Home > business, smugmug, web 2.0 > Flickr doesn't suck.

Flickr doesn't suck.

August 31, 2006

Kord Campbell, CEO of Zoto.com, seems to think Flickr sucks. It doesn’t. His point is that the rest of us didn’t get enough credit when Flickr finally introduced geotagging. He mentions that Zoto, SmugMug, and Zooomr have had geotagging for years. He’s right, but who cares?

The Flickr wannabees are always screaming about how they don’t get any recognition and that Flickr steals all the press. One of the Webshots founders recently said ‘Pound for pound [Flickr] is certainly the greatest PR machine in net history.’ That’s very true, but again, so what?

Flickr isn’t even the market leader (Webshots is, and Yahoo! Photos is much larger even at Yahoo), but they’re still an incredibly cool site with a very low barrier to entry – no fees, simple signup, and a great community.

The press and people who don’t really understand business always latch on to a market leader or a company with a ton of momentum and declare victory. Remember when Google couldn’t get any respect because AltaVista had “won” the search engine wars? What’s their market cap? Remember when fatbrain.com was dismissed because Amazon owned bookselling online? So how’d they become a $100M-in-sales, profitable company? For decades, pundits have been speculating that one of the car companies will own the market and we’ll all drive the same make.

It’s not gonna happen. There’s plenty of room for everyone to play – you just have to find your market, find your business model, and go for it. Google’s approach was anti-portal with a little PageRank mixed in. fatbrain.com went after the technical and business market, and provided in-house bookstores for the likes of IBM and Sun. And duh, we’d not all driving the same car. There’s room for BMW alongside Toyota.

At SmugMug, we have a lot of respect for Flickr and what they’ve been able to achieve. They deserve all the credit in the world. Personally, I wish their innovation rate hadn’t slowed way down when they got acquired by Yahoo – but I can’t think of a single ‘large company buys small company’ event that hasn’t caused that. Can you?

We have no desire to play in Flickr’s market, and never have. It costs money to use SmugMug – we have no free offering. We launched years before Flickr did, and we were profitable before Flickr even entered the market. We still are. We have a very different approach to the business and to our customers than Flickr does. Does that mean Flickr’s wrong and we’re right? Of course not. Do we wish we got more press coverage? Of course we do, every company does. But we’ll buckle down and earn it.

Companies triumph over market leaders all the time. They do it by innovating and executing brilliantly. If Flickr is stealing your customers or your press, it’s your own fault. Victory is there for the taking – but I think the first thing to do is to acknowledge that your competition doesn’t suck. Once you realize they’re talented and aggressive, you can fight them on their own turf.

Categories: business, smugmug, web 2.0
  1. Drew
    August 31, 2006 at 2:16 pm

    I loved fatbrain! In fact, I happen to have one of their bookmarks in an O’Reilly book right beside me. 🙂

  2. August 31, 2006 at 5:23 pm

    [I’m one of the Flickr co-founders and still manage it inside of Yahoo!]

    Hmm – I have to admit to being curious about what Kord wrote (the blog’s been down for the few hours since I saw it linked on Valleywag).

    As you know, the respect goes both ways: I’ve recommended smugmug enough times to Flickr users who are looking for a feature set that we just don’t offer frequently enough that I thought about signing up for the referral program 😉

    And I was tempted to respond to the “what took you so long?” comment but didn’t … here’s the thing: we’re innovating more now than we were before, but almost all of it has gone into the backend, infrastructure, abuse detection and stuff like that. When you do 50,000 db/cache queries a second, nothing is simple.

    But over the last few months, we’ve put a lot of that work behind us and are getting back to new user-facing feature development. This was a hard one, because we’re doing a lot more than just storing lat/long pairs per photo (details the last two posts I wrote for the Flickr Blog).

    Anyway, I’ll check out the post once the site comes back up, and we’ll see. I definitely think we were lucky, well-placed and well-timed, so got a lot of good press … but I will say that it’s harder than it looks 😉

  3. August 31, 2006 at 6:30 pm

    Smugmug sucks too.

    Okay seriously, I read the blog post and you are creating a very misleading spin on it (which makes me wonder if you actually read it). There were a lot of positives mentioned there as well. I also find it a tad ironic that you are ‘borrowing’ Zoto’s subject matter for your own blog especially when you consider the fact that one of the points discussed in Kord’s blog was the fact that photo sharing sites often ‘borrow’ ideas from one another (flickr included).

    However, I will agree with you about flickr adding geotagging. Who cares. I don’t. What is funny and annoying is the fact that everyone is acting like they just reinvented the wheel.

    That being said, I’ve tried all 3 of your services. So far, flickr pretty much blows everyone out of the water, including smugmug.

    By the way, what’s up with your logo? It’s looks like someone’s 5 year old got a hold of a set of crappy dingbats and went to town.

    Instead of blogging about how much you think a blog entry ‘by a competitor’ about ‘how a competitor sucks’, why not blog about why you think your service ‘doesn’t’ suck. That might be worth reading.

    @ Stewart

    Hey, Can I have your autograph?!!!


  4. anonymous
    September 1, 2006 at 2:12 pm

    Um…I think that site is back up now guys.

  5. September 3, 2006 at 12:19 pm

    Good post, Don!

    I think that both can be successful is awesome and proves that there are several audiences under that big ole’ digital photography market, and features often follow the audience.

    Flickr’s most powerful PR engine? Their customer evangelists (I’m one of them) who love Flickr so much it is wrong. 😉

  6. September 3, 2006 at 1:35 pm


    As I’m sure you already know (but so anyone reading this now knows, too), we recommend Flickr all the time, both as an alternative to SmugMug if they’re really not looking for us, but also as an addition to SmugMug if they’re really looking for both. Which, surprisingly, is fairly often.

    I understand the scaling problem and how difficult it is to solve. We can search by geography, too, and it was a pain to build – but we don’t have your scale to deal with, either, so I can only imagine.

    We’re doing somewhere on the order of 30,000 cache/DB hits per second, so we’re not to the 50K level yet. Can’t wait. 🙂

    Truthfully, I’m more worried about scaling our customer service than I am about scaling our infrastructure. How to scale great human-to-human service is something we spend a lot of time thinking about and working on.


  7. September 3, 2006 at 1:38 pm


    Re: Flickr’s fanbase:

    Yeah, I totally get that. Our business is the same way – 60-80% of our customers (there’s a gray area we’re not sure of, certainly more than 60%) are referrals from other customers who are just foaming-at-the-mouth rabid about our company and product.

    I should have mentioned that in my post actually – if there’s a better barometer of how much a company, whether it’s Flickr or anyone else, doesn’t suck – it’s how fanatical their customers are. And Flickr’s got some of the most and the loudest. Therefore, it can’t suck. 🙂


  8. September 4, 2006 at 3:56 am

    Did you guys know that we can’t access flickr in the United Arab Emirates? It’s the only photo sharing website that is blocked inthe region.

  9. September 4, 2006 at 5:15 pm

    We use Flickr to easily integrate photo albums into client blogs. There are free WordPress plugins for it (just checked, and there are some for SmugMug too, but read on).

    We first heard of Flickr when we were researching one of our first clients. His name kept showing up in searches with links to Flickr photos. That’s how we learned about Flickr, from a Google search.

    If photos from someone at SmugMug had shown up in the results, then we probably would have adopted it. I just heard of it while I was following a post on another blog.

    So, I don’t think they have a better PR machine. They have a product that shows up in search engines.

    Which is not spin, but results. Results matter.

    And when I need a tool I think “Hey, I’ve seen them in the searches I’ve done, I’ll try them.”

  10. September 8, 2006 at 11:08 am

    Dear Kord,

    I stumbled across your posting “Why Flicks Sucks Sometimes” thru Smugmug.com Actually I agree with you that *”Flickr Sucks BIG TIME”* but my reasons are different than yours. So here is my story with the “Famous Flickr”.

    I had a flickr account some time ago, of course their free account is limited, and today I have decided to upgrade my account to the pro level. After signing-in my account and clicking the upgrade button, i was taken to a page saying that all their payments are made through PayPal.
    And unfortunately Paypal does not accept payments from all the countries, it is limited to certain countries, which means I can not pay because my country “Lebanon” is not on Paypal list.

    So I had to take another alternative in order to make this work, I have myself an account on Paypal on which I accept donations (http://www.waddr.com), and its registered address is a US address through an international express mail service company, so it was my only left choice, and to my surprise, after logging-in with my paypal account and entering my credit card number, a new page opens where you can read something like: “sorry we dont accept credit cards not issued from the country where you are registering”.

    So I had to drop the whole thing until I decide what to do, but many questions came across my mind on my way home:

    How can a company like Flickr under the Yahoo umbrella, limit itself to this type of payment mode? While other smaller companies offer better payment options.

    What logic is behind limiting themselves to the options of Paypal ??
    They say Flickr is part of WEB 2.0, how can a company be pointed as Web 2.0 and have restrictions?

    What about millions of potential customers (I am one of them), who want to buy a pro account and can not, so they get out of their site and never come back?

    What if when flickr realizes this, it would be too late ?

    Many many questions to ask to flickr people.

    Anyway who cares about them as long as they dont care about me and my country. So frankly after searching for other photo sharing services, I have landed on Zoto.com which looks pretty cool, so I am considering having an account with you, i will register for the free to test it then upgrade for sure.

    But I feel like shouting: “flickr … I AM NOT A HAPPY CUSTOMER”

    Keep it up Zoto!

  11. santiago csirke
    December 7, 2006 at 4:07 pm

    You are not a happy customer? I am angry!!! I am from Perú, and I have bought many flash components and programs from different companies through the web, however, “Flashvalley.com” has a component nobody else has. Yes, and it only works with “paypal”. Yes, again. My country does not exist for them either.

  12. Marc Lawrence
    January 10, 2007 at 5:17 pm

    Based on my own recent experience, here’s why Flickr sucks: Flickr has vague rules, enforces said rules arbitrarily and inconsistently, and makes customers wait weeks (or in perpetuity) before responding to requests for assistance.

  13. June 17, 2007 at 1:31 pm

    Count me in with the “Flickr Sucks” crowd, but also for reasons nobody else has mentioned.

    The whole pyapal thing is a drag – in fact, paypal made an error and double-billed me for my flickr subscription, so I would up involvuntarily spending $50 and getting a two-year subscription instead of spending $25 and getting the one year subscription I wanted. Since Flickr has that wonderful nearly-criminal “no refunds, ever, no how, no way” policy, I’m stuck with the second year that I don’t want, and my Paypal account has been frozen because I refuse to pay them the $25 that I did not want to spend. But that’s all another story. Anyway, after a few months with Flickr, I don’t even want my first year. I’m sorry I paid for a pro account, and honestly cannot understand why everybody likes Flickr so much.

    Flickr’s “organizer” is totally buggy. I spend hours with it alternately showing me my pictures and then suddenly telling me I had none, even though I have over 2000 uploaded. If you hunt, they provide a link to an older organizer version, which has the same problem.

    Flickr is totally inflexible. They give you abolutely no way to control other order photos are displayed in your “photostream” except by upload order. Whose brilliant idea was that? Also their display options for your main page layout are all bad. I don’t like any of them.

    Flickr’s support is, if my experience was typical, completely nonexistent. Having paid my money, I contacted support about the issue I was having with Organizr. My support request was ignored completely. All I ever heard back was a survey questionairre from Yahoo two weeks later asking how my support experience was. You’d better believe I told them.

    Above all, Flickr’s ideas about how your photos should be presented are awful and, once again, this is not flexible. Universally throughout Flickr, your photos are mutilated into arbitrary square thumbnails which, unless you’re taking snapshots that you care only about the subject and not the overall composition, make it literally impossible to tell what your photographs look like (not to mention that it violates the “no derivatives” Creative Commons license that Flickr itself offers.)

    I challenge you to go into the Flash-based Organizr – when it’s not telling you you yor photos don’t exist – and put together a gallery of your best shots. If you are like me, and take many photos of a subject, you’d better have the best shots tagged before upload because you’re not going to be able to evaluate your composition in Organizr once your photos have been chopped into little squares. On occasion, I’ve been unable to identify what a photo was even of because they cropped out the most important details (and this wasn’t an unusual subject, It was a friend of mine standing up… they cropped his head out of the thumbnail so I couldn’t even tell what it was a picture of. Brilliant.) And aside from any rational reason, the fact is: I don’t want people seeing my photographs as little partial square bits, requiring them to click on the altered versions to see what the photograph actually looks like. Ever. That’s why I picked a “no derivatives” license. But Flickr seems to feel that I don’t need a say in this, or that they’re above the restrictions of the CC licenses they promote.

    Finally, I had the frustrating experience of posting in Flickr’s “improvement suggestions” forum that, y’know, maybe Flickr shouldn’t be arbitrarily cropping our photos and showing them to the public that way, or should at least give us an option to turn it off and leave our photos unmolested. I got hit with a tidal wave of strongly negative reactions (including a some personally incensed sounding oes that have since been deleted.) Several users with “pro” accounts replied that that square thumbnails were crucial to Flickr’s “site branding” and page layout, among other things and that they’d hate to see them go – it was like they cared more about Flickr than about their photographs. I was also then cautioned by them – the “pro” users – to do my photo organizing offline if I wanted to be able to see what my photos actually look like, and that Flickr is no more reliable than my own hard drive for backing up my photos, and that most people do not use Flickr for archiving their photos, either. In fact, one highly-active user told me doesn’t upload 90% of his photos. So, pro users feel that Flickr is not good for photo organizing, too unreliable for backup, and don’t even even upload the vast majority of their photos to it in any way… I was left questioning, what the $#$%# did I just pay $50 for? I felt like I just paid good money for nothing more than to join a bulletin board, a glorified version of MySpace, except with a vague focus on posting snapshots for strangers to see. I’m left having paid my money (twice, due to Paypal’s lousy design and policies) and *still* shopping for a decent photo hosting service.

  14. November 15, 2009 at 10:15 am

    LOL! these are great!

  15. timo elliott
    November 20, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    I asked SmugMug to unsubscribe me from their emails and they deleted my SmugMug account and all the photos in it!!!
    Must be nice to be so Smug!

  1. September 3, 2006 at 11:21 am
  2. September 3, 2006 at 6:37 pm
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