Flickr was launched on February 10, 2004 by Ludicorp, a Vancouver-based company founded by Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake. The service emerged from tools originally created for Ludicorp's Game Neverending, a web-based massively multiplayer online game. Flickr proved a more feasible project, and ultimately Game Neverending was shelved, Butterfield later launched a similar online game, Glitch, which closed down in November 2012.
Early versions of Flickr focused on a chat room called FlickrLive, with real-time photo exchange capabilities. The successive evolutions focused more on the uploading and filing back-end for individual users and the chat room was buried in the site map. It was eventually dropped as Flickr's back-end systems evolved away from Game Neverending's codebase. Key features of Flickr not initially present are tags, marking photos as favorites, group photo pools and interestingness, for which a patent is pending.
In addition to being a popular website for users to share and embed personal photographs and an , in 2004 the service was widely used by photo researchers and by bloggers to host images that they embed in blogs and social media.
Yahoo! acquired Ludicorp and Flickr in March 2005. The acquisition reportedly cost $22 million to $25 million. During the week of June 26, 2005 to July 2, 2005, all content was migrated from servers in Canada to servers in the United States, and all resulting data become subject to United States federal law. In May 2007, Yahoo! announced that Yahoo! Photos would close down on September 20, 2007, after which all photos would be deleted; users were encouraged to migrate to Flickr. In January 2007, Flickr announced that "Old Skool" members those who had joined before the Yahoo! acquisition would be required to associate their account with a Yahoo! identity by March 15, 2007 to continue using the service. This move was criticized by some users.
Flickr upgraded its services from "beta" to "gamma" status in May 2006; the changes attracted positive attention from Lifehacker. In December 2006, upload limits on free accounts were increased to 100 MB a month (from 20 MB) and were removed from Flickr Pro accounts, which originally had a 2 GB per month limit. On April 9, 2008, Flickr began allowing paid subscribers to upload videos, limited to 90 seconds in length and 150 MB in size. On March 2, 2009, Flickr added the facility to upload and view HD videos, and began allowing free users to upload normal-resolution video. At the same time, the set limit for free accounts was lifted. In 2009, Flickr announced a partnership with Getty Images in which selected users could submit photographs for stock photography usage and receive payment. In 2010, this was changed so that users could label images as suitable for stock use themselves.
Graph of Flickr public uploads, which peaked in 2013–2015 before the launch of Google Photos
On May 20, 2013, Flickr launched the first stage of a major site redesign, introducing a "Justified View" close-spaced photo layout browsed via "infinite scrolling" and adding new features, including one terabyte of free storage for all users, a scrolling home page (mainly of contacts photos and comments) and updated Android app. The Justified View is paginated between 72 and 360 photos per page but unpaginated in search result presentation. Tech Radar described the new style Flickr as representing a "sea change" in its purpose. Many users criticized the changes, and the site's help forum received thousands of negative comments. In March 2014, Flickr's New Photo Experience, a user interface redesign, left beta.
On May 7, 2015, Yahoo! overhauled the site, adding a revamped Camera Roll, a new way to upload photos and upgraded the site's apps. The new Uploadr application was made available for Macs, Windows and mobile devices.
In June 2008, Flickr co-founder Stewart Butterfield announced his resignation, which followed that of his wife and co-founder Caterina Fake, who left the company on June 13, 2008. Butterfield wrote a humorous resignation letter to Brad Garlinghouse.
On December 14, 2008, The Guardian reported that three employees had been laid off as Yahoo! continued to reduce its workforce, and on November 30, 2010, CNET reported Yahoo! was on the verge of a major layoff affecting 10% to 20% of its workforce. Flickr was specifically named as a target for these layoffs.
On June 13, 2017, Verizon Communications acquired Yahoo!, including Flickr. In June 2017, Verizon reorganised Yahoo!, along with AOL, into a new umbrella company, Oath (Verizon Media Group).
On April 20, 2018, SmugMug acquired Flickr from Verizon's Oath and put an end to Flickr 1TB storage plan for free users, these users had until February 5, 2019 to convert to 'Pro' accounts or their photo streams would be reduced to a maximum of 1000 pictures. The deadline was later extended to March 12. The reasons cited were that the existing model was unsustainable by a medium-sized company which could not get revenues by selling profiles of the users. The sentiment was generally agreed on among the professionals.