Why Flickr is (not only) an Instagram alternative

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Photo: Alexander Kaiser on Flickr.

The recent uproar over Instagram’s planned changes to the Terms of Service  – and the subsequent frantic backpedaling – has shown two things:

  1. Instagram really is part of the Facebook empire
  2. If you aren’t the customer, you are the product

Neither of these points are really surprising but it has reminded me once more why I like Flickr so much:

Cultural affinity

Flickr pre-dates the smartphone age, which sadly was one of the reasons it was so incredibly slow to catch up. However, it also meant that Flickr was always a place for serious photographers and as a result Flickr has a cultural affinity to dealing with professional photographers that Instagram lacks. Even though many of the photos you see on Instagram are of professional quality, Instagram is a social network (owned by Facebook) first and a place for photographers second. Flickr on the other hand is a place for photo enthusiasts first. Despite all its woes, Flickr has always given its users the feeling that the service treasures their works.

Licenses, licenses, licenses

Flickr has a vast array of licenses from which you can choose and you can assign a different license to each photo. This includes full copyright ©, all Creative Commons licenses and the option to license your photos through Getty Images and earn money – though this last option could do with some further development.


Screenshot of the new Flickr app. (Photo: iTunes)

A beautiful new app

Over the last two years it really pained me, that there was no decent smartphone app for Flickr – that has finally changed two weeks ago! The new Flickr app is gorgeous!  It’s a great photography app in its own right that helps you and enhance photos beyond what you find in many other apps. In a nod to Instagram’s popularity it now also includes artsy filters that we all have become to love/hate. In addition, it elegantly includes your Flickr albums (sets) and groups as well as tagging and other advanced options. Strangely though, you cannot set your licenses from within the app. I also find it interesting that, in the app at least, Flickr moved away from Yahoo maps and relies on Google maps for geolocation. Read more about the new app here or download it for free from the iTunes store.

Social sharing

Unlike Instagram, which recently cut of support for Twitter, you can share to Twitter and Facebook from the Flickr app. For Public Information and Communications Officers in the field it is particularly important to be able to share their photos with as little hassle as possible.

A variety of resolutions

Flickr allows you to store and share photos in different resolutions and enable and disable downloads completely.

Advanced search

I find man photos that I use in presentations or to illustrate blog posts on Flickr. You can search by keywords, dates, thematic group or type of license.

You can be the customer, not the product

National Geographic on Twitter

National Geographic reacted to Instagram’s proposed ToS changes by suspending their account.

While Flickr offers basic accounts for free, a lot of users have chosen “premium” accounts that cost about 20 USD per year. While we all like to save money, being a paying customer is actually beneficial to professional photographers and NGOs since as a paying customer, you can have far more confidence in your intellectual property rights being respected than if you are using a service for “free”. I find this particularly important for humanitarian organizations that frequently take photos of people in very difficult situations.  As a photographer you have to be absolutely sure that your photos are used in a way that also respects the rights of the people being portrayed and it is absolutely unacceptable that a service, such as Instagram had planned, would take your photos and show them next to ads or sell them to third parties without your knowledge and permission! Imagine you are taking photos in a refugee camp and suddenly these photos are being used to promote the “greencard lottery” or appear in a leaflet agitating against immigration! The mind recoils.

I have been using Flickr for almost nine years, so of course I’m partial to the service. And it’s definitely not like all is rosy in Flickr-land. The years of neglect by Yahoo have hurt the service and the website urgently needs to get more than just a facelift. But I still think it’s the best photo sharing platform out there – particularly for non-profit organizations – and with the new app, it looks like it might have finally arrived in the present.