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 28<sup class="ordinal">th</sup> 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 débâcle 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 6<sup class="ordinal">th</sup> 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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