I’ve been using Flickr for what seems like the better part of a year now. As a result of entering my Campus Information Mashup into the Yahoo! Hack U! contest/event, I received a year of Flickr Pro, free of charge.
I’m no stranger to image sharing websites, having used deviantART and Facebook extensively and Photobucket occasionally. How does Flickr stack up to those sites, and other similar services?
It’s important to make the distinction between images, art, and photos. DeviantART is above all else an art website. Photography is art, yes, but so is a crappily drawn stick figure. Flickr is above all else a photography website. They make good use of EXIF data, even having detailed statistics on what cameras are being used. You can certainly upload images that aren’t photos, but they’re generally discouraged by the interface. Photobucket, on the other hand, is all about images, no matter what they are. There’s no central community there, as opposed to the other two websites.
Note that Flickr does have a ‘free’ account, which is limited to 200 total photos, 20MB of uploads per month, and only three sets. Given that I have over 2000 images on my Flickr account (and probably single sets that almost reach that limit) spread across 46 sets and single images that are almost 20MB (larger panoramas) these limits are definitely achievable. If you simply want to share pictures with your existing friends and don’t mind the fixed photo size and 60-photo set limit of Facebook, it’s probably better to stick with that.
If there’s one thing that Flickr has going for it, it’s good web design. If you’re looking at a picture on Flickr, it’s the focus of the page. There are minimal (at most) ads, and a good focus on the most interesting content. Facebook has a similarly focused design when using pictures, but lacks many of the options available in the flickr UI.
To get some good usage comparisons, I hopped over to Alexa. It’s not the end-all-be-all of popularity, but it is a good metric. Somewhat surprisingly, Flickr is near the top of the pile, recently overtaking Photobucket and leaving deviantART in the dust. Facebook is more popular than god, but there’s no simple way (that I know of, at least) to separate out its photos application in Alexa statistics.
From personal experience, I know that this traffic does in fact translate to actual views on your photos. From Flickr’s built-in statistics utility (more on that later) I’ve had almost half a million views on my photos, sets, etc. That’s orders of magnitude more views than anything else I’ve ever done online, with the possible exception of the Wikipedia articles I’ve worked hardest on (ex: traffic statistics for the Georgia Institute of Technology article; Pi (traffic statistics) is probably the most popular wiki article that I’ve had a significant impact on).
Ease of use
Due to Flickr’s open API, there are plenty of applications that make it easy to upload photos. I prefer Syncr, another application developed at the Hack U! event. It lets you drag a folder onto it, hit upload, and makes a set for you. Very snazzy, and miles better than the upload process at deviantART, which was nothing if not painful. Browsing images couldn’t be easier due to their clean design and intuitive structuring. The search is also fairly robust. Because public images are indexed fairly well by both Google and Yahoo, it’s easy enough to use those engines to search as well.
As with many photo sites (DA in particular), Flickr allows you to specify the license on your image as Creative Commons, and has a good restricted search for when you’re trying to find a free image to use on Wikipedia, in a presentation, etc.
One of Flickr’s main selling points is its impressive ‘Organize’ web app that lets you easily perform batch operations on your photos such as set/collection management and batch tagging and grouping. For all intents and purposes this is the best photo management software I’ve come across.
One of the nicest features (in my opinion) is Flickr’s built-in statistics. A pro-only feature (similar to DA’s statistics utility) it can give you daily, weekly, monthly, all-time pageviews for your entire photostream or for specific photos, and has very detailed referrer information. The only missing feature is to find out where users from a specific referrer visited; if you view a photo, you can see the referrer information for that photo, but there’s no way to know which photo a referrer listed on the overall stats page visited without going to the referrer and looking for a link of some sort.
Each site has its strengths and weaknesses. I realize that I am horribly biased in favor of Flickr, so that’s what I reccomend that you try, especially if you take photography seriously. I simply feel like I’m getting more with Flickr than I ever did on deviantART. By all means, I encourage you to try each of them; and as traditional with the internet, each of them will change and improve. In the comments, I encourage you to tell me how you share photos with friends and strangers.