Closeup of a brass bicycle bell

Pour one out for Flickr and our naive vision for the open Internet

Published 2019-02-06

In anticipation of the now-upon-us FlickrPocalpyse I’m weeding out about 90% of my Flickr feed. It is hugely depressing. Because I don’t want Flickr to choose which photos get deleted (“oldest first,” apparently), and because a handful of my photos are still linked to elsewhere, I need to choose what gets saved. So I’m deleting photos.

I joined Flickr 14 years ago to share photos of our honeymoon. I’ve been doing this half my adult life. I quit using it regularly about two years ago (more on that in a bit…) but it was the cleanest, most-curated record — public or private — of my life since about age 30. Better than my blog. It wasn’t just that it held 9000 photos. I spent countless hours — hundreds or thousands, probably — carefully curating, tagging, organizing and cataloguing them. I added descriptions and labels and comments. I added them to groups (I joined groups, y’all!) It all went in the Creative Commons. I Shared.

I was a “pro” user until “pro” became meaningless about five years ago, when they gave everyone unlimited storage. Now that we’ve all abused that unlimited storage, “pro” is a cudgel Smugmug is using to squeeze the remnants of this resource.

It’s sad to cut my old photos & associated commentary loose. “Oh there goes my first dog. There goes our wedding. There goes our honeymoon. There goes our new puppy. There goes our year in China. There goes our first house. …the birth of our first kid. …second kid. …third kid. …new house.” All of it. Pared down to 1/10th, the tiniest fraction of those thousands of hours.

I realize I could have chosen otherwise. I could have scraped this all (500 photos at a time) using Flickr’s excellent API (using which, btw, taught me how to use APIs). I could have bundled up the best albums and had them printed. On, like, real paper. Maybe I should have done all of that, instead of just rage-deleting 8000 photos. But there is something cathartic, however depressing, about the deleting.

This isn’t just depressing for me. It’s depressing for Flickr-the-company and for the Internet and for society generally.

Flickr coulda been bigger than FB but screwed it up. Everyone screwed it up. Yahoo screwed it up. Verizon screwed it up. And now SmugMug is screwing it up.

xkcd noticed this too

But here’s the really depressing thing: Remember when you could joyfully live a public online life?. When “online communities” meant “mostly humans arguing” and not “mostly Russian bots spouting propaganda?” When people wrote blogs and shared them willy-nilly without regard for making a billion dollars?

I am long past missing the death of this community, the first where I actually befriended distant randos online. The whole chapter of “befriending long distance randos online” feels very of-ten-years-ago now.

About two years ago I realized I was living a little too publicly. I was maybe being tinfoil-hatty about the Russian bots, but also it grew on me that I was not just exposing myself to (extremely low-key) public scrutiny, but my family and friends, and yes: online randos. I pared back all my online profiles, privated about half my Flickr photos, and generally quit using Flickr for anything other than curating Can you see Mt. Hood from Council Crest Then about a year ago I started hosting the Council Crest photos myself. So the most recent photos of my Real Life on Flickr are now are about 2 years old. And the whole thing has been stale for a year.

…So in a way this process is like sorting through the detritus of a very good friend who died about 2 years ago. A cheerful guy with naive optimism about the ability of the Internet to connect randos over their love of low-perspective photographs of beaches. Sure we have all of his important stuff in storage elsewhere, but Pre-2016 Paul won’t need this public space any more.

RIP Pre-2016 Paul