The celebration of Flickr’s 20th birthday begins today! And we can’t help but be in awe of all the amazing achievements and growth that our platform has experienced over the last 20 years. At every stage of the journey, from our beginnings as a videogame offshoot, to becoming one of the most widely used photo-sharing platforms of all time, Flickr has been shaped by the passion and enthusiasm of our dedicated community.
To celebrate this huge milestone, we’re taking a trip down memory lane to explore all of the technological and structural moments that have shaped Flickr into what it is now. We hope you enjoy seeing the ways that your passionate engagement has been essential to making the Flickr you know and love today.
Feb 10, 2004: Flickr is launched
Founded by Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake, Flickr was released to the public at the O’Reilly Emerging Tech conference in San Diego as a tool for sharing photos. Originally engineered as part of a multiplayer online game, one aspect of the project took on a life of its own, and Flickr was born. During an era when digital cameras were fairly common, phone cameras were just a grainy novelty, and the blogosphere ruled the internet, Flickr was an instant hit.
August 2004: Flickr truly takes off
In our first few months, we introduced several groundbreaking features that would revolutionize the way users interact with and share photos. Tags, photostreams, comments, faves, and groups—features that have all become commonplace in today’s social media landscape—helped propel Flickr to unprecedented heights as bloggers and early social media adopters rushed to find a place to store, share, and get inspired by photography.
March 2005: Yahoo buys Flickr
Slightly more than a year after launch, Flickr was a worldwide phenomenon. This caught the attention of then-internet-giant Yahoo, who acquired the company and helped provide much-needed scaling and infrastructure to our rapidly growing community. Just over two years later, Flickr passed the impressive two billion photos mark with this upload:
June 2007: Flickr goes multilingual and adds geotagging
Flickr has always been a worldwide community, and in 2007, we added seven new languages to help our community experience and explore photography: French, German, Korean, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Traditional Chinese. The same year, we also added geotags, allowing members to add their photos to a map and, for uploads that already contained location information, automatically letting members look at their pictures in a map view.
January 2008: The Commons launches with the Library of Congress
The Commons on Flickr launched in 2008 with the United States Library of Congress as its first partner. The program was designed to help cultural institutions worldwide share photography collections where copyright was unclear. Since then, the Flickr Commons has grown into a unique collection of historical photography that just recently celebrated its 16th birthday!
September 2009: Flickr releases its first iPhone app
The launch of Flickr’s first iPhone app was a watershed moment, bringing together the worlds of digital photography and mobile technology to create a dynamic platform that celebrated the spontaneity and creativity inherent in taking photos. Mobile became a fixture of the Flickr experience from this day forward, welcoming a whole new generation of photographers to the platform.
2013: Flickr’s new look puts photos first in redesigned groups, photostream, activity feed and Android app.
At every step we’ve made improvements based on user feedback, and in 2013 we unveiled a new user-friendly layout, empowering users to upload full-resolution photos. Simultaneously, our reimagined Android app swiftly rose from a lagging position to proudly match its iPhone counterpart.
2015: Flickr introduces cutting-edge organizing tools amid a major redesign
Were the early 2010s a blur for anyone else? Over the years, Flickr continued to forge ahead, steadily weathering the rise of new and competing social media platforms, and in May 2015, we debuted a much more modern layout and two powerful tools designed for bulk actions: Camera Roll—a new mobile-friendly organizational and editing system—and Desktop Auto-Uploadr, a tool for batch uploading photos from a PC, making photo backup and organizing a breeze.
April 2018: SmugMug acquires Flickr
Despite constant developments and the unwavering passion of our people, in early 2018 Flickr was faced with a daunting proposition: the threat of closure. Unwilling to let billions of photos vanish from the internet, photography sales platform SmugMug swooped in to save the day. A stark shift from massive corporate ownership, SmugMug’s people-first, photography-focused, and family-run approach to business proved a huge boon for Flickr, as you’ll see in the years ahead.
March 2019: Flickr says a last farewell to Yahoo
The single most requested feature by our community since the announcement that Flickr was joining SmugMug was the elimination of a Yahoo account requirement to join. In March 2019, we made that wish a reality, and for the first time in over a decade, Flickr members could register using any email address. As a result, the community prospered with a welcome influx of new photographers.
December 2019: Flickr introduces Prints and new Pro features
2019 was a VERY busy year for Flickr. We launched Flickr Prints, giving members the opportunity to order truly spectacular prints of their photos from the best photo labs around the world. We also tripled the maximum image resolution size for Pros, reaching up to 6K, and brought Pro stats to mobile devices everywhere, allowing photographers to track their likes, faves, and comments from anywhere.
July 2020: Flickr enhances Explore, content curation, and more
We heard from the community that Explore—our auto-curated feed of the best photos on Flickr each day—was feeling a bit…unbalanced. Multiple photos from single users in a day, repeat users between days, clearly the algorithm needed a tweak. And tweak we did! We completely rebuilt the infrastructure of Explore to make it more equitable and varied, and as a follow up we redesigned the Flickr feed to give members more control over their content with new sorting, filtering, and view options.
August 2021: Flickr puts users in control of their notifications
After months of testing, feedback,and revisions, Flickr launched a brand new Notifications Center, giving users full control over the way they receive updates about the Flickr community. The new Notifications Center offered members flexibility and customization over what activity and conversations they’re notified of, and introduced a way for members to enjoy photos from Explore directly on their phone’s home screen – the Flickr mobile widget.
December 2022: Flickr launches a nonprofit dedicated to preserving our community’s photographic legacy
We think photos should be around forever. So in 2022 we launched the Flickr Foundation, a non-profit organization founded to safeguard Flickr and our extensive collection of photos. With the goal of securing photos for 100 years, the foundation is the latest example of SmugMug’s dedication to the long-term success of Flickr, and the preservation of our shared photographic history.
November 2023: Flickr expands stats for Flickr Pros
If you’re anything like us, you’re hungry to know how your photos are faring out there in the Flickr wilds, and that’s why last year we debuted a massive improvement to our Pro Stats feature. We expanded stats visibility out to 36 weeks, giving Pro users a detailed look at their views, comments, faves, and more.
December 2023: Flickr gets certified for the long-haul
Last year we proudly achieved two certifications—Certified Evergreen and Climate Neutral—demonstrating our solid foundation and preparedness for the future. As the world’s largest photo community, it’s our responsibility to find more sustainable ways to do business. While addressing our long-term climate impact, we are equally dedicated to safeguarding the open and wild spaces that inspire photographers worldwide. To amplify our efforts, we also joined the Mobilizing for Monuments Coalition, underscoring our passion for environmental conservation.
These are truly just the cream of the crop in terms of structural developments we’ve undergone in the last 20 years, but it’s so gratifying to see how at every step, we’ve been able to hear from you, our wonderful community, and keep improving your experience on Flickr. Thank you, from the bottom of our photography-loving hearts, for helping make this place the greatest.
Curious about where we’re headed next? Check out what’s ahead in 2024, and keep your eyes on the Flickr blog for more highlights from our 20 years of building community!