Flickr is Fading: 500px Mini Review

17 Oct , 2011  

Bennison Fabrics calendar by Ken Sparkes on

(Things have changed since I wrote this, so I’ve added updates at the bottom of the page…)

It never rains but it pours, or so it seems. I have used Flickr as an online scrapbook for many years but Yahoo, who own and run Flickr, seem to be have left their prime photo site out in the rain recently and recently refuses communicate with PayPal for Pro account renewals. That means all but the most recent photos have disappeared, including photos linked to Bennison email campaigns and any links to sets or collections I’ve emailed to friends, colleagues or clients. Apparently they are still there, but we can only find them by searching for the right keywords. ‘Oh well, plenty more fish in the sea’, I hissed, and went in search of an alternative.

Ken Sparkes on Flickr
The Flickr-PayPal problem was resolved by deleting PayPal from Yahoo Wallet and then adding it back in again, so now I’ve got all my photos back. I’m not sure if I will re-embrace Flickr as wholeheartedly in the future, though.

500px was founded by photography fanatics Ian Sobolev, Oleg Gutsol and Evgeny Tchebotarev and looks very much like a site for people who take photography seriously. The site is attractive, is easy to use. It lacks many of Flickr’s bells and whistles and currently has only a few integrations, so probably kinder to people with time-management failings. I uploaded a few photos to see how the portfolio section [portfolios seem to have been removed – see below] worked, linked my profile, tinkered with the settings, logged out and went to do some proper work.

My GMail notifier started flashing. I had mail. Lots of it. This rain-swept umbrella picture had 11,500 views, 42 pages of votes and comments, and became Editor’s Choice soon after. The 500px community is enthusiastic, engaged, active and there are some very good photographers on there.

The 20 per week upload limit forces users to choose their images carefully and the voting system seems benign; votes increase the photo’s percentage using some kind of inverse logarithmic calculations mean that as the photo becomes more popular, it requires more votes for each percentage point. At the same time, each passing day reduces the photo’s score; images can soar in popularity and then gently fade back as new images take their place. Photographers who build up their network by voting and commenting are likely to gain more views, though I would encourage thoughtful comments rather than the slightly spammy one-liners that swamp many good photos. Editor’s Choice allows the management to influence things and as long as they highlight good photos, nobody is going to object. If the Editors go bland or try to push a certain style of photography for personal or commercial reasons, there could be trouble, but there is no evidence of that.

500px Editor's Choice

Will it replace Flickr? Probably not. It’s not much good as a scrapbook, there are no interest groups, the API is still underpowered and integrations are rudimentary. There are also worrying signs that 500px management needs to improve it’s communication skills – witness Jeffrey Friedl’s abandoned Lightroom plugin, something I would have greatly appreciated. Let’s hope that this is just a glitch by a small company that must be struggling to cope with sudden popularity and the problems of scaling up to meet demand. It’s not Flickr and it’s not meant to be; it’s a well constructed photography showcase with a strong photographic community and I’m going to stick with them for a while and see where it goes.

An iPad app has just been released. I just installed it and at first glance it looks simple and clean, like the main site. Pretty and easy to use.

I will be exploring 500px some more and I’m going to look at as well. I’ll report back here when I’ve got more news on them.

Lightroom Plugin for 500px

I read about a new Lightroom plugin and decided to download it and give it a try. It appears in your Lightroom ‘Publish Services’ and is simple to use. I just downloaded, installed and uploaded a new photo in about 3 minutes total. Switch to grid view and drag your photo(s) onto either Profile or Folio tabs, then use the Publish button, top-right. Title and caption are retained from Lightroom and you can edit them before you publish, but I noticed that keywords are not included, nor is there an option to add them. Comments from 500px inside Lightroom is an interesting addition which I’m not entirely sure is going to float my boat. Yet.

Update Feb 2012: 500px changes. Some good, some bad

500px just had a redesign with some nice additions and a few unexpected deletions. There is a new view mode called ‘Flow‘ which is intended as a front-end showcase to your photos and your favourites. Apparently driven by an algorithm which attempts to arrange your content by attractiveness rather than the straight upload date of your ‘Photos’ page.

I like the idea, but not the execution: the masonry-style arrangement of portrait and landscape oriented image tiles coupled with auto-cropping results in some odd and sometimes incomprehensible results, with a bias to showing just the top-left corner of the picture regardless of what’s in it – guessing this is a bug which will get fixed. And the layout? Well, the decision to push for larger images inevitably means less white space. Hmm, have to let my eyes get used to that before I start complaining.

500px Activity page has been restoredAlas, the 500px team have deleted ‘Activity’ and ‘Wall’ (Activity page is back, by popular demand) which breaks most of the community and social usefulness of the site. In their place are ‘Stories‘; pages for words and pictures where you can pull together a set of photos or a project. This, I like.

The redesign seems to be aimed at making the site more of a showcase and portfolio site rather than a photography network, and perhaps that’s not a bad thing – the comments and wall posts rarely raised my pulse – but I think the social functionality could have been usefully retained as a background feature.

We now have a ‘Market‘ where photographers can sell prints together with a HD file. There are very few options here, but it’s early days so I will explore this a little more and report back as it evolves.

Almost lost in the eye-candy makeover items is ‘Organizer’ which gets a thumbs-up (apart from the misspelling) for allowing us to arrange photos into collections of related content.

Flickr is also getting a makeover, probably quite similar to 500px, which they plan to launch on the 28th of February. I wonder how they will compare with each other after they’ve both had a Spring clean?

Update July 2012: 500px Portfolios gone?

Portfolios seem to have been removed/deleted without notice! I see there is a new portfolio section available to premium subscribers at $50 per year. I’m glad I didn’t spend too much time on mine since not only has it disappeared, but the old portfolio url is a 404, so the links I might have disseminated via email or online would now just point to a generic error page which doesn’t even refer to my profile. They really should redirect all the old portfolio urls to each author’s profile.

500px are looking for good ways to monetize their business, naturally, and I like what they are offering, but I can’t see anywhere that 500px has announced, blogged, forewarned or advised us about this change. A curious way to do it, no?

:: Update December 2012: Flickr gets a second chance ::

Ken Sparkes on Flickr
Flickr just roared back with Yahoo! chief exec Marissa Mayer’s commitment to breathe new life into the ailing service. The website has had a modest redesign, sure, but the unexpected combination of a killer iPhone app and the Instagram rights-grab debacle has given the whole thing a momentum that I hope will continue.

Update May 2013: Flickr kills Pro accounts. And professional photographers, too!

Marissa Mayer kicked off a storm when she was quoted saying, “There’s no such thing as Flickr Pro today because there’s really no such thing as professional photographers anymore”, during a press briefing to explain the surprise retiring of Flickr Pro accounts. She later apologised for the comments, explaining that they referred to the Flickr Pro shakeup, not to professional photographers in general.

It’s nice that she personally handled the fallout and allowed professional photographers to carry on with their careers, but there’s still a lot of confusion about the difference between the accounts. I have a recurring Pro account (I think), so I get this:

Your Flickr Pro subscription:
1-year Pro at $24.95

Your Pro account will renew automatically on 6th December, 2013

When you choose a new Pro subscription you will receive a refund for any unused time on your current subscription. You will be billed for a new subscription. Your new subscription will begin immediately.

  • 3-month Pro at $6.95
  • 1-year Pro at $24.95 (Save $2.85!)
  • 2-year Pro at $44.95 (Save $10.65!)

Which I’m guessing means that, for me, it’s business as usual. I get unlimited uploads, sets and collections, I’m not limited to just the most recent 200 photos and I get stats. The free accounts will get most of this, so it may not be worth continuing as a Pro once the details have been spelled out more clearly.

So, what about if you had a Pro account but it wasn’t recurring? I’m not sure, and neither is Flickr; it looks like they were considering a plan to allow non-recurring members to sign up for a recurring Pro subscription, but that seems to have been pulled:

Pro Accounts discussion on Flickr

With Adobe’s recent retirement of CS and their move to the cloud-based CC subscription model, there are a lot of people getting very angry on the internets about professional photographers being let down by these big companies. Personally? Experience has taught me that professional photographers are always getting let down by someone or something; that’s why we have to buy spare camera bodies, backup our work to several hard drives, have another model on hold, get a work order from the client. Don’t put all your eggs in someone else’s basket.

It’s going to be a real pain to convert all my Photoshop psd files to layered tiffs, and an even bigger pain to figure out future access to all the InDesign files for Spaces magazine, but I had to do it once already when we switched away from Quark Xpress. It’s not worth wasting energy on bitching about it – the software companies and services are doing what is best for them and we ought to be doing what is best for us.

If you rely on Flickr Pro you probably aren’t being very professional, and if you can’t work without Creative Suite, you probably aren’t being creative enough. My advice would be to keep your Flickr account going and duplicate your content on 500px or another alternative. Ensure that all your InDesign files are exported PDFs (it’s even possible to convert the PDFs to Word docs, if that helps) and maybe also export in ePub format so you at least have basic access to your own content.

This isn’t ever going to stop and you will never be done with it. Keep calm and keep looking over your shoulder.

What has been your experience with the Flickr v 500px v 1x debate? I would like to know…


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