Bernardo Hernández speaks

For the first time during his six months as Flickr CEO Bernardo Hernández reached out to Flickr users when he posted a long letter to the Flickr Blog. His comments come just a few days after I wrote an article for this blog. In it suggested Hernández was good for Flickr. I can't help but wonder if post of mine somehow shaped his thank you letter. I do know he reads my Tweets; maybe he reads my blog, too.

The title of Hernández's letter is, "A Note of Thanks." And it is telling in many ways. In one regard it is Hernández's first introduction to the Flickr community. In another regard it clearly establishes him as the leader of Flickr and not so-called Head of Product Markus Spiering. His letter is also an outline for immediate future of Flickr, plus a hint of mea culpa mixed in.

Below is the entire text of that letter along with my usual critical commentary about all that is Flickr.




Hello Flickr,

I want to acknowledge and thank you for your contributions to making Flickr the best photography community online. The core of Flickr’s success is you, our community of photographers, who not only capture the most amazing images from around the world, but who use your photos and the Flickr platform to communicate with each other and express your passion.


Interesting preamble. An emphasis on the social and community component is what has been missing from Flickr for a very long time. Some will even argue Flickr was the first truly successful social media site on the web and that it paved the way for Facebook and Twitter. It was that social aspect of Flickr that made it famous. In many ways that was much more important than the photography. It is encouraging Hernández opens with a thank you and "acknowledges" and emphasizes the "community." He seems sincere and candid.


As we update Flickr to bring new technology, infrastructure, and improved functionality, we’re committed to hearing from all of you. Your feedback is vital to improving our products and we thank you for the thoughtful ideas you have shared with us to date. Over the past few months we've been gathering your feedback on the Flickr Ideas forum and we've been working to incorporate it into our product road map.


True. Flickr has indeed made steps to gather customer feedback recently. I'm not sure they do much with that information, but they are certainly gathering it. The Flickr Ideas Forum is proof of this. But this part of his letter is more mumbo-jumbo than anything else. Hernández has an obligation to state this. It probably came straight from Yahoo's marketing department. And if Hernández IS sincere then it will be the first time in many years Flickr has given a hoot about customer feedback, let alone letting it shape Flickr. Caterina Fake and Stewart Butterfield worked hard to create something unique. Yahoo instead transformed Flickr into a website that seeks to gather a mass to the lowest common denominator so it can boast the largest audience possible. Shareholders, it seems, care much more about size of audience than it does about quality or greatness. Remember, Yahoo is in the advertising business now. They are NOT in the photography business.

Bernardo Hernández, new Flickr CEO, smiles at a conference during what may have been happier times. Photo by Grupo Xabide.

For example, prior to Yahoo's complete dismantling of Flickr's customer service infrastructure some years ago Flickr's customer service was considered the gold standard. Customer service is also the necessary ingredient for creating a vibrant online community. Flickr B.Y. (Before Yahoo) understood this. Just ask former Head of Community Heather Champ who soon left after one of Yahoo's previous regimes du jour started to dismantle everything Fake and Butterfield created.

If Flickr is serious about injecting new life into its community then Hernández will have to rethink how Flickr now provides customer service. I dare Hernández to spend just a few days doing nothing but answering questions on Flickr's Help Forum. Today Flickr's customer service is handled by a small group of unpaid neurotic egomaniacs who are merely users of the service (and I use that term lightly). They are not Flickr employees. All day long they sit in front of their computers helping answer customer questions. This would be like me running a press conference for the President of the United States. Why these people volunteer their time to do this I'm not exactly sure, but Flickr is very fortunate to have them doing their bidding because it costs so little. Occasionally a Flickr employee will chime in, but all too often they are visibly absent from the Help Forum.


Have no doubt that we've seen your thoughts and that we take them seriously. We've begun to address the top-priority responses in Flickr Ideas and we will continue to do so over the course of the next few months. We’re explaining which features will shape future Flickr updates and, if we aren't planning to incorporate your suggestions into the product road map, we will explain that to you.


You mean Yahoo wasn't incorporating customer feedback and trends into its product before? Shocking. That said, it is obvious they didn't consult the Flickr community before they came up with that atrocious redesign in May 2013.


When we redesigned Flickr in May 2013, we wanted to completely re-imagine the Flickr photo experience...


No wonder the May 2013 redesign at Flickr was a failure. Look at Flickr's drab, boring, and uninspiring offices. Photo by Roozbeh Abbasi Brojeni.

Oh, they've re-imagined it alright. They've re-imagined it into one slow, ugly, cumbersome, difficult-to-use, pile of crap. You weren't even an employee of the company when Flickr launched its redesign in May 2013, Hernández, so stop trying to defend the company for what was clearly a failure.

The Flickr redesign is a text book example of what happens when you fill a room with a bunch of left-brained software engineers and former Microsoft rejects who don't know a damn thing about design (or photography for that matter). There could not have been a capable graphic designer anywhere in the building when they came up with that horrible redesign. And if there WERE any designers on the team then Hernández should box up their belongings and walk them out the door first thing tomorrow morning. Proof of this is the fact that Flickr pinned much of its hopes on the premise that customers would actually be wooed by 1 terabyte of free photo storage. That alone proves Flickr is run by a bunch of geeks who only see the world in two dimensions.


...putting the focus on the photo while encouraging you to upload and share more of your images. We also wanted to reinvigorate Flickr by expanding the community to reach new users who had not previously considered Flickr a home for their photos. We've accomplished both of these goals, with new registrations increasing by 2x and daily photo uploads increasing 3x (occasionally even 7x!) across Flickr desktop and mobile.


Putting the focus on the photo? You've got to be kidding me. How can any user focus on A photo when their screen is filled with a mess of photographs from one corner of the monitor to the other? The design is the pinnacle of quantity over quality. And it is the single dumbest change to Flickr ever...a list that isn't as short as you might think.

Hernández's numbers here are also crap. The only reason registrations have increased is because Yahoo finally began publicly admitting they actually own Flickr and began linking to it and mentioning it again. Daily uploads increased only because Flickr finally created a smart phone app and embedding photos into other applications, such as its weather app (with no payment to the photographer, I might add). And photo views increased only because there is one constant, nauseating stream of pixels on Flickr tedious to view that people are falling asleep at their computers while pressing the space bar. Sure, many more photos appear on the page, but how many photos of cats and bunions does one need to see? Have the engineers at Flickr ever been to an art gallery? When do you ever see a wall COVERED with photos? Would a little white space around a photograph kill you, Flickr? Clearly the design team doesn't understand the point of photography. Somehow they think this is the only way it can compete with Instagram and video. And that's stupid.


What’s more, we've increased photo loading speeds on the redesigned photo page by a factor of 20 and we've seen remarkable increases in photo page views. We've begun to completely restructure Flickr search, with much more sophisticated visual, time, and location data points to better meet your search criteria. Finally, as more of the world consumes information from the computer in their hand, we are committed to transform the Flickr mobile experience. Mobile will be first for us.


System crashes and sightings of the dreaded bad panda have increased dramatically since the May 2013 redesign of Flickr.

More crap. Photos don't load faster; they load slower. In fact, there has been system crashes and more sightings of the bad panda than ever before. Things might load faster at their headquarters in San Francisco where everyone enjoys a 100 Mbps Internet connection, but for the rest of us in fly over country who seldom see 5 Mbps this is pure crap. Everything about the design is slow and cumbersome. There's nothing smooth about it. Even using the drop down menu to specify the kind of search one wants to perform if flaky at best. Oh, and by the way, there is no serious commitment to mobile. If Yahoo/Flickr was serious about a customer's mobile experience they would develop a Windows smart phone app and they would also have a tablet app by now. Even 500px has BOTH. What's more, Flickr is forsaking its heavy users who primarily use Flickr on a computer. Contrary to popular belief in California, the entire world does not exist inside a 4-inch diagonal Retina display.


At the same time, we recognize that the change hasn't always been easy.


Nice of you to admit this. But it is the understatement of the day.


We were working with years of legacy and incredible complexity. We needed to update our code, our server infrastructure and countless other back-end minutia. We've taken an iterative approach and we've moved quickly to deliver improvements, but this is only the first step and we have a great deal to accomplish in 2014. We look forward to bringing you wonderful updates to the Flickr desktop, mobile and app experience, all of which will be shaped by your feedback.


Maybe you wouldn't need to upgrade your server infrastructure if you had not promised 1 terabyte of free photo storage for every Tom, Dick, and Harry in the universe. I'm even half tempted to upload 600,000 copies of the same photo to demonstrate how stupid Flickr's free 1 terabyte offer is. And maybe you wouldn't need to update your May 2013 design if Flickr got it right in first place.


Please continue to share your thoughts with us. While the Flickr Help Forum is a wonderful community space and useful for emergent issues and troubleshooting, please use the Flickr Ideas page for feature requests, product feedback and fresh new ideas. We’ll be starting a new weekly series of Help Forum Hot Topic posts with regular product updates from the product managers and engineers at the front lines of Flickr, as they explain to you what we’re working on and what’s new in the Flickrverse.


Bull. The Flickr Help Forum is nothing but a place for noobs, whiners, and groupies who are prepared to follow Flickr over the proverbial cliff like a slice of lemmings. See my comments above.


We have reinvigorated energies and resources. We’re constantly adding amazing engineering and designer talent to the Flickr team and we’re committed to making the Flickr experience more remarkable. We’re listening to you and we’re grateful for your commitment to keeping Flickr the amazing community that it is.


Please don't hire any more engineering "talent" until you bring on some capable designers first. I have yet to see any talent from your so-called design team. And if they need examples of what a good photo sharing website looks like then I suggest they look at 500px and/or National Geographic's Your Shot.

Time is running out for you, Flickr. Despite what some in the media claim, Marissa Mayer did not make Flickr awesome again. If anything she's made it worse. But I know you need to break a few eggs to make an omelet so I am prepared to wait and see what Flickr does in 2014. Time will tell.