Nine years, that’s how long I have been a Flickr user for. I have always found the service to be fairly good value. I like the way Flickr looks and how it presents my photos, I like the fact that I can use the Flickr App to share my photos with people on my phone when I’m out and about, I like that I can join groups, and I like that I can post photos to these groups. Flickr isn’t perfect but I believe it’s still pretty good and it’s better than some other hosted photo sharing services.
I have never had any reason to dislike Flickr enough to want to find an alternative since I have never really taken my photography seriously. However I have plenty of reasons to stop using Flickr now that I take my photography more seriously and Flickr has been acquired by Verizon. And it seems I’m not the only one who thinks it’s time to give up on Flickr.
Flickr’s future has always been fairly bleak since it’s acquisition by Yahoo who subsequently killed Flickr and lost the internet. Flickr did get marginally better after Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer announced that Yahoo was going to make Flickr awesome again. But the redesign was more of a diversion tactic to distract people from a bigger change: the change Yahoo made to it’s business model which, as Derek Powazek puts it in his PC World article about Flickrs relaunch, was to “overprice its ad-free and paid memberships in order to force more people to see more ads”. But why would you want to provide worse value for money to paying subscribers? There is one simple answer: money. Because selling ads and forcing people who don’t pay for add-free subscriptions to see those ads by inserting them in their photo streams would earn Yahoo more money than it would otherwise earn from people paying to not see the ads. Anyway that doesn’t matter now that Verizon has acquired Flickr. I really doubt that things are going to get any better for Flickr or it’s users. In fact I think that Verizon is going to be more detrimental to Flicker and it’s users than Yahoo ever was. I hope I am wrong and only time will tell but I’m not about to stick around to find out.
In the mean time I don’t expect anything to happen with Flickr until later in the new year when the acquisition is due to be completed. However anything could happen between now and then including the deal falling through which is possible but unlikely. Flickr really is being sold to Verizon.
Even once the deal is complete I don’t expect that Flickr will disappear any time soon or even at all. I believe that the Flickr service is just going to go from bad to worse in the hands of a corporation that can’t be trusted to do the right thing given it’s history of being a complete and total fucking cunt to it’s customers and employees.
You don’t need to look hard for examples of Verizon’s bad behaviour, which includes but is not limited to; Taking Away Your Right To Sue, Trying to sell app installations on its customers phones, waging war on it’s employees prompting 40,000 workers to walk off their job, opposing netneutrality rules and suing anyone who gets in their way of destroying or at least watering down netneutrality rules. It’s not hard to find unhappy Verizon customers. On one consumer affairs web site there are over three and a half thousand complaints about their mobile phone service, just one of the services that Verizon provides, the same site lists almost two thousand complaints about Verizons FiOS service. Then there was that time that Verizon told a customer to get a lawyer and subpoena if you want that itemised bill. Don’t get me started on Verizons sneaky use of perma-cookies. Not only does Verizon rip off it’s customers is even rips off entire cities and states. Shall I keep going? It’s little wonder why Verizon got to the quarter finals in the Consumerist’s worst company awards. It’s clear that Verizon is without a doubt a thoroughly abhorrent and reprehensible company that people absolutely detest and it’s one reason I am ceasing my use of Flickr. I don’t want to support such an atrocious company by using any of it’s services.
Another reason I’m leaving Flicker to self host my own images is because I have more than a few issues with hosted services which boil down to freedom. I want full control of my own images, data, rights, and the freedom to administer my site in whichever way I see fit.
A little less than two years ago Yahoo decided that it was going to sell wall prints of photos made by it’s users that were licensed under the Creative Commons “commercial attribution” licence and that it was going to keep 100% of the profits made. While the move wasn’t illegal Yahoo still coped a lot of flack so much so that Yahoo decided to scrap the plan about two weeks later. While the whole controversy didn’t affect me, since I had decided to retain all rights to my photos, it did get me thinking: what happens if in the future Verizon decides to do something similar with Flickr that does affect me? I don’t want someone else using my images to make a profit, if anyone is going to make a profit using my photos it will be me. I’m the one that put the effort in to creating the photos ergo I should be the one to reap the rewards, including monetary rewards, for my efforts. Should Verizon try anything similar with Flickr I wouldn’t have many options. I could hope that the decision sparks enough outrage that they decide to reverse their decision, but I doubt it given how unscrupulous Verizon is. I could remove all of my photos and delete my account. Or I could self host my own photos.
If the service is free then you are the service. This is true of Flicker, as it is with almost every other hosted service provider. Even if Flickr doesn’t sell my images to make a profit they are still using my data to make a profit by placing ads amongst my photos which is generating them revenue. The ads weren’t a problem when I didn’t take my photography seriously, but now I’m taking my photography more seriously the ads are a problem. Not only do I take issue with Yahoo generating profit by placing ads amongst my photos I also have an issue with the way the ads look. At first glance some of the ads don’t even look like ads and could easily be mistaken for an uninspired photo. I don’t want someone to mistake an ad that uses a terrible photo as one of my photos. Flickr has the right to put ads where ever they want if they are providing a free service, and I have the right to stop using the service. Placing ads amongst my photos that are designed to not look like ads is just another nail in the coffin for Flickr.
Other issues I have with hosted services include having to abide by bullshit arbitrary and arcane rules or risk being censored like Facebook has done in the past to Australian-based birth photographer Angela Gallo, because apparently birth photography is a type of porn. Then there was that time when Instagram (who’s owned by Facebook) censored a photo by Petra Collins by deleting her account. Most recently Facebook censored Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Nick Ut’s “The Terror of War”, otherwise known and referred to less tastefully as ‘Napalm Girl’. Facebooks reason for censoring the photo? It contained nudity which is a violation of it’s community standards. The move shows that Facebook doesn’t care about photography or photographers and that it knows nothing about the image it censored. If Facebook did know that Nick Ut’s image “The Terror of War” is a historically important and iconic image that has changed history and changed modern warfare would they have still censored it? Facebook has since reversed it’s decision but only after coping a lot of deserved criticism for it’s incredibly poor judgement, including criticism from Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg who herself was censored by Facebook. Those examples are just the tip of the iceberg, there are a lot more examples of social networks censoring people sometimes for no reason at all. I doubt any of my photos would ever be censored but I still don’t want to risk being subject to such bullshit censorship decisions and practices. I refuse to support and use any service provider that censors photographers.
Also of concern is the chance that any hosted service could be acquired, shut down (like what happened to many failed businesses and startup flops during the dot.com boom and subsequent bust), or both like what happened to Picturelife. What happens if I choose to use a hosted service that subsequently shuts down? Maybe I might get lucky like how Picturelife users got lucky when their photos were saved by SmugMug. However if I don’t get so lucky I’d have to find another hosting provider, re-upload, and organise my images. Depending on how many images I have shared that could be quite a lot of work, work that takes time, time that I would rather spend making photos or doing something more productive. Luck isn’t something I want to rely on. I want to be in total control of my photos.
Another issue I have with hosted service providers is that they can change the service at any time, they can add features, remove features, change pricing, and generally do what ever they want with their service. A hosted service provider might think they know what features I need and want but they really don’t. I don’t want a hosted service to decide what features I need or don’t need and to grant or revoke those features as they see fit like how Instagram is retiring the ‘photo maps’ feature from it’s service because hardly anyone uses it. Sure hardly anyone uses the ‘photo maps’ feature but some people still do use it. Sucks to be someone that uses the ‘photo maps’ feature. I also don’t want to pay for a service that has the features that I want just to have the service provider raise the price like what Netflix has done in the past. Getting a bunch of people hooked on something then increasing the price is a dirty and indefensible tactic. If the web host I use to host my own site increases it’s prices or removes a feature that I need and use then I’ll simply find a better value hosting service or a hosting service that offers the features that I need. It’s easier to migrate a web site from one host to another than it is to find another hosted service to share my images.
Security is another reason I would rather host my own images. I don’t want to risk my security with a hosted service provider. A large service provider is an attractive target for hackers, the more people that use the service the more attractive it is to hackers. Hacks happen every day and a lot of companies won’t even tell you if they have been hacked which just compounds the problem. If a service I use gets hacked and that service provider doesn’t inform me that it was hacked then I can’t change my password to secure my account from people who would use it for nefarious purposes. Security is always an afterthought for any large service provider, they don’t care as much about security as they do about making money.
Self hosting doesn’t come without it’s own set of risks and challenges, and it isn’t going to eliminate every problem or risk I face, whether it’s real or perceived, with using a hosted service but it at least greatly reduces those problems and risks. It also gives me more freedom and control over my creative vision.
Sure there are advantages to using a hosted photo service, like not having to worry about the security and upkeep of a web site, or worrying about your site slowing down, crashing, or exceeding your allocated bandwidth (unless you have unlimited bandwidth) should a photo on your site happen to go viral or your site receives an unusually large amount of traffic for whatever reason. But for myself the disadvantages of using a hosted service provider far outweigh any advantages they provide.
What it comes down to is at the end of the day a service provider is there to make money, and as long as it makes money then it really doesn’t care about it’s users. Yahoo proved this when it acquired Flicker back in 2005 and I would be surprised if Verizon doesn’t prove me right. The only person that really cares about my photography is myself, only I will act in my own best interest not some service provider who is out to make money at any cost.
And that is why I have chosen to stop using Flickr in favour of self hosting my own photos.
Good bye Flickr and good luck, you will need it with your new corporate overlords.
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