As we get older, things change in ways we may not have anticipated. I was certainly surprised at the unfriendly tone of the recent emails I received from the most recent owners of my Flickr account (SmugMug). I hadn’t uploaded anything since about 2015 but kept my Flickr photo site primarily as an archive of a really important time in my development as an edtech instructor and learning designer. The recent changes in the management of the popular Flickr photo sharing web service surprised me (they shouldn’t have) and they ultimately led to me deleting my long-time account (a free and sometimes Pro member since 2004 when Flickr was launched by Ludicorp’s Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake.
In 2004, I was just completing my Masters in Educational Technology at University of BC and an instructor (Brian Lamb) had gotten me interested in the possibilities of blogging and social sharing. He introduced us to Flickr, blogging, wikis and all kinds of intoxicating ideas about free-range learning and sharing.
I loved Flickr right away as it was so easy to post images to the Internet and share them with friends. I started uploading so that I could link images to my blog posts (Dave Winer’s Manila). ‘Hypertextuality’ was adding so many dimensions to my writing I was constantly thinking of new ways to share and images were a natural way to catch attention and spark discussion. The community feeling on Flickr was amazing – people offered suggestions for improvement, pointed me at other images I might find inspiring or useful and I got several friends hooked on the service as well. It was an exciting place to be and I enjoyed seeing images and exchanging messages with people from around the world.
Like so many free things on the web in those days, making money was really the primary objective. By making the service free and functional, the founders quickly drew a large audience and were soon bought out by Yahoo (Yahoo acquired Ludicorp and Flickr in March 2005 for somewhere between $22 and $25 million. I wasn’t a big fan of Yahoo – their search engine, their mail service or other features. And I really wasn’t happy that all my content was migrating to US servers. But I stuck it out and changed my email, cut back on my uploads and even signed up for a couple of years of Pro so that I could feel like I was paying my way.
In 2017, Verizon Communications bought Yahoo (and Flickr) and they reorganized. I was busy with other things and didn’t pay a lot of attention.
Then SmugMug bought Flickr in 2018 and it changed again. More rules, more restrictions, more fragmentation – due in large part to the huge participation in Flickr. I can understand that it was getting unwieldy and expensive. I believe that they did their best.
But this year, the tone seems to have changed. I was offended by the blunt email I received demanding that I modify my account as I either was in non-compliance of new regulations on free accounts or I had images in my collections that didn’t meet their standards??? It was obviously a generic email cuz I rarely posted images of friends and family. In fact, my non-compliance was two small private albums of a friend’s visit and a family trip to Hawaii.
I took the protected albums down, and spent some time reading all the marketing hype and the new rules for photo storage. I hadn’t actually uploaded anything for years but apparently I was still being asked to remove much of what I had. I requested a backup of all my photos and considered deleting my account. I checked the first level of paid account and it really wasn’t worth it. But I got really nostalgic as I looked back at some of the photos and the conversations and found that several old friends were still posting.
But at the beginning of this week, I got another email from Flickr. They obviously hadn’t checked my account as it still accused me of having two albums behind a password and used what I considered fairly agressive language to tell me that my account could be deleted. That was it – I logged into my account and followed the instructions to delete…sadly.
I did check around on the Internet to see why Flickr was being so agressive to try and drive me to pay for my light (actually non-active) use of their service. The experts seemed to agree that SmugMug had no choice but to push people to pay as they just weren’t making money. Hard to believe with such a popular service. I guess storage is still more expensive than it was originally touted to be.
Flickr always offered generous upload limits and promoted it as a free service for everyone – from the person who took snapshots while traveling or during events, to the professional or wannabe who were trying to develop their skills or promote their work to earn a living. I guess I no longer fit their preferred audience as they didn’t offer a place or a service that was worth paying for. I don’t want everything for free; but the Internet services are so varied and increasingly “walled gardens” that I have to be selective. I can’t afford them all so I pay for the ones I use a lot.
I guess SmugMug just forced me to recognize that I have many other expenses that I need to cover and indulging in a fun photo-sharing site doesn’t fit my budget.
I’ve also recognized that my sense of loss is more about the time, the freedom, the people in the community, and the sense of fun and discovery. I remember when Flickr was fun. Now it needs to be profitable. I understand what drives the owners but it ain’t for me anymore. Bye and thanks for the opportunity to play in your photo pools.
A history of Flickr: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flickr
Flickr forever, Mar 17, 2022 – https://blog.flickr.net/en/2022/03/17/flickr-forever-2022/
New limits – Mar 2022 – https://www.pcmag.com/news/flickr-limits-nsfw-photo-sharing-to-paid-accounts