Why, despite Flickr's improvements, Instagram still wins my heart

I never meant to ditch Flickr for Instagram. From some time in 2005 until a year or so after the iPhone got a truly decent camera, Flickr was where I shared photos. (Remember, not so long ago, it was preferable to own a completely separate device for taking pictures, and yet another for videos! What a crazy time that was.)

Over the next few years, I fell in love with Flickr's community, where my friends didn't mind that I shared 17 photos of the same thing from slightly different angles, and where I could join a group focused on mid-century architecture as a mere spectator.

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Flickr, buoyed by its kaleidoscopic tribes, continues to be a great resource for hosting and discovering photos. But until a major update to its iOS app six weeks ago, I had let my Pro account lapse and had all but stopped sharing photos there. Though the decline was steady, I can pinpoint Flickr's displacement by Instagram as my photo-sharing app-of-choice to June 2011.

Flickers of life

The reason for that displacement is simple and a little sad: Flickr stagnated while iOS-based photo-sharing startups flourished. The basic design of the Flickr website, with its annoying lightbox interface and aggravating navigation, hasn't changed in years. Not many of the service's other essential features have changed in years, beyond a few sparse offerings in 2008-09, including support for short videos and unlimited uploads for Pro users. Given the quality of Flickr's user base, the service may well have remained tolerable, were it not for the arrival of other major innovations on the photo-sharing scene.

But Flickr's loss of inertia coincided with the rise of the iPhone, and Flickr's long-running failure to make a great mobile app contributed to the slow and quiet exodus of many longtime users. The company's first iOS app, released nearly two years after the iPhone's debut, went from exciting to disappointing in about five minutes, proving unstable and annoying to use. And just as the best camera is the one you have with you, the best photo-sharing app is the one that's the easiest and most fun to use on your phone.

Of the many apps/sites/platforms that could've usurped Flickr's dominance in my life, why did Instagram win my attention? Well, I have daily access to two perennial internet staples--a baby and a cat--so it follows that I need to share photos of them frequently, and as conveniently as possible.


I'd say I have an eye for design (I am, after all, a designer) but only a passing interest in photography. Though Instagram was goofy in its early days--remember that big, bubbly center tab for the camera? And how you couldn't turn off photo borders? And how awkward the UI for applying filters was?--it did what the Flickr iOS app introduced in 2009 failed to do: It made editing, posting, and viewing photos quick and fun. Plus, my friends started using it--and not just my Flickr and Twitter friends, either. I mean, my real-world, Facebook-ing, I-just-got-an-iPhone-what-apps-should-I-get friends started using it, too. And that was huge.

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