Flickr Dehoarding

It has been a long time since I have written a post about hoarding, or dehoarding, or ‘Digital Dehoarding’ (that post was made five years ago and has since been de-hoarded itself). However, Flickr, that online photo-sharing website, has recently announced that it will be kindly de-hoarding non-pro user’s photo collections.

It is doing this (somewhat indirectly) in a backstep from its previous “1TB for all” offering, by now limiting non-Pro accounts to a meagre 1,000 photos. It will start deleting the oldest pictures in January 2018.

In some ways I think this is a cruel thing to do; like giving a child all the candy/sweets/chocolate it wants and then, whilst it’s sitting there, face covered in chocolate, snatching away all but what it can grasp with its chocolatey fingers. That’s the mental image I have right now but this is on the back of me attending two birthday parties in two days in which children were present.

Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind, and since hoarding is now a recognised disorder, perhaps Flickr’s move is a good one for all. Then again, if you’re addicted to hoarding then being faced with a fee for continuing to hoard might be one you’re prepared to pay, thus putting you at risk of financial hardship.

I can imagine Flickr’s new stance will come as a shock/sinking heart to many users. In particular, because I know of many Second Life users for whom the service is popular with, could well be finding their oldest memories of their time in the virtual world obliterated overnight. I myself have snapshots dating back to 2011 and occasionally find myself having a glance back to old times. Thankfully I have all of my originals backed up at home and rarely use the Flickr site itself to carry out such reminiscing, but visitors to my Flickr profile who might want to see what my avatar looked like way-back-when (because I do that too on other people’s pages from time-to-time and assume others do also), may be disappointed to find (or not find) the oldest pictures gone.

Beyond this I’m not as active in Second Life as I used to be and rarely take a snapshot, let alone upload any; having (what feels like) overcome my addiction. Had I been at my SL prime and someone who reels off vast numbers of snapshots during each adventure/day, and therefore with over a thousand treasured pictures in my account, I think I would be quite bothered by Flickr suddenly threatening to delete my memories. I however have always been far more selective about which pictures I upload, and never relied on Flickr to be my primary photo storage location as other might. It seems Facebook is used by many in a similar fashion, and then there is Instagram, neither of which I use but they are things that spring to mind.

Actually, when Flickr first announced the free 1TB back in 2013 I thought this was unfair on the current Pro account holders and couldn’t see much benefit remaining for non-Pro users to upgrade. Flickr’s blog page on this latest turn-around criticises (quite heavily I think) the approach its owners then took.

In 2013, Yahoo lost sight of what makes Flickr truly special and responded to a changing landscape in online photo sharing by giving every Flickr user a staggering terabyte of free storage. This, and numerous related changes to the Flickr product during that time, had strongly negative consequences.

It blames the almost limitless amounts of free storage for the now lacking of community spirit that makes Flickr an engaging social platform for sharing.

…the free terabyte largely attracted members who were drawn by the free storage, not by engagement with other lovers of photography.

I’m not sure I see the connection and I haven’t been an active-enough user to notice a lack or decline in such an image. Surely there would have always been its vibrant and engaging users that make such a platform fun to use when previous limits were removed, and surely it was obvious there would have been many people flocking to the service to just upload masses of pictures since they could. But Flickr kind of criticises these flocking masses for not coming with the right attitude and therefore damaging the experiences of the others; how could this be so? The two camps could (and likely did) exist, oblivious to the other (since the non-engagers weren’t engaging with the engagers). What I can imagine caused a decline, and a divide amongst users, is snobbery from Pro users who might look down on those active users (the ones who do interact in a social way) who hadn’t paid for the privilege of a Pro account. I often get a sense of this in online circles where there is a free service which many people can make do with alongside a paid-for one which is almost only there in a “if you would like to support the service you enjoy…” capacity. I come from a time when the internet was a world of free stuff, and I very much have a “make-do” attitude, rarely justifying spending money on things I don’t need. I’ve seen this world changing; I remember how every so often I would have to seek out new free storage space for my website, and how new limits were imposed or advertising inflicted. Similarly to the online snobbery I imagine, in the offline world there are those road uses who think the roads are theirs because they pay “road tax”, and those who aren’t obliged to pay such a tax should get out of their way and stop causing a problem. Of course, all of this could exist in my imagination.

Flickr has recently changed hands again; in 2017 Verizon Communications acquired Flickr (along with Yahoo!), and then reorganised them under a new “umbrella company” called Oath. Back in April of this year (2018) SmugMug acquired Flickr from Oath. Each time these things change hands (and it sure has happened a lot recently!) the users are faced with changes in both how a service functions on the surface and nonsensicle changes to Terms and Conditions below the surface for which they generally don’t care about, but perhaps should.

Giving away vast amounts of storage creates data that can be sold to advertisers, with the inevitable result being that advertisers’ interests are prioritized over yours.

SmugMug, who are trying to sell this latest change to its users in a positive light (and I am too, although in a different one), want their service to gain value. It says that “making storage free had the unfortunate effect of signalling to an entire generation of Flickr members that storage—and even Flickr itself—isn’t worth paying for.” By reinstating a storage limit it seeks to encourage more users to “value the service” and therefore pay for it, thus enabling Flickr to stand on its own feet rather than rely on advertising which likely didn’t generate as much income as was hoped for by its previous owners (blame me for using an Adblocker!) If I may offer a prediction then it is that once (because I think it will happen) Flickr can persuade a greater portion of its users subscribe to the service, which it is trying to do by changing its image from a free all-you-can eat chocolate buffet, into a “pay for it, you will enjoy it more” one, will become a (more?) financially valuable commodity and be sold on again. How well future owners will treat its users and their data/privacy will again be something to see.

There is a risk, of course, but this one is beyond its tactics simply failing, and that is, paying customers will surely expect better account security experience, for which Yahoo! developed a poor track record. A free service isn’t really expected to do its best, is it? But a paid for one?

In the meantime, if you are a Flickr user and are being faced with photo deletion (beginning in January) then perhaps try and enjoy that light and uplifting feeling that comes with a bout of dehoarding.


  1. Never trust any online outfit to look after things. They’ll change the rules whenever it suits them. Nobody will keep your stuff forever without fiddling with it in some way (a bit like those financial institutions who say they’ll look after your pension for 50 years, or let you pay for your funeral decades in advance). It’s just too tempting. Personnel change and the new ones don’t care about the original principles even if they had them in the first place. You forget about where things are and when you remember and want them back they’ve gone or been changed (e.g. high res pictures changed to low). Back things up yourself on hard drives and DVDs. Download any important online email. Print things out. Mind you, if that picture at the top of this post was one of mine, I might be glad to see it go, not knowing the young lad personally.

    • That’s some good advice. I’m often suggesting to clients they consider backing up to a memory stick instead of considering online “cloud” storage, although generally on the basis of them knowing where their files are and how to get them back should they need to.

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