View From The Dugout

To the marketing departments of the photographic industry, I am classified as an “enthusiast”. Someone who buys a DSLR camera, a couple of steps above a point-and-shoot, without trying to make money with it. If you’ve seen the occasional Photo Posts on this site, you’ll understand why I’m in that “not making any money” category.

In addition to posting images here, I’ve also been a member of the photo sharing site Flickr since 2005, an eternity in Internet time. Once the king of photo sharing, they have been eclipsed in recent times by Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat, and other services.

It is from these two perspectives that I’ve been very interested in reactions to recent announcements from Flickr’s new owners about how they plan to change things.

Spoiler alert: people get very upset when a company cuts back on the features of their “free” product in order to make a sustainable business.

The company that bought Flickr1 plans to limit free accounts to storage and display of only 1000 images. Which is a substantial drop from the one terabyte of storage Flickr began offering five years ago. Pro users, those of us who pay $50 a year for the service (up from the grandfathered rate of $25 for old-timers), will get “unlimited”2 storage, plus no ads and other benefits.

In the age of everyone carrying a smartphone with a lot of memory, one thousand photos is not a lot. You probably have at least half that many on your device right now. Your kids are likely storing many more. But how many of those pictures are worth displaying? Be honest. How many are actually good enough to show the world, not just your relatives and friends?3

Anyway, it will be interesting to see what happens to Flickr going forward. More than anything I would like to see more and better activity in their communities. There are a couple worth an occasional visit but most I’ve seen have been inactive or full of spam for years.

However, even if you don’t use or care about Flickr, this should serve as another of your increasingly frequent reminders that free is not a valid business model. Someone has to pay for the bandwidth, lots of equipment, and all the people supporting it (and you).

Almost always, at the “free” level of any web service, your cost is going to be limited functionality and a whole lot of uncertainty.


Image is one of my more than one thousand images in my Flickr account, a view of Nationals Park in DC from the home team’s dugout.

1. Who bought it from Verizon, which obtained it as part of buying the remains of Yahoo. Both owners largely neglected both the site and its community.

2. I’m always a little suspicious of anyone offering unlimited anything. Just read the fine print on your phone company’s “unlimited” data plan to see the limits on unlimited.

3. Who probably don’t want to see them either but are too polite to tell you. :)