Pinterest vs Flickr – the battle for photo dominance

In services like Pinterest, Flickr, and Instagram (not to mention Facebook and Twitter,) photos have become a critical frontier in the battle for web dominance, particularly in the social  space.

While Instagram is dominating in mobile, an  interesting war is raging between Yahoo’s Flickr, and  online pinboard Pinterest. They may different style services, but fundamental comparisons can be made, and are very revealing about the directions the web is going in.

Pinterest has social at its core. You can login and share using both Facebook and Twitter, as well as follow people and share (repin) content within the the service. The idea is to build beautiful boards that people can browse and share.  Flickr does have social functionality, there are share buttons at the top, but it always feels like a bolt-on not fundamental to the service.

This difference is perfectly demonstrated in how each service builds a network around a user. Pinterest refers to ‘friends’ and tells you when people you are connected to on Facebook or Twitter join. Flickr refers to ‘contacts’ that you have to ‘import’ from other services like Yahoo (snigger), Google and Facebook.

Furthermore, Pinterest allows quick and easy embedding of photos, something that is important in the new media era, while using photos in Flickr is a bit fiddly. Both services are good at letting you use photos of varying sizes, but it’s much easier on Pinterest.

The biggest difference is though the business model. Flickr continues to exist on a freemium model, where people can pay to upgrade for a ‘pro’ account. This gives additionally functionality like having over 200 photos in the photostream (Flickr is pretty frustrating without this,) and analytics info. Pinterest is totally free.

The main frustration with Pinterest, which now has approaching 50 million users, is that you can only upload one photograph at a time. While this feeds into the ‘pinning’ motif around the service, and is fine if you just want to add a picture you’ve seen on the web,  it prevents users building albums from photos they have taken. This is very time consuming to upload a collection of photos you have taken.

In terms of advertising and building an online presence the choice is simple. The ability to categorise images, the  deep social interaction, not to mention the attractive interface, make Pinterest the clear winner. You can really build a brand image on Pinterest, and display your products. Flickr remains important to photographers, but has been overtaken by Pinterest by almost every other kind of user.

One final point. Most social companies are going to succeed or die based on their mobile presence. The Flickr mobile is almost extinct, while Pinterest remains popular.

Flickr summarises many of the problems of its parent company, Yahoo!. It is fundamentally an excellent service that has a huge amount of potential use. Compared to rivals  though it just feel clunky and very web 1.0. Pinterest on the other hand is sexy, agile, and instinctive. In current web trends, there is only going to be one winner.