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February 4th, 2007

flickr Kills Babies, Puppies, and Kittens

There’s almost nothing I enjoy more than a slightly-misplaced geek fight on the wide wide world of web.

Last week, flickr – the popular photo sharing service owned by Yahoo! – sent out a letter to its early users. This letter said, in summary, that logging in to flickr’s site using a flickr username and password would cease working on March 15th and everyone would need to convert to a Yahoo! ID in order to log in. They also capped the number of contacts one could have to 3000 (!) and limited the number of tags (keywords) on each photo to 75.

And then, everything blew up. Not literally – the system worked – but people got so up in arms that they decided to post comments about it on a flickr help topic. Some even said they’d leave.

The gist of the arguments: Yahoo! is evil, Yahoo! has ads, Yahoo! may track me with cookies, Yahoo! is a big company, and flickr sold out. Truly. The number of objective, compelling arguments as to why this is going to be a Very Bad Thing is near zero. The number of subjective, “OMG!!!!”-style over-the-top emotionally charged arguments is near infinity.

There were issues to work out, though. flickr’s service now fell under Yahoo!’s Terms of Service, which some people thought was more strict on people and give Yahoo! the ability to, say, use flickr photos in TV ads. Not the case. It was unfortunate then when someone discovered that a Nintendo Wii promo site on Yahoo! was linking to flickr photos – both copyrighted and CC-licensed – tagged with “Wii”. A big “oops”.

Yahoo! changed the site to not show copyrighted photos and apologized. Before that, though, people started uploading photos of, say, people flipping off the camera or saying how Yahoo! sucks. Kinda funny, but now searching for “wii” on flickr is polluted with crap photos. Another “oops”.

As you might infer by my tone thus far, I don’t see a big problem with switching over to a Yahoo! ID. But lots of people do, and some (how many?) are apparently jumping ship. Worse, situations like this bring out the ignorance in people. Lots of the “selling out” comments prove this: how exactly can a division of a large company sell out after it’s been bought out? Some people even went so far as to suggest that Yahoo! – a private company – was infringing on free speech rights. Seriously.

This affected paying customers (like me) too – not just people using a free account. And that’s where a lot of people got angry as well: they felt that they were paying for a service and it changed. But outside of the contact and tag limits, nothing else did change. And per flickr, less than 1% of their customers had 3000 contacts. (I mean, that is a buttload of contacts.) That’s still up to 60,000 people affected.

flickr claims that the forced switchover was a technical benefit and freed up their programmers for other, bigger things. And the limitation on contacts and tags was useful for the database admin – again, a technical benefit. I believe them on both counts. flickr hasn’t gone out and said they’d discontinue any of their existing services, nor cap what are (arguably) the big ones like photo uploads and storage space.

This probably wasn’t an easy decision by the flickr folks, but the level of outrage and sheer energy that has been devoted to this is something I’d love to see applied to something a little more practical… like, well, almost anything. But without it, the internet just wouldn’t be the same, would it?

Posted in Technology

Dave Walls February 4, 2007, 5:13 am

Wow, thanks for the update..I hadn’t actually received that email yet. Since Flickr is down for maintenance as we speak (coincidence?), is there a way to link my current Flickr ID with my Yahoo ID, so I don’t have to re-upload all my photos?

As long as I don’t start getting pop up ads (or tons of annoying flash banner ads) on Flickr, I can only see Flickr and Yahoo! being a positive.

COD February 4, 2007, 2:46 pm

I read through some of the argument on the Flickr forums. Honestly, I think it comes down to small number of people who think they are too cool to have a Yahoo ID or use any Yahoo service. Never mind the fact that Flickr has been a Yahoo service for 1.5 years.

I’ve been thinking about dropping Flickr when it comes time to pay again and moving to Yahoo Photos or PicassaWeb. For what I use online photo sharing for, there is really no reason for me to pay for it. Also, Flickr is too popular now, so it’s time for me to be ironic and go use a service that isn’t popular with the A-listers 😉

Paul February 4, 2007, 5:44 pm

Dave: “is there a way to link my current Flickr ID with my Yahoo ID, so I don’t have to re-upload all my photos?”

That’s exactly what you do. You go to flickr’s log in page and are rerouted to Yahoo!’s login, where you hook the two up. I had no trouble with it.

COD: “Also, Flickr is too popular now, so it’s time for me to be ironic and go use a service that isn’t popular with the A-listers ;)”

Yeah, you need to not be so corporate, man!

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