Home > business, smugmug, web 2.0 > Flickr far superior to SmugMug?

Flickr far superior to SmugMug?

November 19, 2006

It sure is – if you’re not our target customer.

Andy Atkinson has a great write-up of some of the ways Flickr is better than SmugMug. And he’s right about lots of it.

I love reviews like this. First of all, SmugMug doesn’t do any competitive research – we just don’t have time. Instead, we listen voraciously to our customers and our todo list is almost exclusively made up of things our customers want us to add, fix, or change. (Sometimes we have to read between the lines, because they don’t always know exactly how to ask for it, but we do our best). Secondly, we’re awash in positive emails and reviews all the time. They’re nice, but they can give us a false sense of security and obscure the things that we really need to work on. Andy’s review nicely shines light on some areas where we’re weak and gives us a little insight into the competitive landscape at the same time. Thanks Andy!

Andy’s review is particularly refreshing because it’s the first one I can remember, either publicly or privately, where his point of view is that Flickr has more features than we do. Given that we release new features multiple times per month, and often once per week, we frequently (daily?) hear the opposite, and it’d be easy for us to assume we had every Flickr feature our customers wanted.

I left him a comment letting him know just how valuable his write-up is to us, and how much I enjoyed reading it, but he has moderation on. So I thought I’d talk about it here, on my blog, in case he doesn’t actually allow any comments.

As I told him, we’re not trying to be Flickr. We love Flickr, often refer customers that aren’t a great fit with SmugMug, and think it’s a great site that addresses a real mass-market need for photo sharing. But that’s not what SmugMug is – we’re not a mass-market brand, we’re not for everyone, and we think we have a very narrow bead on our target. Andy sure sounds like he’s much more of a Flickr customer than a SmugMug customer, so I’m surprised he lasted this long, but he makes some great points about things we should do better, even given our different focus:

  • We don’t make it as easy to get your photos AND metadata back out of SmugMug. This one hit close to home because I’m very passionate about treating your photos as if they’re yours – not ours. We try very hard not to be the photo-sharing equivalent of the roach motel, where photos check in and never check out. We make it very easy to get your photos back out of SmugMug (they are your photos, after all, so you should be able to do whatever you want with them), but we don’t make it nearly as easy to get your metadata, like keywords and captions, back out too. Andy’s right on the money here, and I need to do a better job at this. You can use the API, of course, but we should make it easier than that.
  • Our Geotagging interface is falling behind. We were first (we actually had two major releases of our mapping & geotagging stuff long before Flickr), but Flickr’s doing it better. We’re aware of it, and it’s on our radar – we just have to finish our next evolution. This sort of back-and-forth leapfrogging will always happen, I’m afraid. It’s the nature of a competitive business. One company does it best for a few months, then another takes the top spot. Back and forth.
  • Our statistics could be better. He’s wrong about us not having per-photo statistics (we do), but he’s right that we don’t offer searching and sorting by other criteria, like comments. Doing better, richer statistics is something we’d like to do, and it’s good to see people like Andy calling us out on it.
  • Photo books (and other similar items). He mentions QOOP specifically, but the real issue is that we don’t sell photo books (or calendars, greeting cards, etc). We want to, and we’re working hard on doing it (it’s an active project in the company right now, and has been for awhile), and I wish we’d done it by now, but QOOP just isn’t the answer. Their quality level wasn’t even close to our standards, either in terms of the finished product or the shopping cart experience. This is one area where Flickr’s target customers and ours are a big deciding factor – we’d rather not offer a product for awhile than offer something that’s not high-quality. Many of our customers build their businesses on SmugMug, and if we offer an embarassing level of quality, it reflects badly on them. We take that burden very seriously.

He has plenty of other good, interesting points that we’ll have to think about, but many of them are not really SmugMug’s focus, so I can safely shelve them for a later date. All the points above, though, are solid areas we need to work on. They’re core to our business, they’d enhance our customer’s experience, and we’re clearly not executing on all of them as well or as fast as we should be.

Anyway, great review and a good illustration of the differences between our two sites. I love reading stuff like this, so be sure to let me know if you blog about anything similar. We do, of course, read all of our email every day and usually respond in minutes – so keep the feedback coming!

Categories: business, smugmug, web 2.0
  1. November 19, 2006 at 1:58 pm

    Thanks Don. The Internet still amazes me at the ability (and velocity) by which geographic barriers or interpersonal relationship barriers can be taken out of the picture, so that pure communication between two parties can occur. Point being, it’s great that I can criticize your team’s great service in a public fashion and you can extract some bits out of it that you feel align with the goals of your company, respond publicly, and your customers and team members can all be on the same page. I applaud you and your team’s conduct of their business (and feel slightly disheartened by the lack of communication between customers and developers at my large corporate software employer). As a young entrepreneurial type of person myself, I think you provide a great example of how to run a business, Internet or otherwise. I wish all businesses were handled in this way. Thanks for advising your customers about the direction of your company. In general I agree that Flickr and SmugMug are competing in different spaces. Criticism of features in the overlapping space (Venn diagram comes to mind :)) is really what my article was targeting.

  2. November 19, 2006 at 8:29 pm

    Thanks Don for your quality comments about QOOP. The photo books we have live fit a specific price point and niche. Our intent with photobooks has always been to take a good, better, best approach but it’s so early in our company’s lifecycle and product development that we have yet to get to the better and best scenarios to market. During the first half of next year we’ll be launching our new design UI, standard cut sheet hardbacks, and high end leather smythe-sewn hardbacks. Perfect bound photo books and mini books are the only way to hit the price points needed for many consumers and photographers in need of short run catalogs to show off their work. Needless to say I’m disappointed in your stance on all our products seeing that when I shared samples of calendars, greeting cards, postcards, prints and digital shirt printing with the people on your team (including one of your sons) they seemed to like them. What’s even more interesting is how much time they spent talking to the vendors we said we made our products with! Perhaps in the future we’ll meet your standards, but in the meantime we’ll continue to add products, evolve our UI, and provide fanatical customer service for our partners and photographers.

  3. November 19, 2006 at 10:20 pm


    Re-reading my post, I see that it put QOOP in a bad light. I apologize for that, that wasn’t my intent at all. I should probably have clarified, so I’ll do that now:

    For us, we need to be assured that a customer would be happy paying $100 or more for ayn item we sell and be happy with the results (assuming the photo it up to snuff, that is). That’s a tall order and one we have a hard time attaining and maintaining ourselves, but it’s the bar our customers like us to set.

    QOOP solves a big market need: well-priced goods that any site can quickly integrate with and provide new products for. QOOP does this very well, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with QOOP not perfectly addressing our market. The market they’ve chosen to address is much larger, volume-wise, than ours is anyway. It was likely a very good business decision.

    It just doesn’t mesh well with SmugMug’s approach, that’s all. It does mesh perfectly well with Flickr’s, though, and I’m sure it’s a great partnership all around.

    Oh, and that was probably my brother you were talking to – my son is about 10 months old. Easy mistake to make – Chris is my father. 🙂


  4. November 20, 2006 at 1:00 am

    Don –

    We did make some changes in the color queues recently and we might want to make some more test books for you if the competition is still open. Our new greeting cards are gorgeous and worth trying out. Also our new line of Smythe Sewn books – there is no other company that can make this style of book one off (no one is that crazy) and they make for a great coffee table book (for non book-binding readers these are literally sewn signatures like hard bound books are supposed to be made instead of the common perfect bound books with hard covers that most companies sell – ours last much longer and lay flat.). We sell these books to the major book sellers and they are archive quality and will last at least 70 years – and would seem a good fit for your audience.

    We also print for some very high-end and picky customers including customers of your competitors as well as high-end architects with books that can cost far more than $100. In fact one of QOOP’s advantages is that we can print much longer books than the competitors.

    If you have time send me a note on your comments on the shopping cart and we’ll work on it (bill at qoop.com)

    Andy email me and we will make you some free test books…

    Thank you for listening and nice press in Business Week.

    – Bill
    (CEO and head of R&D)

  5. November 20, 2006 at 9:21 am

    From a smugmug customer pov – “a customer would be happy paying $100 or more for any item we sell “, to be fair, it all depends on the item & volume.

    I have, in the past, purchased huge 30×40 prints from smugmug, and I don’t mind paying a premium for that. Smugmug has done an excellent job with the prints.

    But there are other times when cost is very much a factor. Like, right now, I’m interested in printing a few dozen 5×5 square calendars ( desktop CD calendars ) for friends and family, and a couple of large 8×8 & 10×10 calendars as well.
    Using my current smugmug gallery, a 5×5 calendar works out to $12. An 8 inch square calendar is $36, and a 10 inch is $48. At those prices, I certainly cannot afford to give anything away. Its just prohibitively expensive.

    The whole idea behind calendars is affordability – so I can buy a few dozen & give them away without feeling the pinch. Off the top of my head, I’d say a $5 for a 5 inch desktop calendar seems reasonable. I can comfortably budget $200 for few dozen calendars including postage. But at the current $12 per calendar, why, that’s just way too expensive, especially for a tiny 5″ calendar. Giving away a thirtysix dollar 8″ calendar is out of the question! So while I certainly value the high-quality prints from smugmug, when it comes to trinkets like calendars for the holidays, cost is the issue. I’ve purchased from lulu and ofoto in the past – for a give-away calendar, the quality is adequate and the cost is very affordable.


  6. November 20, 2006 at 9:41 am


    I think you misunderstood me. It’s not that SmugMug would charge $100 – it’s that a photographer shooting a $20,000 wedding might sell some of their photos from that wedding at $100 or more using SmugMug’s Pro tools.

    Of course, they can’t do that if the quality isn’t up to snuff.

    Basically, we don’t want to be the limiting factor for a high-end photographer to build their business on SmugMug. And if we’re good enough for that type of photographer, the extra bonus is that we’re then good enough for everyone else. 🙂


  7. November 20, 2006 at 10:08 am

    Selling $100+ wedding pictures – high quality, excellent prints – that’s one market.
    Selling prints on cups, calendars, mousepads, tshirts, business-cards etc. – that’s an entirely different market.

    Solving #1 does not address #2 – simply because #2 is inherently a market for trinkets – adequate quality, cheap items, large volume. When somebody is drinking a cup of joe and the cup has a picture on it, as long as there is no pixellation, its good enough. Its just a cup!

    I continue to buy $$ quality prints at smugmug, but that’s market #1.
    When I want to give things away, at a large volume, I’m just looking for a budget printing solution. I don’t see one right now on smugmug. Perhaps we need both – a professional highquality-highprice provider like ezprints, and a budget printer, like ???


  8. November 20, 2006 at 1:37 pm

    You mentioned SmugMug customers’ current inability to easily get their images and metadata back out of SmugMug. Just this week I released a free little Windows tool to the DGrin community which does just this. Users can download one or many galleries and optionally embed their captions and keywords into the downloaded originals’ IPTC headers. See the linked DGrin post for the download, source code, etc.

    Thanks for your efforts to keep SmugMug at the top. Oh, and I’m keeping an eye on the Beta Wiki page. 🙂
    -Greg Wellman

  9. November 21, 2006 at 4:17 pm

    Greg- great tool! I downloaded a gallery last night and it worked [mostly] as expected, sucking in the metadata I’d added on the SmugMug site. The single executable distributed in a ZIP file makes it extremely easy for any PC user to start using it.

    I’ll continue discussion with you at the dgrin forums, but I wanted to encourage ALL SmugMug users out there to give this a shot and support Greg.

  10. Jim McGowan
    November 28, 2006 at 2:02 am

    Just a few quick comments. Excellent exchange, by the way! I have subscriptions to both SmugMug and Flickr, but mostly use SmugMug. Just my preference; I’m not a professional – far from it! Mostly family pics. SmugMug is more suited to my needs. Flickr is more for sharing, community. It’s harder to maintain private albums there – which is what I need with some young granddaughters, but I won’t go any further into that. I have used QOOP and their products are more than satisfactory for my needs. Actually they’re quite nice! Maybe not if I were a photograoher – I don’t really know about that. When I need really nice photo albums, though, I use My Publisher BookMaker. If the high-end books that Bill of QOOP mentioned are similar to My Publisher’s books, I’m looking forward to them. Hafven’t seen them yet, though. Don, I also agree with Krishnan in that I would hope that you are looking out for those of us who are in the market for some “less-than-professional photo products from SmugMug. I do purchase a decent handful of $100+ books from My Publisher each year, but I also need calendars, mugs, and the like. Hopefully at better prices than Krishnan mentioned!


  11. November 29, 2006 at 9:24 am

    Very interesting analysis of his review. I would just like to add that while I will never go over to Flickr (I loathe the way they organize photos) the one feature I would really love to have is their flash based labeling system where you can put a box around something and then leave a note with it. I think that’s a great tool and wish we had the ability to do that.

  12. Les Hawkins
    December 17, 2006 at 8:28 am

    One thing that was mentioned in Andy’s original blog but not here is the one major problem I have with Smugmug. Searching and security. Yes I can secure my pictures on smugmug but once this is done I can no longer search for them. If I want to share only some of the images from a set in a private gallery then I have to make another gallery and duplicate the images.

  13. Marc Lawrence
    February 14, 2007 at 6:16 pm

    Flickr offers the worst customer service I have EVER experienced in dealing with an online business.

  14. March 20, 2007 at 12:14 am

    I think you guys def. need to advertise your new features more. I like to play with new features but maybe cause i’m a developer. I love the cleanness ad ease of use of smug mug’s interface. So many photo sites are soooo cluttered it takes away from the fact you want to see nice pics.

  15. Tom
    April 23, 2007 at 2:54 am

    Speaking about “geotagging”: do you know locr?

    locr offers the ideal solution and makes geotagging exceptionally easy. locr uses GoogleMaps with detailed maps and high-resolution satellite images. To geotag your photos just enter address, let locr search, fine-tune the marker, accept position, and done! If you don’t know the exact address simply use drag&drop to set the position.

    For automatic geotagging you need a datalog GPS receiver in additon to your digital camera. The GPS receiver data and the digital camera data is then automatically linked together by the locr software. All information will be written into the EXIF header.

    Use the “Show in Google Earth” button to view your photos in Google Earth.

    With locr you can upload photos with GPS information in them without any further settings. In the standard view, locr shows the photo itself, plus the place it was taken. If you want to know more about the place where the photo was taken, just have at look at the Wikipedia articles which are also automatically assigned to the picture.

    Have a look at http://www.locr.com.

  16. November 15, 2009 at 10:16 am

    LOL! these are great!

  1. April 28, 2007 at 12:42 am
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