Flickr tag graph excerpt

For a few years after its 2004 launch, Flickr was inarguably the best place to share photos. But now Facebook and Tumblr are more socially useful, Instagram is more fun for the webtards, and newer sites are stealing pro photographers. At least that’s my theory on why Flickr uploads for popular events are falling.

I searched for some popular tags over the years.

Click through for the big-ass version.


What we learned

Christmas and New Year’s Eve peaked in ’07, Halloween in ’09. February sunk. The specialty events, Austin’s SXSW and the New York’s Mermaid Parade, are holding on. But the bigger tags are falling.

Spring is the lone constant grower here (though it just plateaud). Why? I don’t know, and we haven’t finished another full season this year to adequately compare. Summer2011 just has 72 thousand photos to Summer2010‘s 124 thousand.

Apparently Burning Man is full of early adopters, but they’ve moved on.

People seem to split New Year’s Eve tags between the old year and the new year.

Judging by the few photos tagged before Flickr’s 2004 launch, people don’t upload and tag old photos that much, and/or they just didn’t take as many photos back then.

Now don’t put too much stock in this, because it’s not representative, it’s just the above handpicked tags combined. But there’s a recent plateau, maybe even a dip:

So if we extrapolate wildly from this, we could say Flickr peaked in 2008. Tech blogs and external traffic meters seem to agree.

And that’s no fun. Because none of my friends use the other photo-centered semi-public sites. And Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter all make photos more private by default, or are much less searchable.

Unless that changes, when Flickr dies, so will the photo commons.


Data and methods

Here’s the raw data:

I searched for certain tags that cycle annually. To keep it simple, I made one tag of each event name plus the year: “BurningMan2001″, “BurningMan2002″, etc. (New Year’s Eve became “NYE”.) Many Burning Man photos aren’t tagged this way, but we’re only comparing like to like. Also, while Flickr started in 2004, I went back to 1998.

Note that if you redo these searches, some numbers fluctuate. Numbers also change if you sort by “recent” instead of “interesting”, which tells me it’s just a quirk in the database. (I dunno. Magnets.) I double-checked these numbers a few weeks after my original searches, and they’re stable within the thousands.

UPDATE: Some commenters on MetaFilter point out evidence that Flickr uploads are steady. (The rise of uploads means people are still using it, but the steady slope means Flickr uploading has plateaued.) If Flickr is actually using sequential photo ID numbers and not skipping some numbers like Twitter did, then Flickr use peaked in ’07, fell, then plateaued in ’09.

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  • starchystarch

    My own completely unscientific conclusion is that most Flickr users don’t tag anything, ever; just people like me with 20,000+ pictures on there, who would never be able to find anything without lots of tags.

    • Anonymous

      But did they used to tag more? Why?

      • Anonymous

        Services such as facebook and picasa automatically tag location and people. Flickr doesn’t. So yeah, people used to tag more.

        Tagging is a bad source of measurement for flickr because tagging isn’t what ‘does’. Uploads is a much more fair measurement. Even better, weight uploads per tag against other services.

      • Anonymous

        When Flickr launched, tagging photos was a pretty novel and easy way to improve discoverability of photos. These days there are more options, like automatic location and face tagging. Consider also the steady rise of the camera phone. I’d suggest that the added effort of tagging photos when uploading from a smartphone is proportionally greater than the added effort of tagging photos you are uploading using a full web browser.

        • Anonymous

          Nice! You’re the first person I’ve heard offer a specific reason why tagging might have declined, if uploads haven’t (which, after a big drop in ’07, is apparently true). Sincerely, very nice thinking!

        • Anonymous

          Nice! You’re the first person I’ve heard offer a specific reason why tagging might have declined, if uploads haven’t (which, after a big drop in ’07, is apparently true). Sincerely, very nice thinking!

        • Anonymous

          wow great inspired from there!

  • Doug Cook

    Interesting Information. Thanks for posting it!

  • Thomas Hawke

    As there appear to be tags added before flickr launched I suspect something may be wrong with the methodology.

    • Anonymous

      All that means is that people tag their old Christmas photos. Makes total sense that someone just joining in 2004 would upload a pic from Christmas ’03 or earlier. I searched for “Christmas1998″, “Christmas1999″, etc.

      Of course, since not many people bothered tagging old pics, there are far fewer of these than pics that took place after 2004.

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    • Anonymous

      It’s true, that seems to indicate a plateau instead of a fall. (Remember that if the total uploads are rising steadily (but with no acceleration), that means Flickr’s upload rate is flatlining.)

  • Diziet Sma

    Well this is err… slack. Also facebook is a terrible place to put your photos, the quality they store at is abysmal.

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