Why I no longer use Flickr

Flickr is a photo sharing website created by Ludicorp, which allows users to upload images, tag them with metadata and arrange them in albums for public or private access, provided that the users are willing to risk having their work used for profit by Yahoo! and third parties without their consent.

Since Flickr was acquired by Yahoo! in March 2005, the site has lurched from one public relations disaster to another.

Yahoo! decided to force all existing users of the site to register for a Yahoo! ID to continue to access their accounts on March 20th 2007. This obviously involves signing up to Yahoo!'s terms of service, the reasons for which will become apparent. Astonishingly, it is impossible for 'old skool' users to remove their photos or close their accounts without a Yahoo! ID.

Yahoo! then decided that it would be a cool idea to scrape photographs from Flickr to use in their ad-driven 'Brand Universe' initiative, a plan to create corporate-sponsored portal sites aimed at the users of specific brands or products (examples so far have included Pontiac and Nintendo's Wii). The photos were selected by their keyword tags, ignoring any license restrictions that the users may have specified. Flickr later fixed this problem and issued a grovelling apology for getting caught. Their plan going forward seems to be to exploit content generated by users who don't know/care enough about the licensing options available to block them from doing this.

Quite a few of the controversies that have dogged Flickr haven't originated from Yahoo!'s policies. This month, Flickr's admins tried to censor the comments of a user whose photos were stolen and sold as prints by a UK gallery. Again, this resulted in profuse apologies and more protestations by Flickr management that they only have their users' best interests at heart.

Flickr also have (or had) a policy to punish users who included what they considered to be a 'disproportionate' ratio of non-photographic images on their accounts, marking offending accounts and tags as 'NIPSA', preventing them being returned in searches.

The level of advertising on the site has become increasingly intrusive, and the limitations placed on the accounts of non-paying members have become more onerous.

The problem with Flickr isn't that it has been swallowed by a large corporation. There are many examples of sites being acquired by other companies and managing to maintain or even improve their services. The real problem is that neither Flickr's operators nor Yahoo! seem to have any buy-in to the idea of respecting the interests of their user community. They want to have it both ways: using the language of a community-oriented site to promote the social aspects of the service, while at the same time doing everything they can within the law to inappropriately exploit the user generated content. It's a shame, as Flickr was and still is a fun, feature-rich tool - just one that can't be relied on to act responsibly.

I personally no longer use Flickr and have migrated my images to Google's Picasa Web Albums service. There are a number of other (free and subscription-based) photo management sites such as Zooomr, Fotki and 23hq which are frequently cited as being viable alternatives to Flickr.

Many of these sites have the added advantages of not having a horribly designed interface, and not filling their website copy with twee, affected baby talk:

"We'd also like to take an opportunity to remind you that one query is sufficient and multiple queries regarding the same issue make the Magic Donkey cry."

- email from Flickr's automated help system


Brand universe controversy: http://www.flickr.com/help/forum/32752/
Image theft censorship: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/6665723.stm , http://rebekkagudleifs.com/blog/2007/05/15/freedom-of-expression-telling-the-truth/
NIPSA controversy: http://taotakashi.wordpress.com/2006/06/08/updates-on-the-flickr-hiding-screenshots-case/, http://flickr.com/search/groups/?w=all&q=NIPSA&m=discuss