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The new Flickr: Goodbye customers, hello ads

Derek Powazek | May 22, 2013
Longtime Flickr user Derek Powazek calls Yahoo's new Flickr moves for what they are: A replacement of paying customers with advertising, and a design that focuses on photos but not community.

Now, everyone has 1TB of storage for free. That's fantastic for people with free accounts, but there's no longer an unlimited storage option, and 1TB is less than unlimited by, like, a lot. The new "Doublr" account adds a second terabyte worth of storage for the shockingly high price of $500 per year. (There's also an account that costs $50 per year that does nothing but hide ads.) Compare this with the old Pro account, which provided unlimited uploads for $25 per year.

Old Pro accounts are grandfathered in, for now, but they're not available for anyone else. And most Pro members have no real reason to renew. Why renew when 1TB is free? As a result, Flickr's population of paying members will dwindle. Yahoo is betting that Flickr will be successful because of ad sales, not because of paying customers. And that's a chilling turn of events for a product that's always put its community first.

This change also takes away all of the community-centric aspects of the business. You can no longer buy paid accounts as gifts for other people, and the Pro badge that appeared by a user's name as a signifier of their participation is gone.

Another casualty of this announcement is the straightforward language Flickr used to use in communicating with its community. Pro members like me got alerted to this change with a web page that read, "Spectaculr things are happening at Flickr! Dear Derek, as a Pro member continue to enjoy the benefits of unlimited space, an ad free experience and stats."

Paying for a terabyte of storage that everyone now gets for free is not "spectaculr." Saying that I "continue to enjoy" the things I paid for while obfuscating what's changed and why is dishonest. "Sounds Good!" the page says. Not really.

Why did Flickr make these changes to storage allotments, and rejigger its pricing scheme? I can guess. Digital photos have increased in size over the years (though the cost of storage has decreased). Google and Dropbox have entered the photo-hosting game, and both have tiered limits. Unfortunately, I'm left to guess because Flickr didn't actually explain itself. It took away a core part of its original product (unlimited uploads), replaced it with a free version and an expensive and limited upgrade, and declared it "spectaculr," and hoped that we'd be too distracted by big photos and purposeful misspellings to notice.

I'm also puzzled by Yahoo's press event, in which company executives kept using the phrase "full resolution" to describe photos. Flickr has always had support for uploading and downloading your photos at any reasonable size, and displaying them on the site is only limited by the resolution of the screen and the browser. So what does that "full resolution" mean here? Or is it just another buzzword?


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