused Flash-based application that allows you to share picture files with friends, comment on them and post themdirectlytoyourweblog. An exposedset of servicesis also leading to a host of interestingideas.

I miss Flickr. Sort of the same way I miss Saturday morning cartoons. Fond memories of things I've enjoyed in the past do not equal the same memories if I tried to enjoy them today. Ever watch an episode of a cartoon you watched when you were a kid? Most of them are terrible.

Flickr was great. In 2004. And it continued to be great for a time even after their acquisition by Yahoo! But in order to continue to be great the service would have needed to keep up with the Internet's ever-changing environment, technologies, and trends. This is difficult for any company to do whether they've been acquired or not. But it certainly seems like the chance of succeeding at that drops precipitously when a company is acquired.

Honan continues:

It's no secret that for many entrepreneurs, the exit isalwaysthe goal. It's about the sellout before the first line of code is written. But for a select group, products are meant to be art. They are meant to literally change the world. And for those, selling out can be especially problematic.

This is where I see the problem. Why aren't entrepreneurs (or, at least, more of them) seeking to build something awesome and valuable that could be around in 10 years? Something that may not win a $1B check but something that makes money, is valuable to its customers, and that you can be proud of. I don't think Flickr fell into this trap - I genuinely believe that at the time Yahoo! seemed like an amazing fit for Flickr. But today the trend leans toward startups looking to sell more than looking to build valuable companies.

Flickr is still pretty wonderful. But it's lovely in the same way a box of old photos you've stashed under the bed is. It's an archive of nostalgia that you love dearly, on the rare occasion you stumble across it. You pull them out, and hold them up to the light, and remember a time when you were younger, and the Web was a more optimistic place, and it really was almost certainly the best online photo management and sharing application in the world.

And then you close the box.

And you click over to Facebook, to see what's new.

What a shame.