Yesterday photo hosting site Snapjoy launched what they called a “tongue-in-check” promotional page called Flickraft. The promo page provided a tool that would allow users to transfer their photos from Flickr to Snapjoy directly via the Flickr API. According to Snapjoy, in two hours their users imported over 250,000 photos and then they had their API key disabled by Flickr.
“Don’t abuse or overtax the API. This means that if you build an app that excessively strains the Flickr servers, we will expire your key per the API. Don’t Use Flickr APIs for any application that replicates or attempts to replace the essential user experience of Flickr.com. Don’t Display more than 30 Flickr user photos per page in your application or use an unreasonable amount of bandwidth.”
Snapjoy also borrowed from the Flickr branding/logo (which is also prohibited) in crafting a clever marketing message making Flickr look like the Titanic.
I suspect that the API disable wasn’t done manually by anyone at Flickr, but that rather when they transferred over 250,000 photos that they probably tripped some sort of API limits put in place to more generically protect against abuse.
I reached out to Jaisen Mathai who used to work at Yahoo and now is working on a new initiative called Open Photo which would allow users better control over their photos and here is what he had to say:
“API rate limits are a double edged sword. From the provider (Flickr) side it’s required to curb abuse (which Yahoo! gets a crap load of, I was involved in these efforts during my employment). The other side is that things which aren’t exactly abuse often find a nice home under the “abuse” umbrella. This includes “export all of my photos to another site so I can stop using Flickr.”
Still, in the great big world of Yahoo bandwidth, should there really be a limit that prevents another site from transferring more than 250,000 or more photos from Flickr to their site. If this is the case, then many other more successful ventures in the future (like Google Photos or Mathai’s Open Photo) would effectively also end up locked out of the Flickr API.
Personally one of my concerns with regards to Flickr over the years has been functional lockin. While Flickr has given lip service over the years to data portability, in actuality, for the vast majority of flickr users, getting your photos out of the site is anything but easy.
One way to get your photos out of flickr is to use the service Backupify. But in order to use this option you can’t have more than 50GB of photos on Flickr (I have way more than this) and you have to pay them $19.99/month. You can also try some of the free apps that are out there like Bulkr or Downloadr. But these have serious flaws as well. Downloadr is PC only (I’m a Mac guy) and Bulkr limits you to 500 photos at a time (not ideal for someone with almost 68,000 photos on the site like me). I tried Bulkr a while back and found it buggy and not very easy to use. Relying on free apps designed by third party developers in their spare time hardly seems like an ideal solution.
Using the API to directly transfer photos from Flickr to other services is by far the fastest easiest way for users to get their data out of Flickr. A few weeks ago when I decided that I wanted to start selling prints of my photos I transferred about 5,000 of my 67,000 flickr photos from Flickr to SmugMug. I was *blown away* at the speed with which these photos moved over. Getting these photos transferred over to SmugMug was super easy. I used an app called SmuggLr that works as a Firefox extension. [Disclosure, SmugMug is a sponsor of our Photo Talk Plus show, tune in tonight at 8PM PST!]. It was fast, flawless and efficient. The way data portability ought to be.
SmugMug of course is a paid premium site geared more towards higher end photographers who want to sell their prints rather than simply a free photo hosting site like Snapjoy, so Flickr likely considers them less of a direct competitor and so they probably don’t consider them as “replicating or attempting to replace the essential user experience of Flickr.com.”
As a free hosting service, sites like Snapjoy might likely be considered much more direct competitors to Flickr… but then again, so might things like Google Photos or Open Photo.
The still unanswered question is, shouldn’t we as users have the right to move our data around smoothly and freely? After all, these are OUR photos right? Personally I’ve always been a big fan of Google with regards to data portability. Not only have they come out very publicly in supporting data portability with their Data Liberation Front, they actually show you how and have built a tool to make it super easy to export your photos out of Picasa.
As far as Snapjoy the site goes, I set up an account there a few years ago. It’s interesting. They seem to be going after more of timeline sort of thing (like Facebook’s timeline) than a direct community based photo sharing thing. There really is no community or photo sharing there at all. I can’t send you a link to one of my photos as far as I know — it’s more just a personal place for me to look at my photos in archive view. I didn’t really get much out of it so I haven’t used it at all since checking it out initially. I can already look at my photos in archive view on Flickr so I didn’t really see the point.
It is probably worth noting that Snapjoy also does not appear to have an API, Mathai thought that this was their biggest mistake in terms of trying to enable a Flickr to Snapjoy exporter.
“I applaud the SnapJoy team’s effort and am always on the side of startups. Their biggest mistake was not having an API themselves,” said Mathai.
“It might not have any impact on getting their API key whitelisted or reenabled, but it would give them a leg to stand on. The marketing of “get off a sinking ship” conflicts with the fact that they don’t have an API and “coming soon” doesn’t cut it. So in reality, your photos are safer on Flickr than SnapJoy because Flickr at least provides tools (though they may cripple it by rate limiting) to get your photos out. Moving from Flickr to SnapJoy is moving from one silo to another.”
Update: Michael Dwan, co-founder of Snapjoy, just emailed me back and said that as of this morning, they have not heard back from Flickr.
As far as an explanation from his side of things he offered the following:
“We imported just over 359K photos in 3 hours by making 9,459 api calls — an average of 3,153 per hour. Unfortunately, a glitch in our system caused a spike during one of the hours which pushed it over the 3,600 per hour limit. By the time we realized the issue, they had already killed our key. We momentarily exceeded the api limit and Flickr made the decision to kill the key rather than temporarily suspend it or throttle requests.
We’re happy many people got a chance to use the importer and many more are still asking for the functionality to return. We’re also thrilled by the response from people who made it into the beta. We’re working to bring the functionality back and have rewritten the offending code so this isn’t a recurring problem (for Flickr or any other site we integrate with).”