Once-synonymous with photo sharing on the web, the trials and tribulations of Flickr have been covered with much fanfare. From Thomas Hawk’s proclamation that Flickr is Dead to Gizmodo’s take on How Yahoo Killed Flickr and Lost the Internet, former evangelists of the site have abandoned ship while others contend that the site is still going strong. Some point to upload numbers that continue to rise as a sign of optimism, while dissenters argue that these figures come as a surprise to no one – they’re just not good enough. There are still existing users uploading their shots to Flickr every day, it’s a great photo host, but many say that the social soul of the site has died.

This raises an interesting question – when is it time to call a social network dead? Let’s look at five factors that pushed Flickr to the brink:

1. Lack of Innovation

Flickr hadn’t really changed its page design since 2004 (!!!) before some recent updates, and has been accused by many, even its own employees (more than just once), of a severe lack of innovation. In fact, for it to not only survive but thrive in a space full of fickle users was impressive – but it was bound to fall flat with time. Changes often frustrate users at first, but maintaining their status quo has left Flickr miles behind.

2. No Mobile Power

Almost everyone has cameras – good ones – paired with the phones in their pockets. Flickr’s mobile capabilities leave a lot to be desired. Its iPhone and iPad app was ranked #64 on iTunes’ list of free photography Apps. 64th! And the iPhone is the most popular camera used by Flickr’s members.

3. Dynamic Alternatives

While Flickr faded, new photography sites with innovative ideas popped up all around it. Google+ earned points with its attractive layout – some thought G+ was the inspiration for Facebook’s new photo viewer – and its favouritism by Google’s search algorithm made it an even more desirable platform. Other options like Instagram500px and Mlkshk were attracting users searching for strong photo communities – the likes of which were conceived on Flickr.

4. Dissolving Community

As a consequence of the above, Flickr’s active photography community is a shadow of its former self. It was once a place where lesser-knowns and pros could interact in ways that have yet to be replicated. Now, many groups have fallen to the wayside and have seen periods of inactivity ranging from months to years.

5. Yahoo! Acquisition

There have been countless case studies of successful social networks being acquired by bigger companies and then becoming irrelevant in record-breaking time. eBay with StumbleUpon, News Corporation with Myspace, Google with Dodgeball. It’s not always doom and gloom for the acquired, but at this point it’s no longer surprising when a popular service loses its mojo post-acquisition.

The Future

2012 brought a renewed sense of optimism with a mid-January blog post highlighting plans to shed dead weight and add new features and offerings. Nine months in, Flickr has been making various changes (i.e. uploading and editing , design) but the pendulum has not swung back in any significant way. A quick look at Compete.com shows that Flickr traffic  has fallen from around 18 to 16 million unique U.S. visitors per month in 2012, after steady declines throughout 2011.

Flickr’s homepage – September 2012

Flickr could become just a hub for serious photographers to use as a host for their photos, while other users end up tuning it out without a second thought. New photos will be published and shared on fun and engaging social platforms with active online communities, like Google+, Tumblr, Instagram, and Pinterest.

There’s nothing wrong with being a niche site – it’s the goal of many on the web – but Flickr will never again be the go-to photo sharing site. When discussing failed social networking sites, Myspace jumps to the front of the conversation. And that isn’t the worst thing. It was once incredibly popular. It just wasn’t able to grasp what it could have been. And that’s the case with Flickr, something which is quite painful to former dedicated users.

For now, the lights haven’t gone out – there’s still a flicker of hope that the site can make itself relevant and appease its remaining membership base. But Flickr has missed out on what it could have been: the go-to site for photographers of all kinds, and a living, breathing, leading social network.

“Sheer size and popularity can never be a guarantee against failure (it merely offers a little extra time to turn around bad decisions).” –Dejan Levi

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