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Kevin Marks

How do we replace Flickr? #Indieweb #Yesvember

4 min read

Flickr, like all successful social software, is different things to different people. When something is done well, we internalize the communities that we interact with on it as part of the character of the place.

Just two average guys, minding their own business, walking down the street in SF.  The usual.  This is usual, right?

Flickr was intentionally built as a community - it had community guidelines and a welcoming presence from Heather Champ and George Oates, who tummelled it brilliantly, welcoming new people and setting the tone.

Don MacAskill, Smugmug CEO and new owner of Flickr, wants to retain this:

We bought Flickr because it’s the largest photographer-focused community in the world. I’ve been a fan for 14 years. There’s nothing else like it. It’s the best place to explore, discover, and connect with amazing photographers and their beautiful photography. Flickr is a priceless Internet treasure for everyone and we’re so excited to be investing in its future. Together, hand-in-hand with the the most amazing community on the planet, we can shape the future of photography.  

However, he also wants to change things, in particular he wants to undo Yahoo's 'Free TB of storage' model:

In 2013, Yahoo lost sight of what makes Flickr truly special and responded to a changing landscape in online photo sharing by giving every Flickr user a staggering terabyte of free storage. This, and numerous related changes to the Flickr product during that time, had strongly negative consequences.

First, and most crucially, the free terabyte largely attracted members who were drawn by the free storage, not by engagement with other lovers of photography. This caused a significant tonal shift in our platform, away from the community interaction and exploration of shared interests that makes Flickr the best shared home for photographers in the world. We know those of you who value a vibrant community didn’t like this shift, and with this change we’re re-committing Flickr to focus on fostering this interaction.

I get this, but the heuristic that Don has chosen—free photos will be limited to 1000, and the oldest ones will be deleted first—is likely to damage the original community feeling that he wants to preserve. Ton points out the Creative Commons ethos, but it is an earlier mode that I want to point to.

In the early years, before cameras in cellphones and huge bandwidth became commonplace enough that we all had photostreams, Flickr was the place where we shared a community record of events. We'd upload our photos and tag them together to make a shared sense of occasion. I know if I want to remember etechmicroformats first anniversary or the vloggies, the photos will be there.

DSCN0375Microformats One Year Anniversary PartyLike Father, Like Son

However, a lot of these photos are from free users, and they may have gone over 1000, so the collages will be ruined.

I'd like to suggest a more subtle heuristic. If images are public, and tagged, and especially if they are creative commons, Flickr should retain them to preserve this archive. If as Don says there are 3% of users with many thousands of photos that are private, they will still be hit by this without enclosing the commons.

On the creative commons side, the Internet Archive can download those:

As for the people who want a big private archive of photos for free, send them to Google Photos, who love users like that (and will run machine learning over them for fun and profit).

Meanwhile, over in the fediverse, pixelfed is just getting started.