Highs and lows of using Flickr

Flickr, the photo management and sharing site, had me feeling mixed emotions this past week. There was good news for me, but bad news for two other Flickr users which left me very concerned.

This week started well when an image from my Flickr photostream not only entered Explore, a popular area on Flickr that shows the top 500 photos each day according to “interestingness”, but was also featured on Explore’s front page. It may not be a massive achievement, however, I’ve used Flickr for several years and this is the first time one of my photos has done this, so I was feeling quite pleased about it.

I really enjoy photography and spend quite a bit of time on Flickr, so the slight bit of prestige from appearing on the front page and the extra exposure that brings, was very welcome.

'Paul Galbraith's photo on Explore's front page

Paul Galbraith’s photo as featured on Explore’s front page.

However, also this week it was claimed on Thomas Hawk’s blog that two Flickr users (bindermichi and jolengs) had their accounts accidentally deleted. This is something I find very worrying, but not at all surprising. Flickr in the past has been all too ready to delete user accounts that they considered had broken their terms of service (which aren’t very clear to begin with), so it was only a matter of time before they deleted the wrong accounts.

What concerns me most about Flickr, is their seeming lack of respect to their users. These recent accidental deletions have gained a great deal of press attention from the likes of (The New York Observer) and (TechCrunch), and Flickr are only just now mentioning they are working on a way to recover deleted accounts, yet people have requested this for years.

'This user is no longer active on Flickr message

The message you’re greeted with when a Flickr account has been deleted.

Flickr currently has the right to, and often does, delete accounts without warning. These are not just free accounts but also pro accounts which a user has paid for, and doesn’t get any money refunded. And when these users email to ask why their account was deleted, they are given the vaguest of information.

I’ve had this happen to me in the past and what I found most annoying is the process they use. If they feel you have broken their terms of service, your whole account is instantly deleted. Even now with the talk of introducing a way to recover deleted accounts, why not instead make the account inactive as many other sites do (such as Facebook), and only actually delete the account after a set amount of time has passed.

Flickr users can often spend a great deal of time on the site, uploading their own images, adding descriptions, tags and other meta data. Not only that, they also comment on and make favourites of other images. When an account is deleted it’s not just the images that are gone (these should be backed up elsewhere), but it’s all the other data and contacts that have been built up over time that’s lost.

It’s time Flickr put all of its users first, they should introduce a system that’s unable to delete an account instantly, instead accounts that Flickr consider have broken their terms of service would be made private. The user could then be informed of the reasons and given time to make the necessary changes, and when completed could apply for review to have the privacy restriction lifted. This would also protect accounts from accidental deletion.

Flickr could, if need be, increase the yearly cost of a pro account to cover the extra staff that this would take. Alternatively, they could introduce a reputation system, based on how many favourites, comments and incoming contacts you have, and only once you’re over a certain number is your account safe from instant deletion.

Flickr did in the end manage to recover one of the deleted accounts, even though they said in the past this was not possible – it’s funny what media attention can achieve. I don’t want to sound too negative, Flickr can be a great site for most of the people that use it, myself included. There just needs to be a few changes to safeguard the time and effort many of us put into our Flickr accounts.

About the author

Paul Galbraith is a logo and brand identity designer, working with startups, small businesses and entrepreneurs in the UK, USA and beyond.