For almost a decade I have been a devoted user of Flickr. I’ve long enjoyed capturing photos and sharing them with friends. Late last year the Flickr service was updated to include several sought after features, such as nearly unlimited photo storage and a drag and drop up-loader. Unfortunately, they also fundamentally changed how their service is integrated into social networking sites such as Facebook.
This change highlights the conflict between Yahoo (owner of Flickr) and the social networks that have overtaken them. Previously when a user added photos to Flickr, the photos would be uploaded to Facebook automatically in a slide format. This made it easy for users to share large numbers of photos, allowing Flickr to operate seamlessly within the Facebook experience.
I am sure that Yahoo had concerns about this feature because it essentially eliminated the need to go to Flickr’s website to view photo albums. The feature minimized Flickr as a social website, and relegated it into a supporting role for other social websites such as Facebook. It is no wonder that Yahoo was motivated to make a change.
At this point, you are probably wondering what was this change that Flickr made. Rather than upload photos in a slide show, they now upload one photo as a header with an embedded link that would bring the user back to Flickr. The problem is that a user who was looking at the Facebook would never know that there were additional photographs and an entire photo album available for them to view outside of Facebook, so very few people clicked on photos. In other words, they broke an essential service that Flicker once provided to users.
This change eliminated Flicker’s value as a social networking site. If Twitter, for example stopped working with Facebook, they would probably lose the majority of their users. The greatest virtue of a Social networking service is that they provide open communications and (with few exceptions) interoperate.
Flickr has lost sight of this. Like so many other Flickr users, I am now forced to decide if I would like to continue to use Flickr as a storage vehicle for my photos.
This is precisely what happens when a company loses site of the inherent value of its products. Over time my expectation is that Flickr will decline.
The lesson to be learned here is that as good entrepreneurs we must never lose sight of the true value that our product creates. There are two fundamental questions that you should always ask about your products:
First, what is the expectation the user has about your product’s role in the market. If the consumer expectation is that your product is an enabler for other services then you should consider the impact for changing that relationship. Yahoo lost sight of the fact that by making this change to their service, they are pulling users away from the dialogue that I want them to have within Facebook. Therefore, changing this feature is damaging to the role that I expect them to maintain as a product.
Second, you should consider if the user wants you to change your role in your market. Google for example has set an expectation with their users that they retain the role of big brother with respect to data. If they suddenly announced that they were going to take over the management of tax return information, the US government would likely be greatly concerned.
Back to Flickr- by altering the value the service had within social media, it is damaging the dialogue consumers are having about the photos the service hosts and thereby ruining expectations for the Flickr.
Hopefully they will reconsider their approach before they drive all of their users away and melt into history.