With respect to your posting of the TV screengrab, I don’t think it was a mistake to delete it, but I do think it was (and is) a mistake to not have a mechanism to restore that kind of deletion.
– Stewart Butterfield, Flickr Founder and Former Flickr Chief, May 19, 2007
"I’m afraid this isn’t the result of some work we’re doing on a restore feature… I’m sorry to disappoint that it’s not the result of a feature. We have heard your feedback about that here, and in the past, and we know it is on some people’s wish list, but it’s not something that we are working on currently."
– Zack Shephard, Flickr Staffer, August 7, 2009
Over two years ago Flickr Founder and former Chief Stewart Butterfield publicly posted that it was a "mistake" for Flickr not to have a mechanism to restore photos that had been deleted on Flickr. He made the comment in response to a photograph of mine that Flickr had censored that he said was not a mistake, adding though that not having a restore photo capability more broadly was in fact a "mistake" at Flickr.
Last week there were several stories having to do with account deletions at Flickr. In one case a hacker had gotten a hold of a Flickr users credentials and deleted over 3,000 photos in a user’s photostream. Another case involved a professional photographer who had his entire stream nuked after being informed by Flickr that the reason for this was that he was posting other people’s photos (something the photographer, who had all of his images watermarked with his own copyright info, denies). Yet another case involved a Flickr user who apparently had some of his Flickr photos posted in an internet forum without containing links back to Flickr. In this last case Flickr agreed that it looked like "maybe the deletion wasn’t the right course of action," adding that the user was "lucky" that they were able to catch the account deletion due to a backlog of account deletion processings and then restoring his account and giving him four free years of Pro account status.
There have been other even higher profile cases of Flickr account deletion as well. Earlier this year, Flickr nuked user Shephard Johnson’s entire photostream and account after he posted comments critical of President Obama on the official White House photostream. In that case Johnson lost about 1,200 photos of his, many of them which were not backed up. Johnson was offered a free Flickr Pro account after the fiasco but like previous users was told that Flickr could not restore his account.
As it stands now when a user’s photostream is deleted at Flickr it is gone. Erased. Permanently and irrevocably. Many Flickr users are appreciably nervous about this fact, especially after reading stories about hackers infiltrating flickr accounts or when overzealous underlings in the Flickr Censorship Division seem to overreact to minor Flickr Community Guidelines violations by nuking users’ photostreams.
When Flickr nukes a user’s photostream, it’s not just the users’ photos that are gone. It’s all of the rich, important and vibrant social metadata around the photos that are gone with it. I’ve had many very long engaging conversations around my and others photos on the site. When Flickr nukes your stream those all get erased from existence.
Flickr user Saint Seminole summed up the problem fairly succiently:
"So personally, I wouldn’t be worried about losing the photos themselves. I’d be worried about losing all the work I’d put in the site over the past few years. All those cross-photo links, all the links from my blogs and others back to my flickr photos, all the website links I have directing people to my Flickr sets, my collections, my tag groupings, my archive date links, and on and on.
All the meticulous placing of photos on the Flickr map, in hundreds of cities and several countries…
This is why I personally would be worried about an accidental deletion, not the losing of photo files. This certainly seems like it should be a *MUCH* higher priority than redesigning "post now" buttons, etc. For Flickr, this should be a number one priority to protect its reputation…"
The answer to all of these concerns is rather simple really. Rather than permanently deleting accounts when Flickr feels that a user has crossed them, they could instead simply convert the account to a private account on Flickr making the stream invisible to everyone in the Flickrverse except the individual user. By locking the account down this way Flickr would be able to remove whatever it is that they find offensive while still allowing the user the ability to download photos of theirs that are not backed up or allowing Flickr to restore accounts where their censors make mistakes or overreact to minor guidelines.
Many Flickr users put tens, hundreds, in some cases even thousands of hours into building their flickr photostreams. More than just their time and energy though, what so many are offering up through Flickr is their art. Something that carries a far greater emotional cost than simply time or money. And all of these people have to live with the knowledge that their entire creative endeavors on Flickr could be blotted away with the 2 second push of a button. So it was very disappointing yesterday reading more than two years after Flickr Chief Stewart Butterfield called the inability to restore photos on Flickr a "mistake," that Flickr still today is not working on a mechanism to restore deleted photos. What bothers me as much if not more than the fact that Flickr won’t develop this important feature is that they refuse to even provide their reasoning for why they will not.
I have a hard time believing that the reasons why Flickr will not offer this sort of safety net have anything to do with engineering resources. Recently Flickr changed all the delete buttons on the site red. They also went to the trouble to personally code the "about Flickr" staff page so that it shows me, Thomas Hawk a single user, a different staff than it shows every other user. How is it that Flickr seems to have the staff resources to do these relatively insignificant coding projects, and yet they don’t have the resources to code a sane and reasonable restore feature for bad account deletions?
I’m not quite sure what the answer is to getting Flickr to agree to this important safety net. They basically have a monopoly on the community photo sharing space at present and can pretty much get away with doing anything that they feel like with impunity no matter how much it upsets their users. And that’s too bad.
Update: After refusing to address the issue of why Flickr won’t commit to a reasonable, responsible and sane approach to account deletion recovery, as is typical, Flickr staff has returned with a non-answer and locked the thread to avoid future criticism against them.
From Flickr Staffer Zack Shephard: “Since the OPs issue has been resolved I’m going to close this down. We have left it open because there was obviously some concern about this and we wanted to let discussion keep going. There is a lot of food for thought here and thank you all for letting us know about your concerns. This is still the help forum though and because the OPs issue is resolved I think it’s time to move on to the next.” And just like that another conversation critical of Flickr is killed.