I have no idea whether either or both social platforms will thrive just fine without me or whether others are moving away from them, too, and they’ll fade away soon.
Flickr was the first social network I used actively. I joined in June 2006, about six months before joining LinkedIn. Back when sending huge emails with lots of attachments was a big deal, Flickr was convenient for sharing photos. I’d just send out a link to photos of Mimi and me visiting Bryce Canyon or a shot of the family gathered for a wedding. I’d email links to family and friends along with an account of the trip or the gathering, and they would email back with encouraging or funny or sympathetic remarks, depending on the nature of my photo or message.
It was actually quite like posting a photo to Facebook, Instagram or Twitter today. Except that the conversation all happened on email, rather than on Flickr. Most of my family and friends never joined Flickr. But since my photos were public, they could see them and I shared photos more regularly than most of them.
For 2006 and most of 2007 (I was passive on LinkedIn until late 2007), Flickr was my only social medium (beyond email and a blog). I posted frequently enough that I hit the free storage limit of 300 photos and gladly paid for a pro account and unlimited storage (something like $25, as I recall).
In that time, Flickr might have been the first site I heard used as an example of how the public’s ability to create content could transform the news business. Kinsey Wilson (then at USA Today, but this week named Strategy and Innovation Editor at the New York Times) was a discussion leader for a 2006 American Press Institute seminar I led in Mexico City. He contrasted the excellent (but few) photos the San Francisco Chronicle had published by its professional photojournalists of an air show in the bay area with the hundreds of photos posted to Flickr of the same show. Individually, some of the Flickr photos weren’t as spectacular as the professional photos, but the array of photos from the public actually provided a more dynamic visual story of the air show, even if some of the photos weren’t that good (and some were as outstanding as the pros’ shots, or were shot by pros using Flickr). It was a great illustration of the growing ability of the “crowd” to tell stories independently of news organizations.
If you had asked me in 2007 or 2008, when I was getting started on Facebook and Twitter, which social platform had the brightest future, I might have said Flickr. Of course, I’d have been wrong. Flickr never became a place of strong engagement or conversation the way Facebook and Twitter did.
But Flickr developed a way for me to post by email simultaneously to both Flickr and Twitter, so many of my photos kept going there, even though Twitter was the place I was most likely to generate conversation. But I couldn’t tag the photos by email, and the organized archive that tags facilitated had become one of Flickr’s greatest values to me.
As more people got smartphones and posting photos online became easy, Facebook and Twitter became more popular places to post (and the places I was most likely to post). Instagram came along with filters and hashtags and became a more engaging photo site, soon followed by Snapchat, with its quickly vanishing photos for those more interested in fun than archives.
I stuck with Flickr at first, perhaps out of loyalty, perhaps feeling that Instagram’s filters altered photos in ways a journalist should avoid. But when a new phone required re-syncing my Twitter and Flickr apps, I didn’t bother. It seemed fine to post my photos just to Facebook or Twitter.
Instagram and Snapchat are platforms I’ve procrastinated about starting to use. When I do, I’ll use them one mostly to be fluent in important social media, not because my photo/social needs aren’t being met by my current choices. I may keep paying my annual Flickr pro fee, just to have the archive. But I also may take the time to save the photos somewhere else and just let it go. After all, I wonder, how long will Flickr and that archive be around?
I don’t say this to fault or criticize Flickr or Yahoo! (which bought Flickr in 2005). I’m just observing that products have different life spans, either in your own use or in the marketplace at large. If Flickr loses me entirely or eventually goes out of business, that doesn’t mean it was unsuccessful. It was valuable to me and millions of photographers for several years. I appreciated that value recently when searching through it for some photos to use in another blog post. But sometimes it’s time to move on. I don’t use my single-lens-reflex camera any more either.
I was intrigued by Foursquare at first. I thought location was going to be a game-changer (to use the buzzword favored for trendsetting tools and factors). The Foursquare games – awarding badges for frequent behaviors and proclaiming the users who checked into venues the most often to be “mayors” – never had much appeal to me beyond mild amusement.
But I felt that providing news, advertising, coupons and other commercial opportunities based on location had lots of potential. Fourquare didn’t seem to be the location solution, but it was playing in an area I considered important, so I decided to play.
For more than 4 years, I checked in at the interesting places I visited. I didn’t check in at gas stations or grocery stores or home or work, but I would check in at ballgames, airports, hotels, newsrooms I visited and restaurants. At various times I was mayor of an odd assortment of places: Some restaurants and hotels, a pie shop (yeah, I know), my dentist’s office (don’t ask), Mom’s assisted living community (not surprised to find that people there weren’t using Foursquare).
I unlocked 67 badges, none that I’m proud of. Molto Buono Level 10 reminds me that I might eat Italian food a little too often and Porky Level 5 says I’ve visited more than 20 barbecue joints (only 20?). Mimi wasn’t particularly pleased at my Century Club badge for checking in 100 times at Dulles International Airport.
I’m not saying Foursquare wasn’t useful. Some tips steered me to pretty good meals and desserts. At least one coupon saved some money (alas, for my penny-pinching company, not me). And I’ve blogged about some possible value for journalists.
But the value was declining. My most frequent engagement about Foursquare was the mocking remarks from Mimi and others when I’d bother to check in as we sat down to dinner. The effort wasn’t matching the reward.
So when Foursquare recently required users to download Swarm to keep using it, I balked at first. Then I downloaded it and it didn’t work right away. Maybe the app would have worked. Maybe it didn’t work. Maybe I just didn’t figure out immediately how to make it work. But I stopped using it. And haven’t missed it.
Foursquare did need to do something to make itself more valuable. And maybe Swarm will provide that value. But I didn’t care enough to do the work to find out whether Swarm was more valuable than Foursquare.
I’m not saying good-riddance to Flickr and Foursquare. I actually hope that I learn of new value they are providing, something to lure me back. I’m a loyal person and I wish these ventures success. I’ve kept both accounts open (though I suppose they could be closed sometime for dormancy, especially if I don’t re-up on that Flickr pro account).
I hope to blog someday about the comebacks of Flickr and Foursquare, or how they found a way to thrive with a different user base. But even active users of digital media have limited bandwidth on our attention and interest. A successful digital business needs to keep proving its value to you again and again (a lesson Facebook and Twitter would be wise to learn).
By the way, I checked. My last Flickr photo was Sept. 8 last year, when I posted a few photos from Royal Gorge. They each got over 100 views, one a little over 400. But no one commented on them. No engagement. That was part of the problem. Below is the best of that last batch of photos.
And I last checked in on Foursquare Aug. 7 of this year at Crisp & Juicy in Arlington. I used to be the mayor there.