Dear Adobe, Please buy Flickr

A photo readers find among the most interesting among the 13,000+ aerial photos I've put on Flickr

This photo of the San Juan River in Utah is among dozens of thousands I’ve put on Flickr. it might be collateral damage if Yahoo dies or fails to sell the service to a worthy buyer.

Flickr is far from perfect, but it is also by far the best online service for serious photographers. At a time when the center of photographic gravity is drifting form arts & archives to selfies & social, Flickr remains both retro and contemporary in the best possible ways: a museum-grade treasure it would hurt terribly to lose.

Alas, it is owned by Yahoo, which is, despite Marissa Mayer’s best efforts, circling the drain.

Flickr was created and lovingly nurtured by Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake, from its creation in 2004 through its acquisition by Yahoo in 2005 and until their departure in 2008. Since then it’s had ups and downs. The latest down was the departure of Bernardo Hernandez in 2015.

I don’t even know who, if anybody, runs it now. It’s sinking in the ratings. According to Petapixel, it’s probably up for sale. Writes Michael Zhang, “In the hands of a good owner, Flickr could thrive and live on as a dominant photo sharing option. In the hands of a bad one, it could go the way of MySpace and other once-powerful Internet services that have withered away from neglect and lack of innovation.”

Naturally, the natives are restless. (Me too. I currently have 62,527 photos parked and curated there. They’ve had over ten million views and run about 5,000 views per day. I suppose it’s possible that nobody is more exposed in this thing than I am.)

So I’m hoping a big and successful photography-loving company will pick it up. I volunteer Adobe. It has the photo editing tools most used by Flickr contributors, and I expect it would do a better job of taking care of both the service and its customers than would Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft or other possible candidates.

Less likely, but more desirable, is some kind of community ownership. Anybody up for a kickstarter?

[Later…] I’m trying out 500px. Seems better than Flickr in some respects so far. Hmm… Is it possible to suck every one of my photos, including metadata, out of Flickr by its API and bring it over to 500px?

I also like Thomas Hawk‘s excellent defense of Flickr, here.


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  1. Brian Humphrey’s avatar

    Thanks Doc,

    With more than 18,000 images in our LAFD Flickr gallery:

    …having enjoyed more than 40 million news, our agency – like the American Red Cross and Library of Congress, has maintained a longstanding relationship with Flickr, an admittedly imperfect tool that nevertheless stands head and shoulders above the rest in addressing our needs.

    With API functionality and an ability among others, to convey respect and responsibility to the gifted independent photographers who allow us to display their copyright work, Flickr has been the backbone of our on-line images for more than a decade.

    While we cannot as an agency endorse a suitor, we stand strongly with you in hopes that if necessary – a responsible bidder with a clear vision of sustainability will see fit to acquire Flickr.

    Thanks Doc, for all you do.

    Respectfully Yours in Safety and Service,

    Brian Humphrey
    Public Service Officer
    Los Angeles Fire Department

  2. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Brian, for both your photos and your service.

    Far as I know, there are no suitors yet for Flickr, though a number of different ones (all unappealing) seem interested in Yahoo. I just want a suitor who understands and wants to expand what should be (and to a degree is) a good B2C photography business that’s also a landmark on the Web. Adobe strikes me as the best and most likely candidate, among big companies, though lately it seems far too interested in advertising, which I think will be a losing game for them.

    Dave Winer suggests a kickstarter, which is another idea I like.

  3. James Irwin’s avatar

    Mac owners may be interested in a Flickr archiving and database app called PixSteward It preserves your original images (JPEG, PNG or GIF) on Flickr as well as the metadata (captions, EXIF, etc.). It offers a 10-day free trial and a how-to video at:

  4. Doc Searls’s avatar

    I have it, and recommend it.

  5. Roland Tanglao’s avatar

    cool thanks for the pixsteward recommendation @doc and @jamesirwin, does it handle losing connectivity? i.e. can it resume downloading/archiving/backing up if it crashes or i turn off wifi and turn it back on? i have 170000 photos and i’ve written my own really bad flickr backup solution in ruby because none of the ones i’ve tried can resume!

    anyways it’s only $25 so i’ll probably buy it anyway! but any insights would be awesome

  6. Mike Warot’s avatar

    Instead of hoping for a white knight to step in and re-create the good old days, how about focusing our efforts on new ways to share things that are distributed, and avoid walled gardens?

    Almost all the major services we rely on are capitalist in nature, and thus someone with a large amount of cash (or access to credit) can buy them and do whatever they want with them.

    We need to figure out federation, and sharing of data in a distributed manner… if you think about it, that’s probably been solved a few times already, what really is needed is the social will to put up with temporary pain to get long term gain.

    When Robert Scoble gave up on blogging, and went Facebook, etc… that was a great example of short term thinking… the network effects of blogging, RSS, etc… only work if we use them persistently, even if it’s only 10% of the time, as long is it’s persistent and consistent in the long term, it should be enough.

    Federation of data can save us, we’ll all run our little bits of the network, instead of hoping the overlords are good to us….

    Does that make ANY sense at all, Doc?


  7. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Mike. Makes total sense.

    I’ve been fighting walled gardens all my life. But I’m not geeky enough to build my own fortress (or I would, on Linux).

    FWIW. while this blog isn’t on my own server, it’s on one owned by an institution that has been around since 1636, and which has promised to keep it up in perpetuity. So I have a some faith that it will outlive me.

    As for Flickr, I use it because there are no equivalent distributed tools that do the same jobs. That’s it. Given the investment I have in there, it makes no sense for me to just walk away and say “Let’s just find a new distributed way to do this.” I want to say that too, but I also want to save what I’ve got, and millions of others also have, in Flickr.

    True: there are no white knights. There other industrial giants, any one of which is more than likely to screw Flickr up. Of those I think Adobe is a slightly better suitor than the others, though there are plenty of reasons to dislike them too.

    I would love it if Stewart Butterfield and Cal Henderson took some of their Slack money and bought up Flickr, which they sold to Yahoo in ’05. I am sure they’d do right by it.

    I would also like to see the community of Pro customers of Flickr buy it up, if they could. Dave Winer suggests a Kickstarter for that. I’m game.

    It matters that Flickr is a B2C company, and not just an ad-supported B2B one. I think that will matter to pro-level customers who aren’t just “users.” It should also make Flickr more accountable and responsive. And will help when online advertising finishes going to hell, which it’s doing already.

    All that said, the wisdom of Phil Windley, who likes distributed everything as much as anybody, applies: Decentralization is hard, maybe too hard.

  8. Mike Warot’s avatar

    Doc, thanks for the quick and thoughtful reply. When you mentioned building a fortress, I think you touched on what I believe is the biggest reason we’re all using walled gardens, the basic insecurity of any system exposed to the internet.

    Until we develop operating systems up to the challenge of facing the raw internet, without the need for an army of security professionals on a war footing, we’re going to be stuck with walled gardens.

    The barriers to entry when it comes to hosting anything on the internet have risen considerably in the past 10 years, and it doesn’t look like things are going to improve anytime soon.

    So, only businesses with decent profit margins are going to host things on the internet from now on… or am I wrong? (Please let me be wrong)

  9. Alexis Alvarez’s avatar

    Adobe already has its own photo-sharing site, Behance. Why would it want to buy flickr?

  10. John Seward’s avatar

    I am the PixSteward developer. To answer your question, Roland Tanglao, if you lose connectivity in PixSteward while downloading from Flickr, you don’t lose anything, and you can resume. It will not have to re-download the pictures that have already been done. PixSteward doesn’t merely backup your Flickr photos, it also preserves the meta data and provides easier search functionality than Flickr.

  11. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Alexis, I am not assuming Adobe would want to buy Flickr. That’s why the headline says “please.”

    Until now I hadn’t heard of Behance, which it calls an “Online Portfolio” where one can “Showcase & Discover Creative Work.” As something that’s quite different than Flickr, and far less known, seems to me Flickr would complement rather than compete with it.

    That said, I do respect Stewart Butterfield’s case: Flickr itself is worth $0 and would burden its buyer with hundreds of $millions in costs. Only a very large buyer with a stake in photography would potentially be interested. For those with substantial Flickr accounts, such as me, the safest thing is to offload everything using PixSteward and then transfer keepers to 500px or another surviving photo sharing service.

  12. Roland Tanglao (@rtanglao)’s avatar

    @John Seward PixSteward sounds awesome! better than builkr! i hope to try and buy this week! thanks for replying! bulkr also backs up the meta data but it doesn’t use JSON. i hope that somebody’s flickr backup app will use JSON someday. I will in the meantime just transmogrify the text metadata to JSON and store in REDIS, Mongo or Couch (probably Mongodb since that’s what I know!)

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