When Tumblr fans say they're scared Yahoo will destroy their favorite site, it's probably because of Flickr. Yahoo acquired the site in 2005 and then neglected it into irrelevance.
At a press event in New York City Monday evening, however, Flickr was an example not of the risks of being acquired by Yahoo, but the benefits.
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer announced a redesigned Flickr site that mimics the photo-centric philosophy of the service's acclaimed iPhone app, as well as a new Flickr Android app and a free terabyte of storage for every Flickr user. “That’s 70 times bigger than what anyone else is offering,” Yahoo head of Mobile Adam Cahan said, referring to services such as Google Drive that tout 15GB of free storage. “It’s not 70 gigabytes bigger. It’s actually 70 times bigger.”
Outside the window of the press conference, which was held in Times Square, tall billboards lit up with Flickr ads, the first of Yahoo’s marketing efforts for the service.
"Flickr was awesome once, it languished, and we now want it to be awesome again," Mayer said.
Perhaps because Flickr’s struggles within Yahoo have been so well-documented, or perhaps because a former Flickr employee at the event itself had just told me about feeling that Yahoo had been fickle with its support—hot on Flickr one minute and cold on it the next—I was surprised when Markus Spiering, Flickr’s head of product, told me that Flickr’s revamp “would not have been possible without Yahoo.”
And indeed it would not have been (yes, Flickr might not need a revamp if it weren’t for Yahoo, but that’s beside the present point).
Flickr's previous fee for unlimited storage, though it created a bit of revenue, was contrary to the behavior the service wanted from its users. Why charge users to upload more photos when you want them to upload as many as they can, daily, as a habit? “We are not actually competing on the storage space,” Cahan told Fast Company, “We think of Flickr as a network product.”
Furthermore, part of Flickr’s competitive advantage is its photo quality. Whereas on Facebook or Instagram, image size is sacrificed for quick upload times and shareability, on Flickr you can download the same quality photo that you uploaded. If your photos looked good going into Flickr, they'll look good when you share them anywhere else.
In order to encourage both volume of interactions and quality images—keystones of Flickr and Yahoo's strategy—users need a lot of storage. There are few companies with infrastructure to give the 89 million people who use Flickr a free terabyte of data storage. Luckily for Flickr, Yahoo is one of them.
Yahoo also has the resources to advertise Flickr not just in Times Square, but throughout its other products. Its new weather app, for instance, uses Flickr images to reflect the weather and time of day. Its image search pulls from Flickr’s public database.
And so while Flickr is most often cited as a case against acquisitions, on Monday it worked as an example of the upside that a large company can provide a small team.
Tumblr CEO David Karp, who sat in the first row, couldn’t have missed it.
[Image: Flickr user Victor Bezrukov]