Why Microsoft Owning Flickr is No Worse Than Today’s Yahoo Ownership of Flickr, And Why In Fact Microsoft Ownership Might Even Be a Little Better

Why Microsoft Owning Flickr is No Worse Than Today's Yahoo Ownership of Flickr, And Why In Fact Microsoft Ownership Might Even Be a Little Better

Some Flickr users wary of a MSFT takeover – Boing Boing Boing Boing is out with a post this morning, “Some Flickr users wary of a MSFT takeover.” The post, in part, is in response to a group that has sprung up at Flickr called, “Microsoft: Keep your evil, grubby hands off our Flickr.” The group, which has 828 members at this point, says that they have a stated goal of “STOP(ping) MICROSOFT FROM BUYING YAHOO! AND DESTROYING THE FLICKR WE KNOW AND LOVE OR WE WILL DIE TRYING.” The New York Times has a post out on the group as well.

My first response is to look at a group like this and laugh. People on Flickr will of course start groups to protest anything and everything. There have been protests mounted at Flickr for everything from the fact that users want free donuts to more serious matters of censorship. So for me to hear that a group is seriously (maybe) protesting the corporate governance of Microsoft over Flickr, well this is a stretch to me.

Flickr has been rife with censorship ever since Yahoo took over. From permanently deleting users images and comments, to deleting conversations in group threads under the stated goal of “moderation,” the site sold its soul to the man a long time. Put more directly, I see no difference in corporate ownership or the censorship that might be put on Flickr with Microsoft as a corporate owner than Yahoo.

I think most of the gumbling is simply coming from people who enjoy the drama of conflict and protesting (hey, and I can certainly appreciate this) or people who have some sort of blind hatred of Microsoft.

Personally I don’t get caught up in the whole Microsoft bashing thing. Microsoft does some things very very well. They do other things very poorly. But I don’t think that Microsoft would ruin Flickr anymore than Yahoo would ruin Flickr.

Would there continue to be censorship under a Microsoft controlled Flickr? Probably. No different than today. But I’ve also heard some pretty ludacrous things coming from those that object to this deal as well. Like Microsoft might only make Flickr work with IE as a browser. C’mon, there’s no way that I’m buying that Microsoft would break Flickr for Firefox, that’s just, well, way, way, way, out there.

So what good *might* come out of a Microsoft controlled Flickr?

Well for one, I think that Flickr’s image search technology is the top image search technology on the internet today. Particularly when you watch the advent of geotagging, Flickr represents the most organized ranked collection of imagery in the world. Recently Flickr began putting their top ranked images in Yahoo Image Search and I think that this has increased the exposure for Flickr users. Now some may not want this increased exposure and for those users there is a way to opt out of this. But for those of us who do want this increased exposure, a combined Yahoo/MSFT search property would only ensure more exposure for imagery.

Right now Yahoo has direct access to Flickr’s internal proprietary ranking methodology — a ranking methodology that relies mostly on social input by Flickr users. While Google and Microsoft can try to rank Flickr images similarly, they can’t do near as good of a job without having direct access to the algorithm that Flickr does, nor would they want to promote a competitor this way necessarily.

A combined Yahoo/Microsoft would mean more exposure for your images not less.

A combined Yahoo/Microsoft would also mean that we would see much more rapid development of Flickr into other Microsoft desktop properties. Most exciting would be the integration of Flickr in Microsoft’s Media Center platform. Media Center (and XBox 360 as a Media Center extender) are so perfectly designed to serve up *amazing* photography as content and art.

Media Center does slide shows very, very, very well. By unleashing the content of Flickr into various Media Center slide shows, again, your photos would get even more exposure.

Imagine pushing a button on your TV remote and having all of your favorite photos on Flickr float beautifully across your 48 inch plasma. Imagine being able to sort the highest ranked photos of your contacts, or being able to search for certain key terms or geographically based geo tags. Microsoft has been developing Media Center for a number of years now. It represents the best consolidated way to manage and control media for consumption in your home. Incorporating Flickr into this mix would create both a more meaningful visual experience for the Microsoft end user, as well as more attention for the photographers that populate Flickr.

Once again, if users, for whatever reason, didn’t want their photos showing up on people’s Media Center PCs, I’m sure that Microsoft would develop ways (as Flickr has with image search) to opt out.

Finally, what I’m most excited about with potential Microsoft ownership over Flickr would be the potential for Flickr to finally do something meaningful in the stock photography market.

While it’s probably still a bit early to talk about a Flickr partnership with Corbis, certainly this sort of partnership would flow easier if Microsoft controlled Flickr as Bill Gates controlled Corbis. I believe that it is only a matter of time before amateur photos begin finding their way into the stock photography market and Microsoft ownership would certainly open up possibilities with Flickr.

Now for those of you who say, ewwwww, who wants all this extra exposure and money from stock photography, I want my little community watering hole that Flickr used to be. I don’t want Flickr to go mainstream. To you I say this is too late. Flickr lost the small community of photographers a long time ago. When Flickr merged Yahoo photos into Flickr they pushed the mainstream smack dab in the middle of it all. Your experience on Flickr today would be no different than it would be with Microsoft owning it.

But even here all is not lost. Lately I’ve been pleased to see some truly innovative community stuff that has been being built as a layer on top of Flickr to regain some of the smallness and community that old school members used to enjoy. I’ve really enjoyed watching photophlow move forward for instance.

Photophlow is a real time service created by Neil Berkman and striatic that kind of converts the Flickr experience back into a small circle of contacts and friends chatting live and sharing photography. I’ve blogged about it in the past here. Flickr is Flickr and Flickr will always be the community that it is. Even as it grows and gets more mainstream there will still be hidden pockets around where the old style community takes place. And this won’t change regardless of who is running the mother ship.

By the way, if anyone needs an invitation to photophlow (it’s in private invite only beta at the moment) feel free to
email me your email address or leave it in a comment on this post and I’ll invite you as long as I have invitations left.

Who knows what is going to happen with the Microsoft bid. Personally I think that it will be hard for Yahoo to find a way to wring more money out of an acquisition by someone else at this point and so in my opinion it’s pretty much a done deal as it is. But I don’t think that Microsoft corporate ownership over Flickr will be any worse than Yahoo corporate ownership. And if and when censorship takes place with MSFT and Flickr, you’ll hear me bitching about it just as loud as I did when it was Yahoo and Flickr. In the meantime though, I am looking forward to some of the synergies that a MSFT/YHOO deal might produce.

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  1. Steve says:

    nice post Thomas.
    One addition – imagine Flickr hooked up to Photosynth. On an opt in basis of course but I’ve longed to see the power of those two combined. It could be awesome and a remarkable tool for learning.

  2. Shawn says:

    Thanks for the well-thought post. I, too, was trying to come up with a silver lining to all of this. I will be the first to admit that I am not a big fan of Microsoft and that my distaste is really not based on anything fundamentally wrong with the company.

    I guess we’ll wait and see what happens!

  3. Bogus11 says:

    this is the most logical and level-headed response/opinion i’ve read regarding the potential acquisition.

  4. nemski says:

    Can I start a flickr group that protests other flickr groups that protest? Obviously, I’d end up protesting myself, but hey.

  5. Jose-Miguel says:

    Thanks Thomas. You reflected very well my thoughts (and I’m dare to say, of many others).

  6. the marquise de sade says:

    So I’ll stick my neck out here.

    I don’t even know where to start but I will (try to) keep it short. From a cursory reading of the initial post it seems Thomas is making many assumptions about what direction Microsoft will take, perhaps this is merely evidence of an optimistic streak. In addition he seems to be sweeping the legitimate concerns about the proven pattern of behavior Microsoft has displayed in earlier takeovers. Or maybe Thomas knows things the general public doesn’t, either legit or misinformation. Me? I’m a cynic, especially when it comes to billion dollar monolithic corporations in a quest for technological domination.

    “I will be the first to admit that I am not a big fan of Microsoft and that my distaste is really not based on anything fundamentally wrong with the company.”

    So I guess monopolistic behavior is OK? Those crazy Antitrust laws, so arcane! What the hell do we need them for? *sarcasm* FWIW, monopolies have historically been bad for consumers when not regulated and I see no difference with Microsoft. The thought of an internet comprising solely of Google and Microsoft makes me shudder. Too much control by any one party is not a good thing!

    My boyfriend loves Microsoft products, uses Xbox3 and Media Center extensively, so I see the good things they do with technology but the consolidation of online properties scares me. Logic would usually dictate you don’t fix something that isn’t broken (Flickr is a great site) but if you think corporations run on logic you’re crazy! Having worked in tech for many many years I’ve personally seen many bad decisions made going against presented logic. Those in power are not necessarily the best strategic thinkers and may have other concerns that trump what seems to be the correct solution to a problem.

    History has shown that Microsoft likes closed standards and will get away with whatever they can if they’re not challenged. One could conceivably imagine a Google takeover in 5-10 years if the Yahoo takeover flies. Thats just business! It is the pattern of behavior Microsoft exhibits that should be of concern when examining how they’ve acquired and then developed technology properties.

    Then again, if you don’t care about things like net neutrality and monopolies then you could probably care less about this issue. Personally, I couldn’t care less about having my images stream into my TV. In addition, though I certainly have professional ambitions and consider myself beyond amateur, my photography isn’t really “stock”, I have no desire to do “stock” photography so that doesn’t do much for me either though I see the potential there for others.

    Now Censorship….I like to project different scenarios when considering a given situation and how it might progress. Not related to the takeover, but I can see Microsoft building in censorship controls into the software it delivers. I’m surprised nobody has even mentioned this. Some day it may not even matter that you try to access a web site, because the controls will no longer rest at the ISP/router or proxy level. The controls will conceivably reside in the operating system software itself, or in the individual tools, to track and block specific items of interest, whether they be on the hard disk or DVD or whatever delivery mechanism. Sounds crazy to an optimist, but I would bet a fair amount that some of these capabilities are already built into XP and Vista for use by “authoritarian” governments, though they may not be readily apparent to an end user.

    So much for being short….though that photophlow thing sounds interesting, but only time will tell about the takeover.

  7. Stephen says:

    I pretty much agree with you on this Microsoft/Yahoo deal… but what are your thoughts on a Yahoo/Google deal? If that would even get regulatory approval, how would that change Flickr?

    And if you have any photoflow invites left I’d love to check that out…

  8. Tom B says:

    A MSFT takeover would have no effect if they left Flickr to its own devices, but it is far more likely they would implement MSFT technologies, at least on the server end. Maybe on the UI end as well. This would result in severe degradation of the site performance, pure and simple. Look at HotMail.

  9. Thomas Hawk says:

    but what are your thoughts on a Yahoo/Google deal? If that would even get regulatory approval, how would that change Flickr?

    This would never get regulatory approval, but I don’t think it would change much for Flickr either.

  10. Okay so MS owns Getty Images, istockphoto and if you get 10,000 downloads on istock you get to become a Getty Photog maybe there is a train of thought, if you get 100,000 views on Flickr you to become a istock photog?

  11. Danny Taft says:

    I’ve been a bit wary of the concept of a MS/Yahoo buyout since the announcement, and I think you make some really good points in this post.
    However, the one thing I’m really hoping to read from you is what the buyout would mean for zooomr. With the full weight of Microsoft and Yahoo behind flickr, what does that mean for the rest of the online-photo market?

  12. Anonymous says:

    “With the full weight of Microsoft and Yahoo behind flickr”

    Well, obviously, the death of Flickr would bring glee to the competition. Have you used Zooomr? Is it good?

  13. Quikboy says:

    @marquise de sade:

    What monopoly? There is no monopoly. There’s options. If people don’t like those options, oh well. But there are options, and NOBODY is forcing people to use Microsoft stuff. There’s tons of alternatives, so there’s no monopoly.

    History of companies and people is stupid. Things CHANGE. Companies change. A decade ago, I wouldn’t have thought much of Apple, but they’ve transformed. Microsoft has been changing too. Some of their latest stuff actually show quality.

    Microsoft isn’t totally open, but they’ve joined Dataportability.net, Live Writer is practically open up to numerous blog services, Windows Live has tons of API’s that allow developers to develop whatever, Xbox 360 has DivX support, they now sell high quality DRM-free MP3’s, etc. Tell me that’s not open.

    And your censorship theory is just a theory. A dumb theory if you ask me. That sounds more like Google than anything. Have you ever seen the “Google Master Plan” movie?

    Yahoo! has a thing for censorship more than the other 2. They turned in several Chinese citizens arrested in China.

    It’s sad to see people be so pessimistic all the time. Always thinking the bad about things.

    Microsoft’s probably going to cut down on the pro account fees, just to keep in the users (which is good!), integrate some of their latest photo technology somehow (but not forcibly) in Flickr. And like Thomas said, integrate it with some of their awesome products.

    I can’t wait to see.

  14. MeemaX says:

    Well thought out post. I’m not particular about whether Flickr is owned by Microsoft or Yahoo though. It’s one of those things that even a dozen protesting groups can’t stop.

    Any more photophlow invites? (emailed you) ^_^

  15. “Imagine pushing a button on your TV remote and having all of your favorite photos on Flickr float beautifully across your 48 inch plasma.”

    Yeah, imagine. Imagine the 3 minute boot up, the freezing picture, the cursing out the TV, the whirring noise of struggling chips and fans, the “hang on, it’ll start working in a minute – no, really.” And then the adverts….

  16. Quikboy says:

    @Patrick Dodds:

    Doesn’t that sound exactly like the Apple TV? 🙂

  17. Doc Holliday says:

    I just started posting on Flickr, so I really haven’t had very much experience with it.

    Microsoft is all about MONEY. Everything they have “purchased” has been rolled into the “Microsoft Money Machine.” Unfortunately, in doing so, they seem to have subverted some of the original intent of the organizations they have purchased. Yahoo! has done the same thing, (GeoCities). Both will trash a product in a heartbeat if they feel it isn’t making them a profit – as any good business should.

    I doubt MS would marry Flickr to IE – the market penetration of Macs in digital imaging is too large to cut out that many photographers. However, I don’t see a vast majority of computer users, (who are, after all, Windows users), complaining about more Microsoft domination of their online lives.

    As Yahoo! seems to be on the verge of finding out, there may be no choice, but to go with Microsoft. If so, I’ll give them a try until my “Pro” subscription to Flickr runs out. If they maintain it as a viable online experience that meets my needs, I will consider staying with them. Microsoft ownership of companies, such as Hotmail, has not yielded a very good customer experience. I doubt Flickr would be any different.

    Then there is the nasty little thing of getting this whole deal through the SEC…

  18. Quikboy says:

    @Doc Holiday : But don’t all companies want to make profits? Meaning, MAKING money?

    Apple and Yahoo! are no different as well. You’re not implying that they don’t try to go out and make money either, are you?

  19. Anonymous says:

    Microsoft will use the x-rated content filter, require you to register and pay for x-rated content.

    There is billions of dollars worth of porn in the flickr database, I don’t see how they would not cash in on that. And they will claim that by filtering they are protecting minors.