'Freaks and Geeks' and Instagram and Flickr

Millie, like Flickr, has been waiting to say "I told you so," but she's still your friend.

Flickr feels like it's the left-behind Geeks, and Instagram the seemingly cool Freaks.

My wife and I are slowly making our way through the acclaimed, short-lived, perfect-for-Netflix TV series Freaks and Geeks. It is the definition of an ensemble comedy, but the spark is the central protagonist, Lindsay Weir, and her in-progress transition from a Mathlete star, straight-A student, and general “Geek” to a smoking, class-skipping, heavy-petting “Freak.” Being an episodic series, Lindsay learns lessons each week, often about the differing merits and heartbreaks of the straight-and-narrow and the more angst-ridden path.

More than once, Lindsay has ended up turning to one of her oldest Geek friends, Millie, for support, advice, and a steady shoulder of support, especially when her newly discovered world seems to be turning against her. So now I must apologize to just about everybody who can contact me after this posts, but I can’t help it. After cataloging the many disparate reactions to photo sharing service Instagram’s new terms of service, I have to write this, with my own fingers: Flickr feels like the Geeks, and Instagram feels a lot like the Freaks.

Those among my friends and contacts who have felt not quite comfortable with their understanding of Instagram have often looked back at Flickr. Flickr, the service that was intended as the best place to share select photographs, either with the world or with a select group of friends. Flickr, the service that was bought by a huge web company, and was then called out for every misstep and missing feature, as evidence of corporate intrusion. Sound familiar?

Flickr was perhaps a bit ahead of its time in the photo-sharing realm, and concurrently slow to get into the mobile realm (though its iOS app just picked up a really nice update). But while Instagram picked up followers with its viral spread, its great/awful filters, and its tight social integration, Flickr quietly maintained its focus: photo sharing for people who really like photos. Maybe you stepped out on Flickr for a little bit; maybe you let your $25 Pro account lapse a long time ago. But Flickr still has all your photos, at full size, ready for you to share, either publicly or through private contacts (or in-between, with a “Guest Pass”.

And Flickr still only wants one thing from you: photos. They want to sell ads around those photos, sure. And they would like $25 if you want to upload lots of photos, or retrieve some of your much older stuff. But like Millie and the Mathlete lunch table, Flickr will welcome you back from the cool kids’ table. Flickr will let you use its Creative-Commons-licensed photos for your projects. Flickr will let anyone see your recent public photos, not just fellow smartphone owners. And if you want to talk about exactly what type of F-stop and aperture was used on that amazing photo of a baby panda, Flickr, like the Mathletes, is all ears.

Here’s hoping Millie doesn’t do something to ruin this unnecessary analogy, past episode 8.

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