In the past week a storm raged through Flickr, in the past weeks and months we’ve seen a couple more already.
I’d think that Flickr would not have many feet left to shoot themselves in. Apparantly Yahoo’s lawyers (whom I guess are the initiatiors of these cock-ups) however are good at finding more feet for Flickr to keep shooting.

First let me mention a couple of ‘minor’ issues that we saw recently.
The smallest one was making it mandatory to have a Yahoo-ID to use Flickr. This upset the community because they don’t see themselves as a Yahoo customer but a Flickr customer. Confusing your customers with mixing your different brands is not a good idea.

Being Cut Off if You Stand Out
Last month there was the removal of a photo and comments of Rebekka Godleifsdottir without warning. Presumably because some people in the comments uttered threats to a UK company that had been violating Godleifsdottirs copyright. Also apparantly this got to the attention of Flickr staff because of the high number of page views and comments the photo attracted. They in the end admitted their mistake and apologized.
Recently Flickr changed the way content is categorized and filtered.

From now on Flickr users should actively moderate their own content. Which in itself is not too much to ask. But the thing is they ask me to mark photo’s that might be insulting or unprudent to a ‘global’ audience as moderate or even restricted. This can be interpreted as a call to moderate everything according to the smallest common denominator. My pictures that show women e.g. talking to males that are not their relatives in public will certainly feel offensive to some people. But of course that is unenforceable, as Flickr staff well know.
I received a cheery message my account was considered ‘safe’, as if that should make my day. But what was irritating that suddenly I saw greyed out pictures when visiting friends’ photo streams.

Switching off the ‘Safety Filter’ that Flickr provides me with as a great new functionality, which they default to Safe (which means their default is to not let you decide to see less information, but let you decide to see more information. A plain weird standpoint in the age of information abundance/overflow), showed that the filtered out stuff consisted of screenshots and graphics. The kind of thing they filtered out of public search before, because Flickr is a photo-site.

Other users however saw their entire account being flagged ‘Restricted’. Without notice, and with very slow response as to why it happened, and how to change it. In the linked case, the trigger again seems to be a response to a) complaints, but apparantly without checking the validity b) a high number of views and comments (as if that alone indicates something dodgy. Seems like projection on the side of the Flickr Staff to me: only naughty stuff attracts eyeballs). That is a repeating pattern so it seems.

Again Flickr admitted their mistake, and apologized, but again it took decisive action on behalf of the customer.
So we have as a pattern:
If you attract attention, you’ll be flagged as suspect.
If we change something, we won’t tell you first, but wait until you complain.
We are slow to respond.

Dumping PayPal and Other Payment Woes
Yahoo is promoting their own payment system (Yahoo Wallet) which supports creditcards only (at least outside the US). A lot of European users do not own a credit card, because you can do almost anything with your debitcard across the entire continent, and yearly fees for credit cards are often high. That is why PayPal is popular, as you can connect it to your bank account.
But they’ve cut PayPal as a payment option. Again without warning. Leaving scores of users without credit card with no way to continue their Pro account by paying through PayPal. And without time to arrange a different solution, because there was no warning the service would be cut.

Also those that use the Portuguese language version of Flickr, suddenly find themselves left with using a Brazilian e-banking option only to pay. Which of course is entirely logical if you live in Portugal, isn’t it?
Confusing languages with countries is a major no-no guys. Useability 101.

Offering Localized Versions with Easter Egg
The really big issue this week is the start of localized versions. While the official blog was extolling the parties around the launch, and how the Flickr team was jetting around the world, the users in Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore and Korea found a little easter egg in those localized versions: they cannot decide their own Safety Filter settings. It is on Safe always, if you have a Yahoo ID based in those countries.

Of course this means that those Swiss and Austrian users that created a German Yahoo ID because they wanted to enjoy a German speaking site, now also see their filters in Flickr being locked in Safe mode. Confusing languages with nations again. This means ‘flowers and landscapes only’ for the German speaking users. Even for your own photo’s. Meanwhile Yahoo’s stockholders rejected a principled stand on censorship.
Again, this change was effected without warning. Again response has been extremely slow when users started to complain. German users demand to know what the legal basis is for this decision, but only get vague indications (e.g. age verification is mentioned) that don’t make much sense at all (except that they seem to be taken pro-actively out of fear, real or imagined). An action accusing Flickr of widespread censorship ensued.

Until now Flickr staff only let their customers know how painfull it is to them, and how sorry they feel, but no tangible information as to reasons why is forthcoming.

(censorship has been a hot tag in the past week on Flickr)

It all boils down to this, from my viewpoint:

  • Flickr is currently treating their customers as objects, whereas the customers see themselves and Flickr staff as a community.
  • Flickr is taking measures without informing their customers, or giving them a chance to prepare for those changes.
  • Flickr is stonewalling requests for information.

Meanwhile customers are considering their options, putting uploading on hold, and moving away to other services (such as the Danish 23 and Zoomr)
Flickr, in short, is flushing their brand down the drain. Or rather Yahoo is, as Flickr staff seem to feel predominantly sorry for themselves at this point.

(a good overview, if you read German, of what is going on in the German blogosphere can be found at Sprechblase, by Cem Basman from Hamburg)

5 reactions on “Flickr/Yahoo: How Many Feet to Shoot Left?

  1. Great summary of past events Ton. I have been feeling more and more uncomfortable with Flickr without being able to put my finger on any one sore spot but i thing you sum it up nicely.
    The hard realization at this point is of course that it is really hard to quit a social network once you are invested. My friends are on Flickr, i urged quite a few of them to join, and my mother knows how to find me there. I’m ready to switch to 23 at this point especially since it’s a european alternative and i’m expecting less of the legal or multinational bullshit there. Only; how to do this without ending up in the same predicament later?
    If nothing else it proves we really need to get a move on with those portable social networks.

  2. You’re right Tijs, it is very hard to disentangle yourself from a social networking site, once you’re deeply in (as we both are). And it is high time to get a move on with portable social networking information.
    I had just renewed my pro-account with Flickr, and no refunds are possible, so I have some time to decide my options, and then act on them.
    23 in my eyes is the likeliest alternative for me. I already have a pro-account there (as thanks for beta testing), but until now never used it much.
    Right now, I am willing to wait a bit longer to see what Flickr will have to say for themselves.
    And based on that make a transfer to 23 or not.
    I am certainly not looking forward to moving all my photo’s. I use Flickr a lot in my blogpostings, and all those links back to Flickr, displaying my images, will rot. That’s a couple of blogging year’s worth of linkrot potentially. 🙁

  3. Very good summary indeed.
    I, too, am not looking forward to moving my photos elsewhere, along with metadata, comments, groupings, etc. But Yahoo seems to be taking steps to make Flickr smaller each month.
    Remember the copyright snafu with Wii photos?

  4. Hi Bryan,
    Yes, I forgot to mention the Wii thing in this entry, where Creative Commons Non-Commercial licensed pictures were used commercially by Yahoo.
    Meanwhile on German blogs there are popping up e-mail exchanges with Yahoo Germany’s customer support, that do not bode well for a solution. Basic response seems to be ‘no we’re not going to change’ or you get send a link to delete your account.

  5. I notice a circle here:
    1) you start a small online idea (flickr, myspace, youtube, …) without making profit
    2) it grows out to become a success
    3) marketeers see the potential
    4) you’re bought by a big company
    5) the platform is commercialized
    6) laywers get afraid and/or commerce is perverted
    7) customers walk away
    8) a new idea is born

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