Ontario Journalist, Writer, Photography & Filmmaker

The Fading Flickr

Pretty much most people who post images on the web have done so knowing there’s a possibility someone could download the image and make use of it. Tools for tracking these kinds of abuses have grown; Tineeye being a popular one but there are others. Word of mouth is an important one as well.

With the growing relevance and influence of new media and social networking, more photos are being shown/shared online than ever before. Unfortunately, many of these sites do little to try to help protect the intellectual property rights of those people sharing the images. Facebook, for example, with its recent changes to the way photos are displayed makes it incredibly easy to download any image on their service.

Some outlets; most particularly those for video sharing, have made it possible to track where vidoes are embedded outside the actual hosting site. Vimeo’s tracking tools are terrific. Youtube does a passable job but could do better. Facebook is useless in that regard and clearly they don’t care either. Other new/social media outlets have varying degrees of trackability. This brings us to Flickr.

Flickr was one of the first new media outlets to gain mass appeal and use. I don’t know how many images are hosted on Flickr but would venture a guess that it’s in the tens of millions. The collection includes professionals, advanced non-professionals, snapshooters and anything in between.

I’ve used Flickr as sort of a ‘me too’ outlet. Kind of the ‘if everyone else is doing it, maybe I should too’ approach. In recent months I’ve been rethinking Flickr and its place both in the larger photography world and in my own new media strategy. Then I read an article on another shooter’s blog about his thoughts on Flickr and it seems I’m definitely not alone in questioning the use or effectiveness of Flickr.

Flickr does have some capabilities for tracking image views. If the views come from within Flickr, one of the major search engines or a major website you’re likely to be able to track back to where it was viewed. There’s a troubling categor; however, that has spurred my examination of Flickr and it’s called “Unknown Source”.  What this is essentially telling the user is that Flickr knows an image was viewed and that it was linked to the source on Flickr’s server but that they can’t tell you where or how the image was viewed.  There are many potential reasons for this.  If someone sends the link in an email, Flickr can’t distinguish that.  Other sites can tell what email service was used.  If someone’s turned on an anonymous surfing feature in their browser that hides an IP address, Flickr can’t determine the source.  But it seems to go further than that.  It seems as though anything other than the Flickr environment, a major search engine or major third party website and Flickr can’t distinguish it.  Of late, an increasing number of the views of my images on Flickr are coming back as Unknown Source.  This is disconcerting.

In the 3 or 4 years that I’ve been using the service, nothing’s really changed.  It hasn’t been upgraded significantly.  No significant new features have been added.  You can include videos now but there’s a limit on the length of the video of 90 seconds which makes posting anything but a quick clip not possible.  There are also limitations on HD video.

I sent an email through Flickr’s help system about the Unknown Source issue and received a reply that, while it may have answered someone’s question, it certainly didn’t answer mine.  The text of the response is below.

I’m concerned about sites/search terms that I see in my stats. What can I do?

For the most part, photos will turn up in search results due to the meta-data associated with your photos. When you add titles, descriptions and tags, keep in mind how this information may be parsed by search engines.

If you’re seeing referrers that you’d rather not have connected with your photos, you have a few options:

  1. Search engines
    If your photos turn up in a search for terms you’d rather not be associated with, you need to remove those terms from the content in your account, like photo titles and descriptions, tags, your screen name, or your Flickr profile page. If you decide that you’d prefer not to be part of search results on other services, you can set a preference on Flickr to prevent external searches from adding your Flickr account to their index. Search engines do not update their (huge) indexes in real-time, so if you decide to change that setting on your Flickr account, search engine indexes can take a few weeks (or sometimes more) to reflect your preference.
  2. Sites showing one of your photos
    If you find one of your photos on a website and you want it taken down the best thing to do is try contacting the service with a polite request for your content to be removed. Check for a feedback form or email address on the site.
  3. For sites using a lot of your photos
    If you find a lot of your photos being shown on an external site, there’s a good chance it may be using the public Flickr API. (You can find out more and see examples of some of these 3rd party projects on the Flickr Services page.) Your best first option is still to contact the service, and ask that they remove your content from display.

    You can also choose to restrict the use of your photos by any service using the public Flickr API, by opting out altogether. Bear in mind that there may be similar delays to the ones you might see if you remove your photos from search engine indexes. The internet can be a little sluggish sometimes. If you feel there is an unreasonable delay or a service is being particularly unresponsive, feel free to let us know.

To their credit, they did respond quickly but not effectively.  It was simply a link to a page on their FAQ.

So for a variety of reasons, the light is fading on Flickr, at least for me.  I’ll be deleting my images from Flickr over the next few days.

What are your thoughts on Flickr or other photo sharing sites like Picasa Web or others?  How do they fit into your new media strategy?  Or do they?

Addendum:  March 19/11 – It doesn’t rain but it pours, another article by a less than enthused Flickr user.