Flickr and Aviary; Strange Image Editing Decisions
Seeing who stands to gain what is a good way to work out the underlying dynamics of most human processes. Applying this in the case of Flickr and the dud of an image editor supplied by Aviary leaves me none the wiser though.
Up until recently Flickr, the granddaddy of all the photo sharing social networks, gave their users access to Picnik, for editing pictures from within the Flickr ecosystem. Picnik was a startup that was, at some point swallowed up by Google. Now, as you probably know, Flickr is owned by Yahoo. Recently Google started its own social networking site, Google Plus.
A large part of Google Plus’s strategy in its fight to become the numero uno social website was to get the serious and semi serious photographers to adopt and evangelize their service early on, i.e. when it was invite only. This presumably left Google in a bit of a fix insomuch as one of their main rivals, Yahoo, was in the position of using a very popular Google property i.e. Picnik, against Google. This just sort of happened to Yahoo as when they bought Picnik on board they were independent and had no connection with Google.
Well Google did the predictable and sensible thing, they incorporated much of the Picnik know how into a collection of tools for the benefit of G+ users and announced that Picnik was going to be shut down. This makes complete sense from a business point of view and one can hardly blame Google for doing this. Now our story moves away from Google and onto how Flickr/Yahoo have handled the demise of Picnik.
Flickr’s first announced that they were going to develop new software from the ground up to replace Picnik. It didn’t take a genius to do the math and work out that this was simply not going to be possible within the time frame set by Google. We are talking a couple of months not the couple of years that a ground up project like this would normally take.
Weeks later Flickr announce that they are looking to a company called Aviary to fill the hole left by Picnik. Aviary provide image editors for various uses and devices, everything from the really basic to very complex. Flickr tout how amazingly fast the new solution will be against just how slow Picnik was. Personally I never noticed that Picnik was slow but that may have just been me. Also the new image editor was going to built in html 5 as opposed to Flash to make it compatible with mobile devices. Flickr also give the impression that Picnik will be available, from within its own pages, up until the day that it officially shuts down, the 19th of April 2012.
Around a week ago Flickr started to roll out the Aviary tool and the reception was not pretty. The former had replaced an image editor that covered the basics and a lot more, gave the user a lot of creative control and produced high quality end results with an image editor that did none of these things. The Aviary offering is simply unusable. There is no undo, it is impossible to zoom in and the quality of the final image is simply awful.These are just a few of the many issues that plague the software. It is also buggy beyond belief and, at the time of writing is giving an error message whenever a save is attempted. If you want to see a more comprehensive list of complaints and issues there are currently ten pages of them here on the designated Flickr forum thread . Keep in mind that Aviary has proved itself more than capable of producing at least functional image editing software in many different contexts.
The response to this massive clusterf**k on the Flickr pages has been interesting. The Flickr/Yahoo response seems to be all but non existent leaving Aviary alone to twist in the wind. The Aviary representative seems to want to run a normal debugging/feature request/ feedback type scenario from within Flickr’s pages and gets very defensive when his company’s product is criticized . This product itself actually requires a complete rethink from the ground up and is not even close to the fine tuning feedback part of the development cycle.
When something goes bad I tend to take the skeptical position and ask why. I am not a fan of the ineptitude excuse. It only takes a brief look back at US political history to see that whenever ineptitude is blamed for something the ineptitude seems to always benefit the inept. The problem is that this usually leaves us with little more than conspiracy theories but, like most people I suspect, I can be a sucker for those. The real problem here is that I cannot even come up with a good conspiracy theory. Yahoo were going to lose Picnik – that was completely beyond their control but what explains the following:
- There are a dozen online editors that Yahoo could have chosen from that would have kept everyone happy.
- Aviary, the chosen company, have much better options available themselves – why not use one?
- Google+ are gearing up to be Flickr’s competition – Why is Yahoo prepared to cede the image editing side so easily. (If I were a stockholder I would be mightily PO’d).
- Why did Flickr over promise and under deliver so massively and why are they all but silent now? (I didn’t really cover this but it did happen).
To be honest, having a great image editor in the same place as my photo archive was very convenient but it was never essential. I liked being able to find an image of mine. edit it according to needs and saving a new copy at the top of my photostream. It was useful if I wanted to put the image on a social network or wanted to show a client an idea. It is not difficult for me to drag an image out of Flickr onto my desktop. work on it in any one of half a dozen editors that I use and then redistribute it as required. I also expect no loyalty from companies that I use or deal with as that is not how things work. If they have a product that suits me I use it and if they change it I am free to either carry on using it or going to a different company. This is the free market in action. Corporate loyalty from consumers, as opposed to employees or shareholders, is a peculiarly American trait and one that makes no sense to me at all. I am spending much more time thinking about this than I should because it is a puzzle. If anyone has any ideas at all about this particular puzzle please feel free to take up as much space in the comments as you see fit.
A previous post that shows what Picnik could do
PicMonkey This is an online editor by Picnik ex staff (I think). Well worth a look.