Did the Smartphone Kill Flickr?

Photographic nostalgia

Alasdair Allan
4 min readMar 13, 2019


I have fond memories of Flickr from around the time my most used social media site was Matt Biddulph’s Dopplr¹. I was fanatical about uploading and curating my best photographs, carefully tagging and manually geolocating each one. These of course being the days when only high end professional DSLR cameras even had the option of an onboard GPS.

But I stopped using Flickr in 2011, briefly going back in 2015—in the wake of Yahoo’s overhaul of the site—in an Om Malik like fit of nostalgia, and then never returned again.

Flickr was about photo curation, and the smartphone put an end to that.

My earliest pictures in Flickr were taken with dumb cameras, point and shoot cameras like the Fuji FinePix 1400 Zoom, the Kodak CX7430 Zoom, and the Samsung Digimax 201, and date from between 2002 and 2004.

However, around the middle of 2004 something happened. The resolution of the photos I was uploading to Flickr dropped. The reason was that I had now mostly switched to taking pictures with my smartphone². Or at least, what passed for a smartphone before the iPhone came along in 2007 and changed everything.

From 4 megapixels with my old Kodak point and shoot, to just 0.3 megapixels with the Nokia 3650, the quality of images I was taking declined. They didn’t really recover until two years later in 2006, the year before the iPhone was launched, when I started uploading photos taken with a Nokia N80.

Then, in the middle of 2008 a year after it first launched, I bought an iPhone and the way I used Flickr changed. Now my photographs were automatically geotagged when they were taken and I started getting a lot more sloppy about adding additional meta data to them when I uploaded them to Flickr.

The quality of my images had gone up again. But the quality of the other meta data like tags that had to be added manually, and that helped curate the images, had gone down.

While the rise of the smartphone was initially seen as a game changing event for Flickr, one that would benefit the site, it wasn’t until 2017 that more than half the images uploaded came from a smartphones. Which is sort of odd if you think about it because the tipping point, where the…