Two years ago, Flickr’s former parent Yahoo, the once powerful online giant, agreed to a $5 billion acquisition deal with Verizon. It now lives alongside another online cautionary tale, AOL, which was acquired by Verizon in 2015.
The telecom giant has spent months consolidating and cleaning house, which included quietly selling Flickr to the photo-sharing tchotchke company SmugMug. It’s a testament to how things have changed for Flickr, once the yardstick for all digital image activities. Flickr was how we first understood the meteoric rise of smartphone photography. It was the original Instagram, the place we shared and commented on photos.
Ironically, even as one of the most popular cameras used on Flickr became “iPhone,” Flickr, like much of Yahoo, failed to ride the mobile wave. Today, it’s a destination for those who care deeply about the craft of photography, excellent NASA images, and royalty-free images via Creative Commons. According to one report, the service still has 90 million monthly active users across 63 countries.
I joined Flickr 12 years ago and have driven almost a quarter of a million views to the service. Like everyone else, I stopped posting photos on Flickr and shifted my digital photography and art activities to the higher engagement of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about my existing Flickr images.
Over the years, Flickr had slowly but consistently raised the price of my pro account to the point where it no longer made financial sense for me to continue. But to limit existing free accounts to 1,000 photos isn’t fair. Most of us have built our Photostreams up over the course of years. We’ve invested time and emotion into each image and helped build the still vibrant Flickr community. Our thanks is, “Get your stuff off our digital lawn!” A community-driven service like Flickr should, even as it changes, work to honor its existing community.
At the very least, Flickr should grandfather existing accounts and only apply this rule to new members. Let the non-pro members keep any number of existing photos on the service. If existing Flickr members want to add more images or access any other “Pro” features, then charge them. Asking people to remove thousands of images, especially when not everyone will have a secure place to store them, is wrong. I might even call it “smug.”
Perhaps you’re not on Flickr and figure this isn’t your problem. But viewed from the perspective of data storage on any platform, Flickr’s decision is deeply concerning.