Now that Instagram has suddenly angered so many of its millions of loyal users with a sneaky terms of service change, Yahoo's newly released Flickr app actually has a chance to win over legions of new photo sharers. Instagram's champions have been agitated with the app ever since it got all buddy-buddy with Facebook, but now that Instagram can sell your pictures without telling you — or letting you opt out — many users have threatened to leave. (Wired's Roberto Baldwin has a post up on how to delete all your photos and do just that.)
Which leaves the question: where will all the cellphone photos go? Probably not in the direction of Facebook any more than they do already — everyone posts Facebook albums, but the Instagram crowd is talking revolt, not giving in to their favorite app's new overlords. Twitter just added photo filters, too. But the tech elite have started losing faith in new Twitter products as well, what with all of the compromising of user experience in favor growth. Which might just leave Flickr, the picture-based social network with a retro appeal that the Internet swooned over long before Yahoo bought it for $30 million in 2005. "Back then, the passion around Flickr would make the the fervor of Instagram look like a 12-second flash mob in Boise, Idaho. People loved — I mean loved! – Flickr," recalled Bits Blog's Nick Bilton. On the Internet, of course, early web nostalgia is a powerful force. But now that Marissa Mayer has staked part of her mobile-based future on a new Flickr app for iPhone, can Yahoo's good timing turn into good fortune? Herein, a comparison test:
Building a Network
Instagram has the benefits of the network effect: by now, all your friends are there. But there was a time not long ago when it was an app far, far away from anyone but the earliest of adopters. That was part of the beauty of Instagram: you could rebuild a more intimate social network than your legions of followers on Twitter or friends on Facebook. Which kind of, maybe, sort of applies to Flickr, too. The site has been around for almost nine years, and a lot of people are on it from way back when. Which means not only that those pre-iPhone photos from a 2008 trip to South America show up pre-loaded on the new Flickr app, but you have a lot of old friends to choose from — and only old friends. For some that might mean a ton of accidental Flickr friends who happen to be great photographers, but for others it could result in the slim pickings below. (My Twitter following had many more existing Flickr users to suggest, but Facebook friends might be few and far between.)
Verdict: It's possible.
Part of Instagram's appeal is that anyone can take a cool looking picture — the filters make it almost too easy. So far, Flickr has 15 options to Instagram's 18, after it added one in an update last week. And honestly, as you can see in the little composite we made below, Flickr's filters are pretty weak, with none of them making my highly amateur photo of our Quartz mug look any more professional.
At least the Instagram filters below attempt to use real photo lenses. The filters, a sampling of which we put together below, have better effects, too.
Verdict: Not the same.
Instagram's app has a wonderful kind of simplicity to it: a few widgets allow you to take, manipulate, and share photos in seconds. That's it. Flickr's user experience has a little more to it, with groups and favorites and photo sets — kind of like a Facebook album — all of which makes the experience a little less ephemeral. On the other hand, once a snapshot goes up on Instagram, it kind of disappears forever. And while Instagram announced web profiles about a month ago, Flickr also updated its site with the new new app. Because who doesn't like to keep looking at pictures?
Verdict: A trade off, but maybe for the better.
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But the bigger parts of Yahoo's standing Flickr ToS were created before a time when "likes" were turned into personal endorsements, and so they don't say anything about using photos you like as commercial property some day.
Verdict: We'll take it.
The name Flickr might still scare some people away — it's relatively antiquated in the life span of the Internet. And it's too soon to tell just how many of Instagram's millions of users care enough about these new terms of service to give up all their friends and filters for an old service and its newfound mobile life. But if you care enough about privacy and like your albums, then Flickr might be worth a try, if not a total switch.