Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Social Suckage

641 words

Uh-oh. I sort of saw that coming. While the ‘social’ software services are en-vogue right now, I’ve always had the bad feeling with them that I put my content and work into a computer that isn’t mine. That is, into a computer I cannot control. Into a computer that may destroy my work at a whim.

For some of those services it’s not a big deal. For delicious there’s the neat delimport tool to give you a local backup of your bookmarks (although I’m a bit scared about it storing the files inside a ‘Caches’ folder as those may not make it into backups… one of the silly things in Spotlight’s design) along with local find capabilities. So if delicious goes down my bookmarks will still be there and just the ‘social’ context they create will have vanished. Not a big deal.

For Audioscrobbler the situation isn’t particularly critical either, if you don’t use their more advanced features. Just let your iTunes feed some song names to the site and you’ll get a more detailed listing of your listening (or rather your iTunes’ playing) habits than iTunes itself will give you. And you’ll get some extra recommendations to go with it. So when their site goes down you don’t lose much of your effort.

For Flickr, I find things more complicated. They offer a number of fun features, like adding tags, descriptions and notes to your images. They let you discover photos that other people took at the same locations and so on. All that is nice but for it to make sense you need to put a bit of effort in adding the matching tags and so on. Your work is required to make Flickr work.

And now I discovered that Flickr just destroys my work without warning me. While it’s of course written in some of their readmes, it seems that you can’t have more than 200 photos on the service if you don’t want to continuously give them shitloads of money. That’s perfectly fine of course. But instead of telling you ‘you’ve used up all your credit, sucker, better pay’ once the limit is reached, the site just keeps on working as it used to – it just dumps your oldest photos. Not that, really, it’s even more sneaky. It just makes your own photos very hard to access for yourself. They won’t appear in your own ‘photostream’ and calendars anymore, but they will still be on the service and contribute to Flickr’s profits.

And I consider that to be exceedingly sneaky. They keep your work for their profits and make an effort to keep it from your enjoyment. If you can’t remember all the photos they started hiding from you, it’s even difficult to locate and delete them at this stage.

I had really hoped that my fears about those sites might be paranoid but just a few months in, I’ve been caught badly already. My photos with some comments are in there and I don’t want to delete my account (and thus the photos) because I don’t have a working backup of the whole setup. And I similarly don’t want to start paying for an account because I haven’t invested that much there and any extra money/effort I put in there will most likely be lost at some stage in the future anyway (I mean we’re facing hundreds of Euros of costs for very few decades here – a rather short time for photos but a rather long time for web sites).

It’s not that Flickr doesn’t have nice aspects to it. They surely do (although their URLs look overly complicated in comparison to delicious, say). But I really don’t see where it’s going and how it will be useful for things that can’t be done by copying image files on a web server.

January 20, 2006, 1:13


Comment by d.w.: User icon

Ah, I don’t begrudge flickr their $25 a year or whatever. I easily get that much use out of it (it’s my primary way of distributing photos to family without sending prints, for example). The photos on my flickr account are just a subset of my iPhoto library. I consider it a bargain when compared to, say using .Mac for the same thing. The fact that they’ve got multiple well-documented ways of getting data in and out of the service reduces my worries about lock in, too.

January 24, 2006, 21:11

Comment by ssp: User icon

Hm, I can use e-mail to send photos around. Or just dump them on our server if there are loads of them.

To me the unique points of Flickr are the playful and useless ones…

January 25, 2006, 2:29

Comment by d.w.: User icon

As I get older and crankier, I find that I appreciate any opportunity to offload sysadmin tasks onto others. Yes, I have a web server that’s perfectly capable of hosting photos, but if someone else wants to do that for me for a nominal fee, while providing web feeds so I don’t even need to remember dropping a handful of emails to the half-dozen or so people who might care about my pictures, all the better. They can worry about backups and maintaining gallery pages and all that other stuff that I used to care about but can’t be arsed to do anymore.

You’re right about the fun and useless features of Flickr being a draw, anyway. There is no greater feed on the planet than this one.

January 25, 2006, 16:17

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