Two giants in the world of photography – SmugMug and Flickr – have become one. In a surprise move announced Friday, SmugMug has bought Flickr from Yahoo (owned by Verizon) for an undisclosed amount. The two platforms do have obvious similarities, with both built around uploading and hosting your photos online. However, SmugMug is intended more for creating a personal photography website, while Flickr adds a strong element of social media and community to the mix. So, what does this acquisition mean for the future of both platforms?
Flickr is a huge name in the world of photography, but it also has driven down a bumpy road to its current position. After Yahoo acquired the company in 2005, users criticized its slow transition to the world of smartphones and social media. Other issues along the way, such as the prevalence of ads and the longstanding requirement that users must sign in with a Yahoo email account, alienated customers. Nonetheless, it has retained a steady audience over the years.
That’s where SmugMug comes in. For now, SmugMug has announced that its plans for Flickr are deliberately nonspecific. According to SmugMug CEO Don MacAskill’s own words, “I don’t know what the future holds. This is a new model for me.”
The company has announced that Flickr and SmugMug will remain separate entities for now, keeping their current courses relatively steady. SmugMug claims it is in a phase of learning about the top issues that users have had with Flickr, as well as things that are going right and should remain the same, before formulating a plan for the future.
None of this is completely out of the ordinary for a company to say after a new acquisition, but what has surprised me so far is the openness of MacAskill, the CEO. In the comments section of a post on Y Combinator, MacAskill personally responded to people’s comments about the issues and successes of Flickr in recent years. One user said that Yahoo’s email requirement for Flickr users had locked him out of a once-paying account, since he had forgotten his login, and the CEO of SmugMug responded: “I will move heaven and earth to solve this for you. We’re moving off of Yahoo [authentication] as soon as we can, but can likely fix before that… Raising this up the flag pole.”
I’ve been using SmugMug to host and design my personal website for several years now, and I have been impressed by the company’s general lack of messing anything up along the way. That sounds cynical, but the simple fact is that SmugMug seems to listen to user feedback and improve its product accordingly – not something that should be taken lightly. If that mindset shifts to Flickr, I am excited to see what changes it will bring.
It remains to be seen, of course, how much of SmugMug’s website-building DNA will shift over to Flickr – along with Flickr’s DNA to SmugMug – and how the overall company will change as a result. SmugMug has built its infrastructure on photo hosting and website building, and Flickr’s social media weight is a new area for the company to manage. Jumping into the deep end of social media so suddenly is a bold move for SmugMug, even if Flickr doesn’t currently have the reach of a true giant like Instagram. Hopefully, the company will prove up to the challenge, and existing users of both SmugMug and Flickr will see the benefits of this move in the long run.
Take a look at our review of SmugMug and our comparison of SmugMug and Zenfolio if you want to learn more about how it works for building a photography website. Also, let us know in the comments section below what you think about this move – is it good or bad for the photography community as a whole?