SmugMug is throwing once-vital Flickr a lifeline

By Daniel Terdiman

April 20, 2018

If you’re under the age of 30, you probably don’t remember this, but there was a time, earlier in this century, when Flickr was the be-all, end-all online photo repository and community.

Flickr was founded by Slack cofounder Stewart Butterfield and his then-wife Caterina Fake and bought by Yahoo in 2005. Predictably, Yahoo did its best to drive it into the ground, and it’s survived–barely–because it has some truly passionate users who still believe it’s the best place for quality photography. But in an age where billions of photos a day are shared on Facebook, Instagram, and Google Photos, that’s a quaint notion.

Now SmugMug, another photo service that caters to enthusiasts, has thrown Flickr one last lifeline. According to USA Today‘s Jessica Guynn, it’s bought Flickr–marooned at sea since Verizon acquired Yahoo last year for the impossible-to-justify price of $4.5 billion–and promises to make it relevant again.

SmugMug CEO Don MacAskill told USA Today that his privately run company plans on committing the necessary resources and focus to support Flickr. “Flickr has survived through thick and thin and is core to the entire fabric of the internet,” he said.

Sure, it’s survived, but it’s nearly impossible to see how it can ever again be a significant player. According to USA Today, Flickr had 13.1 million unique visitors in March, up from 10.8 million 12 months earlier. Those are tiny numbers in a Facebook/Instagram/Google Photos world.

Still SmugMug–a venerable paid service for serious photographers–doesn’t need to take on the giants to come out of the acquisition with a larger business than it currently has. And those of us who have enjoyed Flickr over the years owe its new owner a degree of thanks for keeping it alive, and not letting Oath–you know, what Verizon’s Yahoo is called now–just kill it dead. Long live Flickr.