As it was purchasing Tumblr, Yahoo was also quietly making changes to the Flickr photo sharing service. Flickr has been one of Yahoo's few success stories recently, and this was the first major revision to the site in a number of years.
The change came without
warning, it dramatically changed the look at feel of the site, it
changed the emphasis from sharing and community to photo browsing, and
it upset a lot of people.
Like Jenny Mackness,
I've been a member of the site since the beginning, have become a 'pro'
(ie., 'paid') member, and have thousands upon thousands of photos
stored on the site. And my issue with the changes are similar to hers:
it’s like hanging too many paintings on a wall in an art gallery, and
'Collections’ no longer show on the opening Flickr page.
most importantly, "the worst thing about these changes is that they
have decreased and
diminished my sense of ownership over my own photos, since I no longer
have a choice about how they should be displayed" It's not as bad as
Google+, which has been "auto-enhancing" (ie., wrecking) my photos, but
it's bad enough.
And she adds, "What Flickr hasn’t seemed to recognize is that they have ‘meddled’ with my identity." This was the part I thought she got exactly right.
But Alan Levine responds: "I disagree- Jenny gets a lesson that third party sites are not 'ours'. If they do their job well it has that sensation."
he has a point, of course. Spaces like Flickr and Facebook and Google+
and Tumblr belongto large corporations who offer us certain services in
exchange for the right to monetize our creativity and attention. From
time to time they will allow us to pay for extensions to that privilege,
which is how I can to pay Flick for 'pro' membership and Google for 100
gig of 'cloud' space.
And of course, these spaces are not ours, which is what in turn motivates things like the Domain of One's Own
project, which exists thanks in no small part to Levine's own efforts.
In the past I've supported the idea, and I still do, because, as we have
just seen, these large corporations that give us a place to put our
stuff are fickle.
That said, I have no illusion that
hosting my own domain and server and all the rest of it will free from
such fecklessness. It simply moves it back a level.
example, the ISP on which I hosted my own server has been purchased
three times since I started with them (which is how I find myself a SoftLayer
customer without even trying). Everything about my service (and most
importantly, the Linux configuration support, which has long since
vanished) has changed.
At home, I found myself viewing advertisements inserted into my web stream by my internet service provider (which also admitted to 'traffic-shaping'
and of course bandwidth limits). Though I don't think it does this any
more (I'm not sure, because I bolted from the service as soon as I
could) I get the same sense of my personal space being violated.
And of course there's the wireless internet access industry, a collection of companies that have proven manifestly unable to resist
no-cancellation policies and excessive roaming fees, and the platforms
on which smartphones run, which enforce monopolies like the iTunes store
or Google Play. Having iTunes deleting your music or Google Play banning updates certainly feels like a violation.
if I were to construct my own internet backbone and manufacture my own
computers, our economy is so interlinked that fickle behaviour on the
part of one corporation or another (perhaps the power company, perhaps
the government) will intrude on my space. Because, in the end,
everything I own, everything I create, everything I see, is obtained from, and at the discretion of, corporations and service providers.
is not sour grapes; it's just a fact. It's no more or no less a fact
that that I buy my food from restaurants and grocery stores, my clothing
from Mark's Work Wearhouse, my water from the City of Moncton and my gas from Enbridge.
It would be ridiculous and futile to attempt to provide all these
things for myself; it makes much more sense to do what I do well, get
paid for it, and purchase these services from others.
with these purchases and exchanges of services, I have come over time
to have certain expectations. Indeed, it is impossible to build a
reliable network of goods and services if these expectations are not
met. I do not expect my food to poison me, I do not expect the power or gas to stop functioning for no good reason, and I would consider it an affront if the City came along and said it was rezoning my property and neighbourhood to heavy industrial.
No, I don't own any of these things, but they all taken together form part and parcel of my life, my livelihood, and yes, even my identity.
Jenny Mackness is not wrong to complain about sudden and unexpected
changes in service delivery, not least in one she pays for, but also one
in which she exchanges other value (such as her creativity and
attention) for services. There's no reason why web services should be
any different in this way from the newspaper or the gas company.
need to become more clear about this. More and more of our digital
world is moving into the cloud. Software we used to buy and install,
like Photoshop, is now a service.
That's fine (if expensive) if we can control our software. But if we
start getting upgrades without being asked, and if our computers and
other tools suddenly start performing in erratic and unexpected ways, or
if we suddenly lose features (like Google Reader, or anything useful in
Apple iMovie), then the loss of control we feel is real.
software and digital content industries as a whole will have to be very
careful. They have already tricked people into believing they are
purchasing 'licenses' and not actual products, even when those products
are shrink-wrapped and stored on DVDs. This resulted in significant
push-back as people lost the right to copy, trade or resell their
purchased product. But at least if the product changed they could keep
the old one.
Now they will not even give us the product
itself. They'll change it whenever they want. Terms of service, cost
increases, usage caps - we've already seen that the industry will do
whatever it wants if it feels it can wring a few extra dollars out of
the service. The users - as we well know - are not the customers. The
only people corporations answer to are the shareholders.
why we need to push back. These services are beginning to play an
essential role in our lives. Just as the gas company cannot by law turn
off the heat in winter, just as banks by law cannot charge more than a
certain rate of interest, just as telephone companies by law must allow
you to keep your number when you switch service, there is a growing need
for an understanding that people demand, and must receive, a certain
consistency in online environments.
Last week I linked to an article launching a campaign for a "people's terms of service." I commented, "Some of the terms that would be highlighted are laudible - the idea that
such agreements could not be arbitrarily changed, that producer data
collection practices would be transparent, that companies would respect
user copyright, and that industry standard data security measures would
be in place."
But I didn't like the mechanism, and I
noted that companies will simply ignore these provisions. What might be
needed I think is something rather stronger. So, here's the message to
Flickr, the new owners of Tumblr, and the other vendors making a lot of
money hosting our stuff and providing services online: if you can't
behave, people will push back. Because they do feel their sense of identity is being infringed upon.
sort of dissonance is real. How do you think the people who purchase
Joe Fresh felt when they saw their favorite shirt among the wreckage of
the Bangladesh sweatshop?
can get away with a lot. But when they start messing with people's
sense of self, they are starting to tread dangerous ground. It might be
something as simple as they way we are able to display our images
online. But I think we know, intuitively, that if we can't even control that, then there's a lot more serious stuff behind the scenes we can't sway at all, and it begins to gnaw at us, bit by bit.