This week I stumbled onto an interview Bernardo Hernández gave to the Spanish technology website TecnoXplora.com way back in November. I wish I had found it sooner because I thought it was very interesting.
For those who don’t know Hernández, he was hired six months ago by Yahoo Inc. CEO Marissa Mayer to become the head of Yahoo’s struggling photo hosting website Flickr. For some long-time Flickr users Hernández is the last bastion of hope and is the only person who can prevent Flickr from fading into history and becoming photography’s equivalent of MySpace or Friendster.
Many long-time Flickr users had high hopes for Mayer when she assumed the helm at Yahoo. But as it quickly turned out she wasn’t much better than the Yahoo CEOs before her in at least one critical regard. Like her predecessors who didn’t use Flickr at all (how can you be the executive of a product and not use it?), Mayer continued using Instagram for many months after her hire. This pissed off a lot of hardcore Flickr users.
Then in May 2013, with much hullabaloo, Yahoo announced a major redesign to their once immensely popular photo sharing website. For the first time in a long time many believed a Yahoo executive was finally taking Flickr seriously. For a few hours at least. But once the layers of the redesign were peeled back it became obvious that the update was a mirage. Flickr, which was famous for its simplicity and clean design had become slow, buggy, and ugly. Also missing was a renewed emphasis on the social component. Just as Flickr founder Caterina Fake Tweeted to me in August, Flickr will thrive if it emphasizes the social component and connections, which it was not doing. No, this was different. This wasn’t Flickr.
Not long after the relaunch that there were obvious signs that Yahoo’s efforts were a huge, colossal flop. About the only people who liked the redesign were (1) average to below average photographers who wouldn’t know good design if it bit them in the ass, (2) photographers who would rather make 1 million photographs instead one good one everyone remembers forever, and (3) the technology media who drink blue and lavender Kool-Aid from the chalice of Marissa Mayer. Power Flickr users, however, knew differently. There was no joy in Mudville.
Then on November 1, 2013 Businessweek wrote, “According to ComScore data, in May 2013, at the time of Mayer’s press conference, Flickr had 27.3 million multiplatform monthly unique users in the U.S. By September, those numbers had dipped slightly to 26.2 million.” That’s not good; especially on the heels of a much heralded redesign. And according to the November 4, 2013 New York Times, “It is not at all clear that the interface decisions (Marissa Mayer) has made so far are paying of.” As they reported, even Shutterfly was doing better than Flickr. Yes, you read that right…fucking SHUTTERFLY was doing better.
Anyone paying attention knew this was horrible news. And proof it was bad news was the fact Mayer quickly hired former entrepreneur and Google wunderkind Hernández. The hire itself wasn’t particularly interesting, but for the fact that Hernández was slid into what appeared to be a new position at Yahoo between Mayer and long-time Flickr executive Markus Spiering. Spiering, you see, was the person responsible for overseeing the May 2013 redesign…and he was responsible (at least in part) for managing Flickr’s stagnant, do-nothing approach for the past three years. Following the Hernández hire, some wondered why Spiering still had a job. Did he have naked photographs of someone?
Then less than six months after the May 2013 relaunch Flickr was quietly redesigning its website AGAIN. Was this a Hernández initiated effort? No one outside of Flickr really knows, but it was becoming increasingly obvious that the May 2013 redesign was a failure. About the only website on the Internet receiving more criticism at the time was HealthCare.gov. Still, the technology press (a.k.a. lemmings) turned a blind eye and instead wrote about Marissa Mayer’s Armani dress and her rumored purchase of a new home. What a bunch of drooling fools the technology media had become. This, it seems, was more important than the fact that the millions Yahoo invested into Flickr’s overhaul was an utter failure.
So here we are now with the November Hernández interview, which largely went unnoticed outside of Spain; unfortunate because it truly offers some very revealing nuggets. Admittedly, I needed Google Translate to read the article, but I think it (and I) interpreted Hernández’s words accurately. Here are some of the most important items I have been able to glean from the article:
1.) Hernández has been a user of Flickr since 2005. This is particularly encouraging, especially if you consider the fact that his boss, Marissa Mayer, didn’t begin using Flickr until December 2012, and, frankly, still doesn’t use the site much at all that much. Then again, Mayer is a very busy woman giving all of those interviews to lap dog reporters and doing photo shoots for the likes of Vogue.
2.) Hernández said Flickr is committed to professional photographers and will continue to provide “tools” for pros. I found this interesting, especially if you consider the fact Mayer famously said shortly after Flickr’s update that “there is no such thing really as professional photographers.” She caught a lot of flak for that utterance and pissed off many, including those who were professional photographers and those who wanted to be a professional photographer some day. It also smacked of ignorance and arrogance. But Hernández’s comments about professional photography in this article, intentional or not, were frankly a breath of fresh air. Makes me want to think this guy gets it.
3.) Flickr very nearly wrote off Pro accounts when it revamped itself in May 2013, but Hernández says Flickr will roll out new benefits for those who have a Pro account. This is also good news, not because Flickr will offer pro users 2 terabytes of free Internet storage instead of the 1 terabyte it now offers now (tongue planted firmly in my cheek–what the hell were they thinking?), but because it means Yahoo isn’t wearing concrete shoes during following the fiasco of its redesign. They are willing to change. And I suspect Hernández is the only reason this is happening. Viva La Hernández!
4.) Hernández also makes a point of mentioning the Flickr’s collection of photographs, now believed to be well over 4 billion images, is very well curated and edited. The mere mention of this fact is encouraging. If he and his team recognize the real value of Flickr’s collection, and if combined with his commitment to professional photographers, then maybe, just maybe, Flickr management will be smart enough to end its deal with Getty and begin monetizing the Flickr collection and offering stock photography sales on its own without the “help” of Getty. Allowing users to set their own prices and margins would lead to the ultimate democratization of photography and it would be a death knell for micro stock photography agencies that have been feeding off of unsuspecting photographers for years. But most importantly, such a move would mean the removal of the proverbial (and parasitic) middleman (a.k.a. Getty) AND much, much more revenue for Yahoo and its shareholders.
Yes, there was a lot of positive things in the interview with Hernández. Read it for yourself; you may come to an entirely different conclusion. But what is certain is that regardless of what happens in the months ahead, Flickr is in much better hands with Hernández than it was without him.
My fingers are crossed.