Flickr’s News Today Sucks

[I am CEO of Zooomr Inc]

Flickr: News

Well, some pretty terrible news from Flickr today.

First Flickr is forcing “old skool” members to give up their email/password log on on March 15th and is forcing them to adopt a Yahoo ID in order to continue using Flickr. After March 15th you will be locked out of your old Flickr account unless you merge.

And second Flickr has added new limits that are bad for community.

Let me tell you more specifically why these changes are bad for me, one of those Flickr members who could be considered “old skool.”

First of all I have four Flickr accounts. I have one Flickr account for my fine art photos. One Flickr account for my personal family photos. One Flickr account for a non profit organization that I’m affiliated with and one Flickr account for blogging images.

Under the old system it was very simple. I could simply log in or out of these accounts with my various email addresses. But now I will no longer be able to do this. I will have to log in and out of four separate Yahoo accounts in order to do this. And so this means that things like stock portfolios, MyYahoo, yahoo mail, etc. will not work for me when I’m logged into 3 of my 4 flickr accounts unless I duplicate all of these services.

What’s more. I don’t want my stock portfolio that I’m tracking, my Yahoo calendar, etc. in any way associated with my Flickr account.

This sucks.

What’s worse is now Flickr will be becoming a place where I can take but not give. My interaction with my contacts will become a more selfish thing.

Let me explain. I make people contacts at Flickr for three reasons. The first reason is because I know the person in real life and want to follow their work. These pepole are typically coded as “friends”. The second reason is because while I don’t know them personally in my offline world, I do admire their photography and want to monitor it. And the third reason that will be impacted the most is that I add people as contacts in order to RECIPOCATE back for them adding me as a contact.

Today I have 5,034 contacts on Flickr. The vast majority of these contacts are people that have added me because they want to follow my photography. I’ve always believed that the polite thing to do was to add them back as contacts so that I could also periodically go through their photos and fave, comment, etc. But now I am going to have to drop about 40% of my contacts whose work that I monitor. So if you notice that I drop you as a contact at Flickr don’t take it personally. Blame Yahoo, they are the ones forcing me to do it. I enjoyed monitoring your work while I was allowed.

If you still want me to monitor your photos feel free to sign up for an account on Zooomr because I’ll do it there.

And before the Flickr brainswashed defenders say, c’mon, how can you really monitor that many people’s photographs, I will tell you that I have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours monitoring others photos on Flickr. I have personally favorited over 18,000 photographs from my contacts on Flickr because I love their work. And if they are checking out my stuff I should be able to check out theirs. Yes, the more contacts it gets the harder this is. But almost every day I take time to go through the most recent photos by my contacts and fave and comment on their pictures.

This move is bad for community. There is no need for this limit.

Flickr has also decided to limit tags on photos to 75 tags. While I can understand that in many cases there is no need for tagging a photo more than 75 times, other times there are. For instance. Take a look at this photo of mine called Where I’ve Been Lately. It’s a very popular photo on Flickr and it’s been favorited over 100 times! It was also featured on Boing Boing and many other blogs. It took me hours and hours and hours to build and it was a fun project where I took the last 320 websites I’d visited with favicons and made a photo out of them.

I spent hours building and tagging this photo and now Flickr is going to destroy my metadata and chop it off to 75. This is supposedly to “Make Flickr Better” that they offer up a TM on. I find it ironic that Yahoo decides to joke about trademarking “Making Flickr Better,” when in real life they are actively pursuing a patent on the concept of social rank with photography — a patent that shouldn’t belong to anyone at all.

What’s worse about today’s news is that it comes with a vague promise that all this is being done to “Make Flickr Better,” stating that they are doing this to make Flickr pages load faster.

Do you know what? Flickr is plenty fast for me today. Having to dump 1/3 of my contacts, erasing my metadata, forcing me into a system that will make me log in and out several times a day, these are much more painful.

It’s insulting that Yahoo would somehow try to sugarcoat today’s news.

Flickr should rethink these limits. The world of photosharing should not be about limits it should be about a wide open arena to share your work.

At Flickr in addition to a 200 photo limit for free accounts, we will now have a limit on how we can access the system, a limit on our tags, a limit on our contacts, what’s next? A limit on our photos?

Old skool Flickr members who are being dumped on today probably also remember another quote that came from Flickr once. It was printed on the Flickr Blog in March of 2005 when Flickr made the announcment that Yahoo was buying them. But those days are long gone. Let me reprint it though for people to remember:

“Don’t forget to breathe. It’s not the end, it’s the beginning! As the wise woman who taught us The One True Way of Flickr Massage says, the only thing permanent is change. But we’re going to stay true to our vision and to the people who made us what we are — that’s you, the Flickr pioneers. Thanks for making the first year of Flickr so wonderful.”

Unless you happen to be “old skool” I guess.

Update: Most Flickr users are hoping mad about this. Here are links to two forums on Flickr where this asinine decision is being bandied about.

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32 Comments

  1. steelsun says:

    Okay, maybe I am being dense (and also since I am relatively new to flickr), but why, with the changes you detailed, would it make you have to drop those contacts and stop favoriting images?

  2. Thomas Hawk says:

    steelsun, how most people monitor the work of their contacts on Flickr is through the “Photos from your contacts” page.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/friends/

    This is the only efficent way to monitor the most recent work by your contacts. Beyond this I would manually have to keep track of who my contacts are offline and then go visit their photostreams one by one.

    By limiting my contacts it means that I’m going to have to dump over 2,000 people who have made me a contact and stop monitoring their work. This sucks.

    A big part of how flickr works is you make me a contact and I make you one back and we check out each other’s work. For those who are popular on Flickr this means having to say no to people in the future.

  3. greywulf says:

    Well said, Thomas. What you said, all of it.

    I’m an old school flickr’r who held back renewing his sub simply because I suspected Yahoo would go and break Flickr, and I see the cracks forming now. I don’t /want/ a “Yahoo ID” in any way near my flickr account, thank you very much! Yahoo has a terrible, terrible reputation, email system, can’t layout a site for toffee worth looking at and does nothing to endear itself to customers. Grrrrrr to you, Yahoo! Leave my flickr ID alone!

  4. eddie says:

    Ironic.

    The 200 file limit you mention is the exact reason why I switched over to Zooomr today. I’m rather impressed with what Zooomr seems to be in so little time, but I am looking forward to the day when it’s much more well rounded.

    Keep up the good work. Flickr’s loss will hopefully attract more people to Zooomr, and perhaps even help accelerate features/interest.

    (P.S. You spelt “RECIPOCATE” [sic] wrong, it’s missing an R…. Unless that’s a word I’ve never heard of. :) Feel free to remove this comment once you’ve fixed it/identified I’m wrong. :) )

  5. elsamu says:

    Hi Thomas!
    I agree with you, just got that email from Flickr a couple of hours ago and merged my ‘old skool’ account to my Yahoo ID.

    However I registered on Zooomr previously. I heard about it when having a blog was required in order to register. Now it’s freely available to everyone and yeah, it’s going better and better every day.

    The only thing i miss is the Creative Commons Licensing, searching, and displaying which rights do you want to keep. I just picked 3 images from your Flickr account, according to your Creative Commons licensing (many thanx!) and it would be great to have that feature working there.

    By the way, if you (the Zooomr team) need some help translating the site to Spanish feel free to ask me. I’ve noticed some strange words in the Spanish version.

    Just that, see you everyday on your photologs :)

  6. steelsun says:

    It’s clear now. You had not mentioned in your article that they are limiting the contact numbers, and I had failed to read the news notice that you linked to which stated this clearly.
    (slap on the forehead)

  7. Greg Furry says:

    Thomas, Nice post. For some reason I think it is funny that the Stewart Butterfield tag is more than 75 down on the list and will be lost.

  8. Rob in Stamford says:

    In terms of your example “picture” with >75 tags, I would just say you misused the tagging feature, in my opinion. The blogs/website names should have been listed in your description, not listed as tags. A tag like “Evan Williams” doesn’t describe the picture…at all. It’s a mosaic of favicons. MOSAIC FAVICONS BLOGS WEBSITES. You need a more compelling example.

    As for contacts….I understand your point a bit. I guess. Okay, not really. :-)

  9. I agree completely, Mr. Hawk. In the ~ten years I’ve been online regularly, Yahoo! has caused nothing but headaches. When I dumped SBC DSL, Yahoo! deleted my account. This would not have been a problem for me except that it rendered me unable to log in to Flickr.

    I resolved the issue through Flickr, but that wa the last straw for Yahoo!. I said “good riddance” and hoped that would be the last time I’d have to deal with anything on *.yahoo.com, but it appears this may not be the case.

    I have a Zooomr account that I’ve yet to use, but I think I’m going to become much closer with it in the near future. (Hey, any chance of an automated Flickr Rippr that’ll upload existing Flickr photos and sets to Zooomr?)

  10. Thomas Hawk says:

    Troy, we hope to have a Flickr importer shortly. Flickr denied our original request for a commercial API key to do this. Subsequently they have indicated that they would give a company like ours a commercial key but only if we provided them our API with documentation.

    Kristopher is working on our next major release, Mark III, right now. Part of that release will include the release of our official API. Hopefully at that time Flickr grants our request for a commercial API key. If this is the case then we will have a Flickr Importer as part of our Mark III launch.

    User portability is an important thing. Your photos should belong to you to do with as you wish.

  11. Shawn Oster says:

    I’m an old school pro member as well yet having to merge my login with Yahoo seems pretty much like a non-issue. I’ve resisted this far only because my yahoo account name was a pain to type but now that I’ve associated the exact same name as my old flickr account to yahoo, well, it’s no big deal. How is creating four yahoo accounts any harder than it was creating four flickr ones? Sorry, but they seem about the same. Of course why not use the friends/family feature and some creative tags a bit better though and only use a single flickr accont?

    About the limits, I can see there being some issues there. I’m curious what limits Zoomr would put on pictures once it hit the same saturation that flickr has. It’s very easy right now to say you wouldn’t but I can’t imagine Zoomr even has 3% the load that flickr does. For a very small minority I’m sure these limits are going to suck and there is nothing around that. I do agree with the other poster though, tagging that photo with each website’s name doesn’t make any sense to me. Granted tagging is a very personal thing but that really doesn’t make any sense to me, plus it would be much more helpful to put actual links to the websites in the description vs. tags that are probably never going to get searched on.

    You’ve made an assumption, you said “a big part of how flickr works is…” but that’s not true, that’s what makes it work *for you*. That’s not at all how me or my friends use flickr. In fact a majority of the people I talk to about flickr use it just to post their snapshots and share them with friends, nothing more. The amateur photogs such as yourself seem to always assume that you’re a good representative sample of how flickr is, and should be, used yet I’d hazard a guess that you’re in the minority. Your pictures are enjoyed and welcomed and there is some great stuff on flickr but at the end of the day I believe 80% of the pictures on flickr are of a personal, share with friends nature instead of “I hope people find my pictures” variety.

    On an unrelated side note the whole “snap” thumbnail image previews is annoying and I see little to no use in those hover previews. From a usability standpoint what can it actually gain people? It’s a very cool tech and probably useful for social bookmarking sites but I can’t really see anything useful about it in the context of a blog.

  12. Ron C says:

    Thomas,
    While I agree that in most cases, not having a limit is preferable to having one, I do not think that for 95%+ of Flickrites, the 3k contact limit will EVER be noticed. Possibly even closer to 98, 99%. So that limit, if it sped up service noticeably, I believe would be worth it. I doubt most people with 3k+ contacts have skimmed the tip of the iceberg of their contacts photos; not that I doubt for one second a word you say, I saw for myself your 18k faves, and believe you when you say you do, indeed, peruse your contacts photos regularly. However, you are an aberration, in that respect (I believe.) Having said that, if my guesstimate is right, then I do not see how the 1-5% of people with more than 3k contacts can be slowing down the system appreciably. How are pages I load, besides, say, YOUR profile page where your 5k contacts are listed, affected by people with 5k contacts? Will it be similarly affected if 10 people have 500 contacts each? Their rationale doesn’t make sense.
    The other limit, the tag one, I am ambivalent on – I have to remember to put ANY tags on, much less more than 10 or 15. However, in those rare instances like your example, it is nice to be able to put as many as you’d like; I completely disagree with Rob in Stamford that you “misused the tagging feature” on your example pic. If I were one in the pic, I would like to be able to find it by searching for my website/url or name. Besides, tagging is for personal use first, public use second – or at least, it should be.
    I am not surprised they want to merge the Flickr old skool accounts into Yahoo – maintaining 2 user DBs would be a big PITA. I had never considered the ramifications until you pointed them out. Again, only affecting a small number of users, but those it does affect, it affects fairly significantly.
    While these limits do lessen Flickr, albeit (to me) very slightly, I am not jumping on a Flickr is Dead, Long Live Zooomr bandwagon. I love what you are doing with Zooomr, don’t get me wrong. But Flickr excels in other areas where Zooomr is still playing catchup (batch edits, for instance.)
    I will be curious to see if you (as Zooomr CEO) “stay true to [y]our vision and to the people who made [you] what [you] are.” I know you want to – we’ll see.

  13. Thomas Hawk says:

    So that limit, if it sped up service noticeably, I believe would be worth it.

    Ron, but that’s the point. Flickr is not being slowed down from people with over 3,000 contacts. This is a red herring and they are pissing off some of the people that have been the most active.

    One of the Flickr engineers said that they are doing this because it takes in some cases several minutes to load a flickr page. This just is not true. Accessing my own flickr acocunt as me, as a non logged in person, as another account I have logged in — none of these cases take especially long times to load.

    I tell you what. Check out my photostream on Flickr right now.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/

    Did that take an especially long time to load? Of course not. And I have over 5,000 contacts.

    I am going to have to drop 2,000 or so of my contacts on Flickr. Not a very friendly thing to do. I hope they don’t take it personally.

  14. Ron C says:

    Thomas: First, that link actually links to “http://thomashawk.com/2007/01/here”, not your photostream.
    Second, glad I added that caveat – certainly, your stream loaded as fast as every other I have seen, including my own, although I am logged in – not sure if that would affect it, but I do not see how?
    Therefore, if it does not speed up pageloads, then why are they implementing it? Will it help them on the backend? I don’t see how, there should be no significant storage impage or processing impact from having 3k, 4, 5k contacts. So if the reason is most likely not their stated one, then what could it be?

  15. Thomas Hawk says:

    Ron, it’s hard to say what their reason is and I don’t think Yahoo is a very transparent place.

    One thought that comes to mind is that Flickr would like to reduce the popularity of their most popular members. Recently Flickr changed their interestingness algorithm and popular members on the site saw their photos in Flickr’s Explore section drop significantly. In my case about 2/3 of the photos that Flickr had previously promoted as interesting were dropped.

    But Flickr can’t control user to user interaction and maybe they want to limit the most extremem cases of user to user interaction to cripple their authority on Flickr.

    That is just a wild hypothesis. I have no idea why they would make such an idiotic decion actually, but I can assure you that if it’s only 300 people this affects as they claim that there is no way in hell that this is affecting the performance of the overall system. They have how many servers now? And how many engineers optimzing their site? There’s just no way.

  16. Thomas Hawk says:

    Here’s the quoted reason though from Flickr staff:

    “As the person who did most of the engineering for the contacts limit (Don’t shoot!) I can very much attest to the fact that this was done for performance reasons.

    I spent a lot of time looking at accounts with more contacts than the proposed limits. For accounts with more than 3,000 contacts, many pages take longer to load (sometimes it takes a few minutes!) and we have a lot of very beefy servers. When any of these pages are hit, it’s easy to see a corresponding spike in load on our servers as well, so not only is my experience degraded, but so is the experience of anyone else using Flickr at the same time.”

    I’m just not buying it. My page always loads in a reasonable amount of time whether from my own account, a non logged in account or another user’s logged in account.

  17. Kellie says:

    Thomas, thanks for alerting me to this. It doesn’t impact me much, but I do think it is a sign of things to come. I’d signed up with Zooomr a while back and just now figured out how to log in again. I think it may be time to start using it. Am I being extra dense at this hour or is there no way to upgrade to a pro account? The link in the account section just reloads the page I’m on. Thanks.

  18. Thomas Hawk says:

    Hi Kellie. We will be offering Pro accounts for purchase in March. Incidently, that is when we will also be offering an email/pw logon for Zooomr (exactly what Flickr is taking aawy). In the meantime, signing up for a free pro account for bloggers is the only way to upgrade to Pro.

    http://blog.zooomr.com/2006/07/20/more-love-for-bloggers-25gb-free-pro-accounts/

  19. unclesu says:

    Has anybody questioned Thomas Hawk’s agenda in blowing this issue up? He’s the CEO of Zooomr, for chrissake.

    Thomas, i know this comment will probably be deleted by you, but hey, if you’ve got a clear conscience, let it go. Flickr’s got enough heat already, you don’t have to keep adding oil to the fire.

    Your concern about 75 tags, weak. Any statistics on how many photos throughout flickr having more than 75 tags? Most of them are probably spam pictures and obscene porn anyway. How many photos with 75 tags do you have?

    “At Flickr in addition to a 200 photo limit for free accounts, we will now have a limit on how we can access the system, a limit on our tags, a limit on our contacts, what’s next? A limit on our photos?”
    — you are a pro, so why are you so concerned with 200 photos limit? clearly, you’re rubbing on flickr’s limitations again. The limit on tags is not that much of a big deal, admit it. And don’t forget Flickr just increased uploading limits for you pros to UNLIMITED.

    Oh lets not forget when they did that, you were complaining about flickr’s 10mb/photo limit. C’mon, get real, how many of your photos have sizes beyond 10mb? how many flickr users have sizes beyond 10mb?
    see the pattern? Given your unreasonable complains, let me just bring up zooomr’s shortcomings. you don’t have an online organizer, you don’t have manual addition of photos to sets, you don’t have unlimited uploading limit, you don’t have the speed, your ajax pop-ups are slower than if I actually open the photo in a new window/tab. There. If your dissing is valid, that makes my asinine dissing valid too.

    you’ve truly lost my respect despite my admiration of your photographic portfolio

    I would really appreciate it if you’re at least professional in your dissing. With great powers comes great responsibilities Tom, everyone’s watching.

  20. Uncle Su says:

    Hey its not like Zooomr don’t make you sign up for myopenid, right?

  21. Thomas Hawk says:

    unclesu, first off, anyone who reads this blog knows that I don’t delete critical comments. I’ve been called an asshole in my comments before and much worse.

    I can only recall deleting two non-spam comments in the entire time I’ve been blogging.

    The first recommended physical violence against someone and the second was terribly anti-semitic and needed to go.

    Obviously my affiliation with Zooomr is on the table. That’s why any post I write that might be considered critical of a competing service I clearly and openly disclose that.

    This does not negate my right though for me to point out bad moves on the part of competitors. In Flickr’s case a competitor that I actually love and use every single day.

    I was equally critical/vocal about things I didn’t like about Flickr before I ever joined Zooomr. Just ask anyone in the Flickr Central forum how much I bitched about not being able to have trackbacks on Flickr (another stupid thing by the way).

    Your questions though speak to my agenda about writing about this topic and seem to claim that these objections really don’t effect me personally.

    how many of your photos have sizes beyond 10mb?

    The answer here is most of them. Try shooting with a 5D in RAW and doing full size/quality edits in JPG and you will see what I mean. The 10MB is a dumb limit at Flickr. There is no valid reason for it.

    I’m concerned about the 200 limit for free accounts because while I’m Pro many other people that I know (including many friends and family) are not. As such I’m unable to view any of their photos beyond 200. That sucks. It sucks for them and it sucks for me.

    And unclesu, I’ve just been told I’m going to need to *drop* 40% of my contacts. You tell me. How do I do this. A-F? S-Z? This most certainly affects me as I actually do look at my contacts photos on flickr almost every single day.

    Yes, I am CEO of Zooomr. But I assure you I’d most certainly be just as critical as a Flickr user were I not.

    In terms of your criticism about Zooomr’s log on system, OpenID. I’ll make two points.

    1. I have a lot more trust in a decentralized non profit multiple site log on system like OpenID than I do any of the big corporate sites, Microsoft’s passport (which I’ve also been equally critical of in the past), Yahoo’s, AOL’s, etc.

    2. Where Flickr is taking away your email/password log on option in March, we will actually be implementing this as a *2nd* way to log on to Zooomr in March.

    I’ll take our log on system over there’s any day. And you can quote me on that, CEO of Zooomr or not.

  22. Thomas Hawk says:

    Unclesu, also, I do write nice things about Flickr too sometimes. I spent about six hours the other day working on a much more popular web piece than this about the top 10 hacks for Flickr praising their open api for making this possible. There are good things about Flickr for sure. But yesterday’s move was entirely boneheaded.

  23. EJP says:

    I agree. Neither move impacts me very much, but it still seems like a stupid move and they offer a shoddy justification, because the people it DOES impact are the Flickr users that contribute the most to the community.

    If it really only impacts less than 1% of photos and users as they claim, how much of a resource issue can it really be? What benefit does the community get from these changes?

    It just shows the boneheadedness of Yahoo; despite all the investments they make in the social web, they clearly don’t understand it, at all.

  24. EJP says:

    One further thought, a possible solution to your profile problem (wish I’d thought of it before posting my last comment). You can get Firefox running under two different profiles at once

    And since each profile uses it’s own set of cookies, you can be effectively logged into Flickr, Yahoo, Google, whatever under multiple accounts at the same time, which is kind of nice.

  25. Umesh says:

    having been an “old skool” flickr user myself – i just couldnt get myself to use Yahoo ID…in fact i just didnt have one – shame on them to assume that most people already have one!

    Anyways, fortunately for me – my flickr id was available with Yahoo!

  26. Anonymous says:

    Hey Thomas, how long does this page take to load?

    http://www.flickr.com/people/thomashawk/contacts/

    My count was 20 seconds. It doesn’t take a long time because Flickr’s engineering sucks or because they have too many servers — it takes a long time because you have 5,000 contacts. And Flickr has millions of users. That’s a big contacts table (or tables).

    BTW, I tried to get to zooomr.com twice today. Both times the home page (the home page!) took more than 30 seconds to load. Now I can’t get there at all. Makes your insults of the Flickr staff’s engineering skills look pretty stupid.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Please are complaining about a FREE service?!? You get what you pay for, stop bitching.

  28. Anonymous says:

    When Yahoo! brought Flickr I remember bloggers at that time kicking up a fuss re having to use Yahoo! ID to sign in, and the downfall of this.

    The reply was: its not going to happen.

    Now it has. They misled their audience and a possible breach of contract (for those with pro accounts). It was only a matter of time, and the locking in of your data makes a move difficult.

  29. Cat says:

    I just deleted my account with Flickr because they censored my protest-art (you can see it on my blog). They claimed I was harassing and abusing other members by having it posted.

    My protest-art has the words “Summertownsun sucks”. I put this artwork up in protest of Summertownsun complaining that i was infringing on their copyrighted work. They said I was posting images that they own. So flickr removed the images. But the images are actually in the public domain. So I protested Summertownsun’s actions by creating a piece of artwork and posting it on Flickr.

    Then Flickr, in all its controlling, tightwad glory, removed that image too, and sent me an email which said, ”

    Hi dazzlecat, 

In joining Flickr, you agreed to abide by the Terms of
 Service and Community Guidelines. Specifically, you must 
not abuse, harass, threaten, impersonate or intimidate 
other Flickr members 
. We’ve removed the content, “SummertownSun Publishing
Sucks!”, from your photostream. Please note that similar
 activity may result in the termination of your account
 without warning.

 Regards,

 Omar

”

    So what really happened here? The simple fact is that Flickr censored my artwork!!!

    I sent out an email to all my contacts on Flickr letting them know I was deleting my account and why. Now I’m going to have to make another piece of protest-art called Flickr Sucks!

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