I love Flickr, it's the one social media(ish) site I use, and I've been using it daily for a decade. What would the world lose if Flickr went away?

Here's the announcement from Flickr yesterday, in case you missed it.

Flickr has been a part of the internet community for a long time, and as most photographers are probably aware, has had a mixed past. The site has changed owners several times, and gone through different waves of management. They've added and removed features at a glacial pace, with parts of the site feeling like stepping back in time – especially the "discussions".

My Flickr page

Flickr has been around since before people called websites "social media"; the three primary ways to interact with other people – marking a photo as a "favorite", commenting on a photo, and participating in a group discussion – are essentially unchanged since the beginning of the site. (One additional way was added a few years ago: assembling a public "gallery" of other people's photos. I still see people using this, but only rarely.) To some people this means that Flickr is afraid of change, but that's a viewpoint from people for whom Flickr was never the right choice. The real benefit of such a static tool is that it is reliable and consistent, allowing users to use the website without having to relearn the tools, and allowing us to go back to the site's inception and still find healthy, usable content. So many sites "upgrades" over the years chew up and break content created before the upgrade; Flickr has avoided this pitfall. Every photo and interaction since the beginning of Flickr still shows up the same as it did when it was first posted. How remarkable is that?

Death knell

As Flickr's owners said yesterday, the site is unsustainable. They say it would be sustainable with more paying users. I don't know the likelihood of Flickr surviving – that level of information wasn't shared. But I don't know that this push will encourage additional people to pay for Flickr. Those of us that were interested were probably already paying for Flickr even before SmugMug bought it, and people who only use the site casually and don't interact with other users have little incentive to stick around.

Could a drastic change make Flickr profitable? I doubt that, either. Since the unchanging nature of Flickr is part of the charm, any change to make the site sustainable with the current paying userbase would likely remove the very things we're paying for. Flickr likes to tout "advanced statistics" and other software features as reasons to pay for the service, but those are all nearly irrelevant. The reason we pay for Flickr is because the service is worth it. There's real value in what Flickr offers – I have learned more about photography from Flickr than any book or video – and just because most of the Google/Facebook-hosted internet is offered free of charge doesn't mean we've forgotten that services are supposed to cost money.

Life after Flickr

I hope Flickr survives. But if it doesn't, I have no plans to move to a different social media service to host my photos. Instead I'll just have to rely on my own websites, which I know will mean a sharp decline in viewers. But I don't know that viewers on Instagram or Tumblr or anything else mean the same thing as feedback from photographers whose own work amazes me, which I can get on Flickr.