What if Flickr fails?

[2 February update… A new case has come up, of accidental deletion. More details here and here. The company has also updated its community guidelines. It’s still not clear why the company does not save deleted accounts. My provisional assuption is that the reason is legal rather than technical. But I’d love to hear somebody from Flickr (or somebody familiar with their systems) tell me that’s wrong. In any case, deleted accounts should be kept, somewhere, somehow, one would think.]

As of last October, hosted 5,000,000,000 images. I’m approaching 50,000 images on Flickr right now. Sooo… if I lop off a bunch of zeros that comes to… .001% of the total. Not much, but maybe enough to show on their radar.

Here is what I hope they see: some heavy Flickr users are getting worried. Those with the most cause for worry are at the ‘pro’ level, meaning we pay for the service. (In my case, I pay for two of the four at links above). One cause for worry is reports of sudden and unexplained account deletions. The other is the possibility that Flickr might fail for the same reason that, say, is now failing. That is, by declining use, disinterest or mismanagement by the parent corporation, or a decline in advertising revenues.

Of particular interest right now is a report by of Deepa Praveen’s Flickr Pro account deletion. She claims she lost 600 photos, 6,000 emails, 600 contacts, 20,000 favorites, 35,000 comments, 250,000 views and more. “Don’t I deserve a reason before they pressed the DEL key?” she writes.

Of course we only have her side on this thing, so far, so bear that in mind.

Meanwhile the closest thing I can find to an explanation in Flickr’s Help Forum is this thread, which leads me to think the most likely reason for the deletion is that Deepa voilated some term of service. But, I dunno. Maybe somebody from Flickr can explain in the comments below.

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.

Right now that world looks to advertising for paying many big Web companies’ bills, and for driving those companies’ valuations on Wall Street and in pre-IPO private markets. Some numbers… The online advertising business right now totals about $63 billion, close to half of which goes to Google. In fact the whole advertising business, worldwide, only comes to $463 billiion. (Sources: and Google Investor Relations.) That’s a lot of scratch, but does that alone justify the kinds of valuations that and are getting these days? A case can be made, but that case is a lot weaker if Facebook and Google remain mostly in the advertising business. Which, so far, it looks like they will.

Wall Street is less enthusiastic about , but still a little upbeat, perhaps because advertising is still hot, and Yahoo still makes most of its money from “marketing services.” Flickr is part of Yahoo. I can’t find out how much Flickr brings in, but I’m curious to know what percentage comes from Pro account subscriptions, versus advertising placed on non-pro account pages.

There are cracks in the edifice of the online advertising. This comScore report, for example, and an earlier one, both show that ‘natural born clickers’ (that is, people who like to click on ads, versus the rest of us) account for a huge percentage of all the clicks on advertising, which pays based on “click-throughs”. Chas Edwards says, “these ‘natural born clickers’ are not the most desirable demographic for most advertisers: They skew toward Internet users with household incomes below $40,000 who spend more time than average at gambling sites and career advice sites.”

Among all the revenue diets a company might have, advertising equates best with candy. Its nutritive value is easily-burned carbohydrates. A nice energy boost, but not the protien-rich stuff comprised of products and services that provide direct benefits or persistent assets. (I can hear ad folk’s blood begin to boil here. “Advertising is nutritive! It delivers lots of positive public and private good!” Please, bear in mind that I made my bones for many years in the advertising business. I co-founded and served as creative director for one of Silicon Valley’s top agencies for many years. My name was on a building in Palo Alto when I did that. I know what the candy is, how it’s made, how easily most companies who use it can get along without it, and how it differs from stuff they can’t get along without.*)

Regardless of whether or not you think the online advertising business is a bubble (which I do right now, but I’m a voice in the wilderness), we should face the fact that we are seriously exposed when we place our businesses and online lives in the hands of companies that make most of their money from advertising, and that aren’t diversifying into other businesses that aren’t based on guesswork.

I just got off the phone (actually Skype) with folks working on a project that examines Facebook. Many questions were asked. Rather than repeat what you’ll hear me say when that show is produced, I’d rather point to one example that should prove at least some of my points: MySpace.

What’s to stop another company from doing to Facebook what Facebook did to MySpace? More to my point, what’s to stop some new owned-by-nobody technology or collection of protocols and free code from doing to Facebook what SMTP, POP3 and IMAP (the protocols of free and open email) did to MCI Mail, Compuserve mail, AOL mail, and the rest of the closed mail systems that competed with each other as commercial offerings? Not much, frankly.

So I think we need to do two things here.

First is to pay more for what’s now free stuff. This is the public radio model, but with much less friction (and therefore higher contribution percentages) on the customers’ side. In  (at the ) we’re working on that with . Here’s a way EmanciPay will help newspapers. And here’s our Knight News Challenge application for doing the same with all media sources. You can help by voting for it.

Second is to develop self-hosted versions of Flickr, or the equivalent. Self-hosting is the future we’ll have after commercial hosting services like Flickr start to fail. Fortunately, self-hosting is what the Web was meant to support in the first place, and the architecture is still there. We’ll have our own Flickrs and Zoomrs and Picassas, either on servers at home (ISP restrictions permitting) or in a server rack at the likes of RackSpace. But somebody needs to develop the software. has been working in this direction for years. Flickr Fan being one example. The end point of his work’s vector is Silo-free everything on the open web. We are going to get there.

Fortunately Flickr has a generous API Garden that does allow the copying off of most (or all) data that goes with your photographs. I’m interested in being able to copy all my photos and metadata off into my own self-hosted system. How much they would welcome that, I don’t know. But their API is certainly encouraging. And I do want them to stay in business. They’ve been a terrific help for me, and many other photographers, and we do appreciate what they’ve done and still do. And I think they can succeed. In fact, I’d be glad to help with that.

But mainly I want them, and every other silo out there, to realize that the pendulum has now swung full distance in the silo’d direction — and that it’s going to swing back in the direction of open and distributed everything. And there’s plenty of money to be made there too.

I think they might also consider going all-pro or mostly-pro. I say that because I’m willing to pay more than I do now, for a serious pro account — meaning one in which I have more of a relationship with the company. When the average price of first-rate cameras and lenses each run well into four figures, paying, say, $100+ per year for hosting of photos and other value-adds isn’t a bad deal. Hell, I used to pay that much, easy, per month, for film processing, back in the last millennium. And I did most of that at Costco.

So here’s hoping we can talk, that Deepa can recover what she’s lost (or at least see a path toward something better than the relationship she had with Flickr), and 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.

[Later (28 January)…] Thomas Hawk reports,

…after getting three previous non-answer emails from them over the past few weeks, this morning they seem to have finally given her an official answer on why her account was deleted.

From Flickr:

Hi there,

Like I said before, we saw behavior in your account that
went against our guidelines and required us to take action –
which was to delete your account. Our guidelines apply to
any and all content you post on Flickr – photos you upload,
comments you make, group discussions you participate in,

I am afraid I cannot give you any more specific information
than this.

Thank you for your understanding,

The only problem is though, according to Deepa she said she hasn’t participated in any discussions or group threads in Flickr for over a year. And she felt that her content very much adhered to the Flickr Guidelines.

I assume that Cathryn had no answer, and that this was the best Flickr could do.

I would like to say this is unacceptable, except that it is acceptable. We accept it when we click “accept” to Flickr’s terms of service when we take out an account with them. And Flickr is no exception here. ALL websites and services like Flickr’s have similar terms.

And we can’t expect the sites to fix them. We have to do that, by proffering our own terms.

Which we’re working on. Stay tuned.

*I actually have hopes for advertising — not as the super-targeted, quant-driven, “personalized” stuff that’s all the rage these days; but as a new communications mechanism on the corporate side of real conversational marketing, in which the customer has full status as a sovereign individual, and takes initiative, expresses intentions, and engages through mechanisms he or she controls (and preferably also owns).


  1. Dave Winer’s avatar

    Let’s find an entrepreneur to run this company, and let’s fund him with a great business plan, ongoing support and introductions to investors, and let’s solve this problem. It’s not hard, the technology is all very well-known.

  2. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Dave. Agreed. Let’s do it.

  3. Thomas Hawk’s avatar

    Very well written and thought out Doc. As one who frequently criticizes Flickr management decisions (lack of data portability, censoring Germany, Singapore, Hong Kong, India, Korea and Maktoob.com, deleting user accounts without warning or explanation — like above, censorship, etc.) I am constantly worried that I will wake up one morning and find my *own* account wiped out.

    Like you I have over 50,000 photos and years of social metadata tied to these images. I’ve invested thousands of hours (literally) in maintaining my Flickr account and being what I feel is a productive member of the Flickr community.

    Last year, without warning, Flickr nuked a group that I was an admin of with over 3,000 threads. Long conversations, important information and customer data that should have been preserved. Completely gone now. Erased from the web and existence forever.

    An open alternative to Flickr would be ideal, but it would take a lot of commitment from the community and a lot of hard work and support to really make it work. If people can get organized and get onboard for building, financing and growing something more open, I’d totally support whatever initiative you guys came up with 100%. I think it would take contacts from guys like you and Dave though and a deep commitment to really see something like this through.

  4. Dave Zatz’s avatar

    I canceled my Pro Flickr account in 2007 after a censorship dustup covered by Thomas Hawk. I haven’t looked back.

    I suspect Pro accounts cost Yahoo more than free accounts, given the amount of data and traffic the deal in versus the collected fees.

    If you’re going hosted and want to pay, I suggest SmugMug who still seem to care about photographers and photography. Not sure what Yahoo cares about.

    As for me, I’m using Facebook more these days to share photos and albums with friends. It’s good enough for my needs and entirely painless. I don’t need my entire collection in the cloud. Or public.

  5. lomokev’s avatar

    You raise some interesting points but you failed to mention the revenue that Flickr gets each time an image is licensed though the flickr getty collection. Last night I was speaking to a photographer that made £700 a mouth from images he sells though the Flickr Getty collection witch is (i think) 20% of what Getty chargers, so that is roughly £3500 Getty is taking a month for one photographer. Flickr gets there cut to 20% I believe so they must be making a fare wake from Getty and not just ads and subscriptions.

  6. Hub’s avatar

    I have been mulling over something like that. Let’s bring photosharing to something distributed. identi.ca is an example of distributed microblogging where each installation of the system can be added to the federated network. Jabber also has this by design. Why not doing this for photo sharing, with groups (photo pools) and what not.

    My main motivation was originally to work around the problem arising in conferences “add your photos to the Flickr pool of the conference”.

    Also concerning the deletion of account, I have been told by somebody from Flickr at a party in Vancouver that this never happens, that only the user could do so. I never believed it, but I thought it might be worth mentioning.

  7. Iain Dooley’s avatar

    I’ve personally never used Flickr but surely the “antidote” here is just “the internet”.

    Everyone who gets an ISP account gets some free webspace and with all the time and money people spend managing their Flickr account, couldn’t they also just spend that time learning to put their photos online themselves? I guess maybe because the barrier to entry on Flickr is so low, by the time people start seeing that the devil is truly in the detail, they’ve forgotten they could have just published everything on a website themselves.

    You can add blog comments using Disqus, you can engage with your community via Twitter or Facebook, or whatever the social network du jour is. The content is still yours if you have your own website.

    Everyone seems so hell bent on escaping the need to have their own website. Large swathes of musicians a few years back would put their myspace URL on their business cards for god’s sakes!

    Are websites really that hard? The “community” is just “the internet”. People can link to their “friends” by just adding a link to websites they like. That aids in content discovery. You can save your bookmarks in your browser to go back to things you liked before – hell you can even search them!

    It’s almost like the solution here is *less* technology and looking around at ways to cobble together solutions that seem to have been left behind a decade ago because they didn’t have drop shadows on them.

  8. Thomas Hawk’s avatar

    Also concerning the deletion of account, I have been told by somebody from Flickr at a party in Vancouver that this never happens, that only the user could do so. I never believed it, but I thought it might be worth mentioning.

    Hub, this is simply not true. Flickr both has the ability and regularly actually does delete user accounts. Flickr’s Community Guidelines is horribly subjective, allowing them to delete your account for being “that guy” or if they think that you are “creepy.” I’ve had several friends who have had their accounts deleted by Flickr. It happens all the time, contrary to anything someone might have told you at a party.

  9. Hub’s avatar

    Thomas, I do know it is not true ; as I said I didn’t believe her – maybe I was unclear: I didn’t believe when someone from Flickr told me account never get deleted.
    I was just mentioning that even in person they claim that the deletion does not happen, which IMHO make the whole matter even worse.

  10. Thomas Hawk’s avatar

    lomokev. I bet Flickr actually gets a very paltry piece of the revenue from Getty stock sales.

    Even here though this could represent a wonderful business opportunity for a new site. Why not pay photographers more?

    Getty pays Flickr photographers a meager 20%, keeping the bulk of the money themselves and theoretically sharing some of their cut with Flickr.

    20% is not fair frankly. While it’s probably better than nothing, a much fairer (maybe 50/50?) stock photography model could be built into a new site allowing photographers to make more money potentially than they do at Flickr/Getty today.

    It would obviously need an immense amount of content and critical mass to compete with the 800 pound gorilla that is Getty, but it’s doable if the right company could get the right traction and growth as a new photo sharing site.

  11. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, everybody.

    I think an open alternative to Flickr that still looks and works like Flickr is a bad idea. We need something different and better. I like the identi.ca example, but it’s not lost on me that identi.ca has failed to become, or to model, the open kind of microblogging we need to break out of Twitter’s silo. Yet. I still like StatusNet and identi.ca.

    Mostly what we need is a way for that kind of stuff to appeal to more early adopters who are non-geeks. But I think we can do it.

  12. Rebecca Caroe’s avatar

    Dave your suggestion is great.
    Doc, like you I have my concerns about ‘free’ online. I love Delicious. I may be the only person still using it (along with Adriana) but I’d seriously notice if it went. The recent flurry of squeeks about its possible demise made me sit up.
    Could you / Dave approach Yahoo and sign them up to Emancipay?

  13. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Iomokev, you’re right about the Getty Images connection. I’ve been approached (electronically) by Getty a number of times, and haven’t taken the bait; but maybe I should. I’ve made around $900 so far from companies paying me voluntarily for using a photo of mine. I always ask them to pay what they think is fair, if paying is what they want to do. But I’m sure I could do better if I did the Getty Images thing.

    It’s funny, I’m not an artsy photographer, and most of my best stuff isnt’ on Flickr. It’s candid shots of individuals, usually in family settings. Some are visible only to friends and family. Mostly I shoot stuff I want to show up in the public domain. Towns shot from the air, for example. Civic and geological features that serve to help illustrate articles on one thing or another.

    I suppose if I went for the money, I could devote the earnings to good lenses. 100% of my photos are shot with cheap, second- or third-rate lenses. In fact, I don’t use my (new, used) Canon 5D as much as I’d like because all my Canon lenses are meant for smaller sensors, such as the one in my 30D.

    Today, for example, we had amazing snowstorm. I would have loved to have the Canon 50mm f1.2 lens, which I’ve used and is amazingly good. Instead I have my third $100 f 1.8. Great for the money, but still has vignetting at wide apertures.

    Thomas (or anybody), if you’re willing to sell off some of your older lenses, lemme know.

  14. PXLated’s avatar

    Since you prefer self-hosted Doc, do you invision this as similar to the way WordPress is set up – free, open source software for those that want to self host and a service for those that don’t? Maybe a cross between WordPress, Identica (for social) except photo related?

  15. Hub’s avatar

    Doc, I’m not sure where the problem is with identi.ca and StatusNet, but I sure love the idea.

    Breaking out a proprietary silo is hard, mostly because of the mass effect. People are on twitter because everybody else, including celebs, are on Twitter. People are on Facebook because everybody else is on Facebook. Like in any market there are product that sells better than other, even if they were not first to market.

    The fact that you consider that identi.ca hasn’t succeeded (yet?) in gaining the popular traction amongst non tech savvy people shouldn’t be an indicator that nothing would.

  16. Tony Cochran’s avatar

    Very interesting article Doc. You make lots of interesting points.

    Self hosting as you suggest is one possible solution.

    Personally I have almost everything digital that’s important to me backed up on local hard drives. Twice. One of the drives is stored in a safe in my residence when I’ll be away for an extended period of time.

    You got me thinking. Perhaps it’s time to start downloading my email again.

  17. Antoni P. Uni’s avatar

    The Flickr/Yahoo-management has no grip anymore at any kind of human interest/service/follow-up as they are too big in my humble opinion. Some time ago got in trouble with Yahoo’s accounting-department in England ending in losing a site in spite of having more than enough money at the bank but a credit-card delay due to a move from Spain to Thailand and noticing lots of complaints about a sudden deletion of accounts without giving a proper explanation and above all without giving a real chance to correct the “failure” in following their bible-of-rules with which almost no one can comply. One conclusion: the companie(s) are topped-up with robots not being able to understand the basic rules of politeness and services.
    Some days ago I got the following comment on one of my photos, and although I’m not a Jew the text was appalling to me: “i like nazis and im not going to be same shit like the fucking new world scare from jews and fucking jews control the world !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
    After complaining about this I got the following answer:
    “Thank you for contacting Flickr Member Support.

    We greatly appreciate the time that you’ve taken to help us keep Flickr a community that everyone can enjoy.

    We will review the URL(s) that you’ve provided against the Yahoo! Terms of Service and Flickr Community Guidelines for violations and take any necessary action.

    Please note that in some instances (commercial use, etc.) our actions may not be immediately apparent as we work with members to bring their accounts into compliance.”
    Well, surely the last lines don’t work out as they should do!!!!!
    The mentioned comment appeared now three days ago and Flickr could still not decide whether I’m too sensitive or the text doesn’t comply indeed with its bible-of-rules of the international Flickr-community………..
    To protect myself I didn’t took a two-years contract anymore with Flickr and started a separate album in SMUGMUG where the trouble-shooters are still with faces and acting as real humans! Just in case of……..

  18. buza’s avatar

    With nearly 600,000 images in my Pro account (the vast majority of which are hidden with privacy settings), I’ve thought about this many times. While I’m not sure I believe that Flickr “deletes accounts often and without reason” at this point, surely it’s only a matter of time before they make me a believer if this is, in fact, how they operate.

  19. J Chris Anderson’s avatar

    There are a few free software projects that aim to build self-hosted platforms: check out http://unhosted.org and http://couchapp.org

    The goal is once a data API becomes standardized, data can be shared freely across servers and clients, lowering the risk to end users of remote services shutting down.

  20. venkat’s avatar

    Point well made.

    You should seriously checkout Tonido. It allows to run your own personal cloud and offers everything the web offers without relying on 3rd party.

    You can run tonido in your own hardware or host it in a vm what not.

    Feel free to mail me if you need more info.

  21. distractmefrom.com’s avatar

    wouldn’t backupify (http://www.backupify.com/) solve your photo self hosting problem?

  22. Visitor’s avatar

    Is the solution not simply, “sync”? If Flickr could sync with iPhoto or Dropbox or a folder on a drive then we benefit from the social sharing aspects of Flickr, but in the event Flickr accidentally deletes your photos you will have a local copy.

  23. Sam Pullara’s avatar

    Backing up your photos up should be sufficient. Not sure why you would bother with the rest of it since you can always move to the next funded-by-someone-else photo startup and move your photos there if Flickr ever goes down. Where you store your permanent copies and where you display them don’t have to be the same place.

  24. Ron Scubadiver’s avatar

    About 3 weeks ago flickr deleted my account. The reason they gave was voyeurism. If look at my blog and really know what voyeurism is, you will see that there is none. In April they said everything was OK. Everything I added after that point followed the same formula. Someone complains in December and everything is gone. All of a sudden the clean bill of health given in April is now “you were warned”. It was a paid account with 550 images that was getting over 200,00 views per month, 1,940,000 total views, countless comments and many faves. Needless to say there are prudes, net nannies and victorians that think any picture of a pretty girl, even when taken in a public place is voyeur and creepy. Eventually, one of their complaints found someone who was likeminded on flickr and it was all over.

    One can say that there was a TOS violation for any deleted account, but how is anyone supposed to understand what “don’t be the guy, you know who he is” supposed to mean. Meanwhile every cross dresser, T Girl, escort and wife swapper happily posts their home made porn and everything is fine because their accounts are marked restricted. Candid photography gets me deleted.


  25. Aykut’s avatar

    there is another option that comes with opera, opera unite, which is pretty nice idea since it turns your browser to a web server. but you need to use opera and need to have an my.opera account to get it work. its nice since you don’t rely on other services, it can be also a downside, since you need to be online with your opera on. also other people doesn’t need to have an opera to access.

  26. Jeremy Brooks’s avatar

    A WordPress style photo hosting platform would be interesting. The Gallery project comes to mind. I use it for some specific projects, and it’s hosted on my own domain. The problem with this kind of solution is that it essentially isolates my photos. The social aspect of Flickr is missing.

  27. Ruslan’s avatar

    I’m trying to create cluster for images between images hosting like flickr, picasa, imageshack, uploadscreenshot, imagevenue and so on. When you upload picture on pix.am it sharing on 5 places and original saved on pix.am. Pixam checking all of images for working and if one of places remove your pics – pixam will upload new version and new. You share only one link like this http://pix.am/bp/22F.png and pixam control it for you and reupload it if some of service will delete it.

    I don’t know how good it is, but I’m using right now and it works well. If flickr fails, pixam just remove all link from db and will use other hosts for sharing and I don’t need to change anything. What do you think about cloud of images? Like a torrents, because I think people will have a problem with images soon.

  28. Deepa’s avatar

    I am Deepa.
    Thanking you for presenting my story.
    My case this.
    If i violated some of the terms or conditions of the flickr service before terminating that service why cannot they send some sort of notice.

  29. tom_bombadil’s avatar

    I’m afraid flickr will get swollen by facebook. Flickr is a social photosharing site, but sooner or later everything social will be facebook. Just as earlier said people use services where their friends are at and that is: facebook. I’d be sad to see that happen.

  30. Keith Clark’s avatar

    I’m currently writing the code for a website that will surpass Flickr; I’m hoping it will be done and out to the public by August.


    CEO of Jana

  31. pbhj’s avatar

    >Second is to develop self-hosted versions of Flickr, or the equivalent.

    I think Opera’s “Unite” a browser based web server fits in here somewhere. I actually got quite excited about it when it emerged (see link) but it seems to have gone the way of [the concept of] Google’s Wave – not taken off as it might.

    My prediction for the next decade is peernet > internet.

  32. Paul M. Watson’s avatar

    The successful silo’ed systems in the past few years have all been about ease of use, user experience, immediate gratification. Facebook, Twitter, iPhone, even Flickr. Compare the Twitter sign-up page (https://twitter.com/signup) with the Status.net sign-up page (http://status.net/cloud).

    Possibly we need the user interface along the lines of a silo but build the system in a distributed fashion.

    Instagram also showed you don’t necessarily even need import options to start (though naturally I’d *like* it.)

  33. miles thompson’s avatar

    We bought photos from flickr for a recent website upgrade.

    I found the ‘license through Getty’ option to be very helpful, but to be 100% clear I still found the images via flickr. I find the range of photos at flickr much more interesting exciting. Sure the quality varies a lot, but by the same token Getty images type collections seem like every photo has that ‘stock photo’ look.. which gets very tired, fast.

    So, I was sad that it meant less money to the photographer, but it was significantly easier for me personally, because I didn’t have all the fuss of separate invoices and IP assignment contracts to approve per photographer, mot of all it made the legal hassle for me (in the form of trying to get sign off from our corporate lawyer) to be buying from Getty than ‘some photographer in Arizona’. (To be 100% clear we did both).

    I think there is a definite business case for a ‘stock photo’ site for the federated ‘rest of us’ – they handle all the paperwork and IP rights assignment, the photographers handle the actual art work, and the flickr replacement handles the hosting and searching. Along the way you could definitely pay the photographers themselves a whole lot more.

    Just thought I’d mention it as a piece of market research from personal experience.

  34. miles thompson’s avatar

    We bought photos from flickr for a recent website upgrade.

    I found the ‘license through Getty’ option to be very helpful, but to be 100% clear I still found the images via flickr. I find the range of photos at flickr much more interesting and exciting than Getty. Sure the quality varies a lot, but by the same token with these collections it seems like every photo has that ‘stock photo’ look.. which gets tired, fast.

    So, I was sad that it meant less money to the photographer, but it was significantly easier for me personally, because I didn’t have all the fuss of separate invoices and IP assignment contracts to approve per photographer. Most of all it made the legal hassle for me (in the form of trying to get sign off from our corporate lawyer) to be a lot less when buying from Getty (via Flickr) than ‘some photographer in Arizona’. (To be 100% clear we did both).

    I think there is a definite business case for a ‘stock photo site’ in this federated photo sharing space – they would handle all the paperwork and IP rights assignment, the photographers create the actual work, and along the way they could definitely pay the photographers (who deserve it) a whole lot more.

    Just thought I’d mention this as a piece of market research based on my personal experience.

  35. Bertil Hatt’s avatar

    I’m wondering: Self-hosting, how do you want to do that, actually?

    Ask people to deal with installing a T1 to their place, and have a blade rack above their fridge? I’m all for showing the kids how it’s done, but we all look a little too much like Don Quijotte already, with our grey beards.
    Have a cloud-computing server, operated by say, Amazon, on which a user installs a (socially, distributed) photo-hosting solution? Amazon might appear financially safer than Flickr *now*, and have a shorter history of deleting accounts, but with competing cloud services coming and after popping their cherry Wikileaks, they don’t seem perfect either.

    Friends are a solution, but I won’t extrapolate saying that the friend who know how to handle racks isn’t always the most sociable character either. Local businesses? The reason those pool into huge city-sized factory is because of the similarly huge scale effects.

    If you consider banking (a service you can operate yourself, but most prefer to trust a large corporation for them) the solution there was more to facilitate transfer than distribution. The result are appalling, I have to agree.

  36. Rob’s avatar

    This is exactly why we built http://www.backupify.com, because of growing concerns about moving data to the cloud and the willingness of people to pay a small fee to have copies in other places. Automated daily Flickr backup was our first product launch.


  37. Randall Bohn’s avatar

    Sounds like what happened with GeoCities. I had one account closed for ‘violation of terms’ and lost lots of files. Yahoo! didn’t give warning or any chance to recover. I moved to a different hosting solution, and eventually GeoCities closed.
    I will still share photos on Flickr but plan to move my older stuff somewhere else. I realize that for me this is photos only and none of the social metadata, but I’m not as heavily invested as the rest of you.

  38. Alexander Ainslie (@AAinslie)’s avatar

    @Doc & @Dave,
    I am wondering if the OpenSource, decentralized, http://www.thinkupapp.com ( http://bit.ly/ThinkUpApp_Github ) can be forked or extended for this use? This way you have a decentralized, federated, view of both tweets and photos…What do you think?

  39. John Wall’s avatar

    Hi Doc, if you are breaking the 1.8 I have the 1.4 and I love it (three 1.8s is about the break even on price). The 1.2 is great but an expensive addition…

  40. Eric’s avatar

    A self hosted version of Flickr would fail on multiple levels:

    First, most users aren’t tech savvy enough to set up or run their own server. So you’d still need a hosted option.

    Second – single user servers are frail. Imagine the first time a self hosted user gets on the Explore front page. Either that server would get hammered and break and people would see a 404, or that user would see a huge bandwidth bill from serving a popular photo tens of thousands of times. Part of Flickr’s appeal is that it’s a reliable, free host for photos. Personal servers are neither.

    Thirdly, by forgoing central management you sacrifice any ability to manage the bad users – how do you filter for porn? How do you police stolen images?

    I sympathize with the ideal but I don’t see it working in practice. I think the best we can hope for is some Flickr competitor which offers data portability and an excellent TOS.

  41. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Lots of good comments here, and no time at the moment to dig into all the subjects and ideas brought up. But here are a couple of quick ones.

    First, Deepa, I’ll take your word for it that you were not notified before your account was deleted, and were not given a reason for it. If you don’t mind my asking, however, double-check to make sure you weren’t emailed something from Flickr.

    Second, if anybody from Flickr is watching this thread, please contact me personally if you don’t feel comfortable commenting here. My Flickr account is here.

    Third, the WordPress example for self-hosting is a good one. You can self-host on your own server or on one you hire elsewhere, and it does not require a great deal of sophistication. What matters is that you can move your whole blog to another server, because hosting is a substitutable service. One big problem (for users) with Flickr, Facebook and other silos is that they are not substitutable. (Again, props to Flickr for at least having a generous API, making it easy to move one’s data elsewhere.)

    Fourth, Jeremy, thanks for pointing to Gallery. Everybody else, check it out. Might be what the doctor ordered.

    More later.

  42. Marie Ysais’s avatar

    Today’s discussion reminded me that a few days ago someone I work with accidentally deleted one of our websites. At first we were all in shock at the accident and then we could have cried realizing years and years of work might be destroyed. With some effort we were able to use a back up to revive the deleted website.

    I guess my thoughts are not if but when flicker fails, what will happen? Some type of back up comes to mind in preparation to protect as much work and data as you can. As my guess is not if but when.

  43. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Marie, I hope you’re right

  44. Thomas Hawk’s avatar

    Doc, I wonder if Flickr would give a commercial API key to a competitor to let users get their photos out of Flickr. One of the problems at present is that there is no easy way to get your photos and all of the metadata out of Flickr, especially with large photostreams like ours. Flickr is a functional silo. If somebody were to build something different from Flickr, I think a big part of it being successful would be allowing Flickr users an easy transfer path to whatever the new platform might be.

  45. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thomas, Flickr did allow it back in 2006, for Tabblo. I wrote about it here. Antonio Rodriguez’ original post describing how that worked is now gone, but I’m not sure it matters. I just went back to Tabblo for the first time in years (I lost interest after Antonio sold it to HP), and sure enough: I could pull in all the shots I wanted from Flickr. Here’s a quick Tabblo I just did: http://www.tabblo.com/studio/stories/view/1815025/

  46. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Rob, et. al., I just set up a trial backupify pro account. Thanks for pointing me to it. We’ll see how it goes.

  47. Thomas Hawk’s avatar

    Doc, Tabblo was hardly a real competitor or a threat though. They were doing scrapbooking which was a totally different thing to me. They also gave an API key to Clustershot to do the same thing which allows people to transfer their Flickr photos for stock photography sales there.

    More interesting to me would be if they would give one to Google Picasa or to some new start up that they felt was a much greater competitive thread.

    When Zooomr applied for a commercial API key from Flickr we were denied. Initially Stewart said something to the effect of why should Flickr waste bandwidth cycles for a competitor. Stewart later softened his response though and said that he’d give Zooomr one but only if Zooomr first delivered to Flickr *our* API with documentation. With one engineer we weren’t really in a position to do that work at the time so Zooomr never got a key.

    Personally I think all competitors should get API keys no matter what. I think data portability is important. But I wonder how willing Flickr would be today to give one to a competitor. I wonder why Picasa hasn’t requested one and built a Flickr to Picasa transfer app already. That would seem like a no brainer to me.

    Flickr might feel differently about a solid competitor unlike sites like Tablo or Clustershot or even SmugMug (where you can transfer your flickr photos today, but which is only a paid premium account). Would be nice to hear an opinion from someone at Flickr on where they stand with that issue.

  48. Thomas Hawk’s avatar

    by the way according to this Advertising Pitch page for Flickr that I found, http://advertising.yahoo.com/media-kit/flickr.html Yahoo’s currently claiming 51 million registered users on Flickr. Pro accounts don’t see advertisements though (and I’d think these would be the most lucrative accounts for marketers) so I’m guessing that ad rates on Flickr overall are pretty low as it is. No doubt they serve a lot of ads though. I could be totally completely wrong on how well their ads pay though.

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