What if Flickr Fails?

Doc Searls has an insightful blog post asking the question, “what if Flickr fails?” More specifically, as I read it, what happens to *us* if Flickr fails? Like Doc I’ve got over 50,000 photos of mine online at Flickr. I’ve invested thousands of hours (literally) over the past five years in maintaining my account there. I frequently worry that with Flickr’s policy of unwarned and unexplained account deletions that I may wake up one morning and fine my *own* account deleted. Doc references the recent account deletion of Deepra Praven who lost a huge amount of her Flickr life when her account was deleted but seems to worry even more about Yahoo’s long-term ability to keep Flickr going in part based at least on online advertising revenue.

From Doc:

“Still, even if blame for the deletion ends up falling at least partly on Deepa (which I hope it does not, and have no reason yet to think it should), one’s exposure on Flickr goes up with the sum of photos one puts there. And the greater risk is not of Flickr’s deletion of customers, but of the market’s deletion of Flickr. Because, after all, Flickr is a business and no business lasts forever. Least of all in the tech world.”

Although I think Flickr is probably fine (and profitable) in the short-term, you do have to wonder if at some point in the longer-term future Flickr might not end up being “sunsetted” as they seem to call it these days.

Doc suggests that maybe what is needed at this point is “that the entrepreneurs and VCs out there will start seeing value in new open-Web start-ups, rather than the ad-funded and silo’d ones that are still fashionable today.”

Maybe it’s time for a new more open version of Flickr. I know I’d support it. It would need a tremendous amount of will though from the community, a lot of money, the right engineering/design talent, and a ton of passion and commitment to a more open way of sharing our photos and interacting together as a photosharing community. Getting the crowd to move isn’t always easy, but guys like Doc and Dave Winer are pretty well connected and if they could get the right people behind something, well, it just might have a chance.

By the way, I got a facebook email back today from Deepra who told me that she finally got an email response back from Flickr regarding her request for an explanation as to why her account was deleted. Unfortunately though it was simply a blank email with nothing in it. I do hope they get back to her quickly and let her know what happened and why her account is now gone.

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11 Comments

  1. Hub says:

    As I said on Doc Searls post, I do believe that a completely federated photo sharing, including the pools and the groups is doable.

    Things that need to be done:

    -a software platform (Free and Open Source Software) with all the associated protocols – the foundation should be based as much as possible on existing solutions.

    -a few seed hosts using that software platform open to users.

  2. Tennessee says:

    Why don’t you ask the dpreview.com people to replicate Flickr’s capabilities? Large community and Amazon has more than enough storage space.

  3. Thomas, flickr recently deleted my site. It was a paid account that had received 1,940,000 views at a rate of over 200,000 per month for the last 8 months. There were 550 images. About 5 people made me a contact every day, I did not look for them. The reason flickr gave was voyeurism. Now go look at my blog and you will not find one shot that meets the definition of voyeurism. There is not one invasion of privacy. There was not one shot where any effort was made to obtain the image secretly. There was no sexual gratification motive. I will never have an audience like that again.

    My feeling is their moderators don’t understand what is voyeurism and what is not. In April my account was reviewed and it passed. Everything added after that point followed the exact same formula of what was there before. Some idiot complains in December, and boom it’s gone. Yeah, people can speculate about TOS violations when an account was deleted, but tell me how to understand, “you know the guy”.

    Tom, if you need more information, I invite you to contact me by email directly.

    -Ron

  4. Carl Chapman says:

    Flickr will not fail… it will be purchased by Google who already own the picnik engine that runs flickr…and they will get it for a bargain price

  5. Eric says:

    I’ve been saying this for a while, but I do think that the time is right for a nimble competitor to come along and unthrone Flickr. There’s enough discontent among the power users that I’m pretty sure they’d abandon ship for another site that offered all of Flickr’s important features and just had a better protection for user’s rights (or at least a more transparent one). Normal users would follow the power users eventually.

    Flickr is an 800 lb gorilla. But 800 lb gorillas have fallen before – See MySpace, Digg, Yahoo itself. The photo sharing space is just waiting for something genuinely better to come along.

  6. Eric in SF says:

    A former coworker who relocated to the rust belt is the staff photographer for a ultimate fighting gym near where he lives. He’s been threatened with account deletion because his photos are voyeuristic! They didn’t seem to care he had permission from the subjects of the photos and the owner of the space.

    I took the addition of being able to sign up for a Flickr account with a Google login to be the first step towards selling Flickr.

  7. I bet the ultimate fighting gym images drew complaints because they are violent. The clueless flickr staff seems to lump all complaints about non nude images of people under the voyeurism label. That probably makes it easier for them to say later the accounts were deleted for a “good” reason. Voyeurism is fairly specific behavior, but the definition includes the term “sexual gratification” which is inherently vague when applied to photographs. One must look into the background to see what that term really means.

    Although I have not seen the images, I find it hard to imagine photos taken with consent in a gym are voyeur. I viewed Deepra’s blog and saw a few candid images of children. Somebody probably complained about those images. None of those images were even close to voyeur. flickr has no consistency. If the image is candid or looks candid, and someone complains, the account is history, never mind whether it is really voyeur or not. They don’t have the time or talent to think it through.

  8. Eric in SF says:

    Ron – you got it – they threatened him with deletion for “Violent and Voyeuristic imagery”

    The photographer is gay and has a lot of gay fans but he takes great pains to make sure his gay fans do not create a sexualized environment around his ultimate fighting photos – if every comment on the photos is “hot guy!” he will not be allowed to continue as staff photographer for the gym.

  9. Adam jackson says:

    I understand that a great deal of my time on Flickr will be lost but I do use Backupify to backup each of my pictures so at least I have them on my computer & on another backup service. It does daily cloud backups of my images from Flickr. Well worth it!

    However, the sets, tags, location, comments and other meta data (not to mention relationships there) would be lost forever

  10. Eric in SF says:

    Adam – you should be geocoding, tagging, describing, and titling your photos using EXIF/IPTC metadata on your computer. That way you won’t lose the tags *you* apply to the photo. You’ll lose any additional tags people add, but I’ve found that people add very few tags I don’t already think of.

  11. Eric, it should not matter that gay men look at pictures of male athletes any more than if gay women look at pictures of beautiful women. The real problem is that flickr is on a random basis adopting a lowest common denominator approach to what they consider to be acceptable content but they can’t or will not explain what is acceptable to the public. It is getting to the point that the only safe pictures are flowers and pets.

    As for back ups, the problem is even if all the content is backed up, the audience is lost. The traffic on my blog is about a tenth of what it was on flickr and it will take a long time to build back to even a quarter of what I had. It’s a lot of work to organize 550 images. I don’t know what I would do if I had thousands. Unfortunately, there is nothing out there that allows all the ways to get exposure that flickr does. There were several people monitoring my account on their Twitter pages, tweeting each new posting. Tattoo blogs were monitoring my stuff and groups that I posted to. Images were stolen on a regular basis, but I enjoyed having such a large audience.

    It is very annoying that flickr stigmatizes photographers by labeling them as voyeurs when clearly they are not. Unfortunately, the web is full of idiots that are willing to do that as well.