Required Reading: How Yahoo Killed Flickr and Lost the Internet

How Yahoo Killed Flickr and Lost the Internet

This is the story of a wonderful idea. Something that had never been done before, a moment of change that shaped the Internet we know today. This is the story of Flickr. And how Yahoo bought it and murdered it and screwed itself out of relevance along the way.
Do you remember Flickr’s tag line? It reads “almost certainly the best online photo management and sharing application in the world.” It was an epic humble brag, a momentously tongue in cheek understatement.

Because until three years ago, of course Flickr was the best photo sharing service in the world. Nothing else could touch it. If you cared about digital photography, or wanted to share photos with friends, you were on Flickr.

Yet today, that tagline simply sounds like delusional posturing. The photo service that was once poised to take on the the world has now become an afterthought. Want to share photos on the Web? That’s what Facebook is for. Want to look at the pictures your friends are snapping on the go? Fire up Instagram.

Even the notion of Flickr as an archive—as the place where you store all your photos as a backup—is becoming increasingly quaint as Dropbox, Microsoft, Google,, Amazon, Apple, and a host of others scramble to serve online gigs to our hungry desktops.

The site that once had the best social tools, the most vibrant userbase, and toppest-notch storage is rapidly passing into the irrelevance of abandonment. Its once bustling community now feels like an exurban neighborhood rocked by a housing crisis. Yards gone to seed. Rusting bikes in the front yard. Tattered flags. At address, after address, after address, no one is home.

It is a case study of what can go wrong when a nimble, innovative startup gets gobbled up by a behemoth that doesn’t share its values. What happened to Flickr? The same thing that happened to so many other nimble, innovative startups who sold out for dollars and bandwidth: Yahoo.

Here’s how it all went bad.

Which is to say, the above is an essay on why Flickr has become a niche market site, best for the sort of people who own DSLR’s, instead of the place where the majority rules. Facebook is now the largest photo sharing site in the world, even though it has some of the most distasteful user-agreement policies, because it’s easy and now everyone is already there. Perhaps, though, Flickr users will trickle back the same way LiveJournal has been recently regaining writers. Short form fast click blogging and photo sharing is great and I love it, but it doesn’t curl into life as deeply, and maybe the Yahoo team will eventually understand how to become widely relevant again someday. I don’t hold out a lot of hope, though. I only wish I did.

five bottles of things going wrong

Heisenberg, Goedel, and Chomsky walk into a bar. Heisenberg says, “From the fact that we are all here I can infer that this is a joke, but cannot determine whether or not the joke is funny.” Goedel says, “No, we can’t tell if the joke is funny because we’re inside it, if we could observe ourselves from outside, we would know.” and Chomsky just shakes his head sadly. “No, no,” he says, “The joke is funny. You’re just telling it wrong.”

Language source root map.

Crossing the park outside the train station to buy our tickets back east tonight, the night smells like dark, warm grass and marijuana under the broken lights. A man on a park bench to my right sings a snatch of song as I pass, though with a falsetto woman’s voice, sweet, light, as if they were secretly a ten year old girl in a ratty disguise of fourty years of hard drinking. Inside the train station, I don’t see David, who’s to meet me here. The building is mostly empty, the sort of vast space which hushes conversation, forces everyone to talk a little quieter as if our voices might be swallowed by the square footage if we were to speak too loud.

I walk past the bench with a young dreadlock-attractive couple, the sort that are nationally recognized as being from British Columbia. They both look like they should live starring on Folk Festival posters, but a little more tired, a little more worn around the cuffs of their sweaters and indian cotton shirts. The next bench only has a studious young man all in black, with a pair of new wing tip shoes in a box resting next to him. I sit on that bench, after pinning him on my mental map as the least likely to talk to me, and take out my book instead of strike up conversation. David has thirty-five minutes to arrive with our cash, and then the discount on our tickets will vanish.

The clock ticks..

After every page, I look at the clock, trying not to fret, but thankfully, it all works out. David arrives with our money, the man behind the counter apologizes for the flawed website and the terrible help-desk women who hung up on simple questions, explaining that the help desk offices are located in Dallas, Texas, Nova Scotia, and Bangladesh. He is generous, kind, and completely helpful. (Thank you man-behind-the-counter, you’re excellent.) We buy our tickets, I shake his hand, and we walk off into the night, three minutes to spare.

Wagons ho, we’re going on the 18th.

“heart of the world” update

I’ve made an appointment to look over the property tomorrow morning at 9. Silva, my godmother, (and possibly a realtor friend), are also coming. According to Mr. Dempsey, the realtor in charge of the sale, the property comes with all of its equipment, it won’t be gutted. (Which is good, as that kind of thing is obscenely expensive, and would make the space exceptionally painful to get working as a cinema again).

Oliver’s been helping me poke at the place as much as can be done on-line and tonight I got the realtor to confirm that the licenses are indeed weird. Instead of being zoned as a Commercial space, it’s zoned for multi-family residential, which means the license is currently non-conforming, (this is so perfect is sort of hurts my brain). As long as I keep operating as a theatre without a break of more than 6 months the non-conforming use can continue indefinitely and I may get to legally live in it. Jack Dempsey says it’s entirely likely I could just move in without the city being able to complain. Also, he thinks the building may have actually been built in the twenties, not the 50’s as initially supposed, so there’s a good chance that the building has been grandfathered enough that it doesn’t have to be up to code. (Which is almost more exciting than legally-living-there VS illegally-living-there, ’cause we all know I will either way, right?). That last bit of information is a little too shaky for me to trust on faith, if only because it all sounds too good to be true, so I’m going to be looking more into that after I take my actual peek through the building tomorrow. I don’t know about licenses for live performance yet, but I’ll be asking. (Course, if you know, pipe up. “For a good time, call me”).

Originally uploaded by abrietta.

More good news: The current owner of the building owns a string of other businesses and is selling this one because apparently he’s simply too busy to keep a handle on it and his other theaters and his pharmacy. He’s not sloughing off a bankrupting business because it’s drowned under debt or liens. Tax, I’m told, is $1400, though I don’t know enough to know what that means yet. I feel safe assuming it has nothing to do with the business and everything to do with the land. Hydro, operating costs, etcetera, he couldn’t give me over the phone, as the owner of the property hasn’t called him back yet, but the realtor says he can get them to me easily enough.I’m hoping to look at the place’s last three months of numbers with an accountant who can tell me what they mean. (If anyone is or knows of a good accountant who can help, that would be grand, all I have are lawyers). Educated guesses are telling me that the cost will very likely be something akin to $5000 a month. However, the realtor tells me that there’s some flexibility regarding the price, though not much. The property went up for sale about a year ago with a list price of over a million dollars. No one bit. This time, though, now that it’s nominally cheaper, there’s a few people looking interestedly, one of which who wants to do the similar things as I do, so now it’s a bit of a race. If I can show up with a good bid before he can raise his financing, I’ll win.

All of this essentially means one thing; I was right, my biggest hurdle will be the actual purchase.

However, with some help, I’ve found out how to do it.

Here’s the trick: Find someone, (a personal investor, a corporation, whatever), with money and have them completely buy it, 100%, in agreement that I will pay them back for all of it, (slower than if it were through a large down-payment), but only end up owning a little over half. I take care of the taxes, the etceteras, and I make the venue work. I run the place and eventually pay them back. That way they’re completely guaranteed. Even if I default and fail to pay them back, they still own a considerable asset, one that will be worth more by then from all the work I’ll have put in. Me and, of course, all you lovely people who will have been paid in shares of the company. (I’ve been told that that’s how a teenage fantasy artist in Seattle became a millionaire. She painted the original Magic Cards, you see, but the company was too tiny and broke to pay her in cash then, so they paid her in shares. Now, I’m not hoping to be as grand and lucky as all that, but hey, maybe they’ll be worth box seats). As to cash-flow, I’ve got enough people lined up who’re willing to perform pro bono or pay for the privilege of walking the boards at the old New York that I’m pretty sure I can run a month of entertainment for practically free. This, of course, tells me nothing about the numbers, but I guess I’ll find out soon enough how much I’ll have to make monthly to keep it viable. Until then, I don’t want to plan too far ahead, if you know what I mean.

Basically the investor, they get all their money back, I get the controlling share, and we both get a really awesome venue which eventually should provide some income, which makes it more in their interest to help me out and keep me involved.

I was thinking of pitching that to someone like Electronic Arts, some Big Money that wants to be cool, though they’re not, maybe, the best first choice. Alex Peake suggested Relic, as apparently they go in for the movie thing. That’s the next step after tomorrow, finding appropriate money-lenders. That and writing out the business plan.

Happen to know anyone filthy rich and friendly to young, emerging arts types? Grants take too long to be useful now Those are for later, once I’m lucky enough to have scary gobs of debt to pay off.

Related: there’s going to be a public hearing regarding the plan to turn the Vogue Theatre into a dinner club & bar.

On a lighter note, one less insane and probably more conversational, here’s a Chapman Stick video I had on earlier.

heart of my world

Hours blank at work today, schedule says I’m sitting pretty as the only one in the building until the Sunday Salsa class arrives. Things like small mercies are coming alive in the absence of noise. I wonder who’s where and what’s happening outside in the world. The clock ticks behind me and occasionally the elevator makes a hesitant noise, as if it’s second guessing what floor it should be resting on.

Now, I want you to imagine this next bit being said seriously. I want the habitual laughing irony that characterizes my voice replaced by something like the phrase ‘terrified sincerity’ carved into heavy stone.

The movie theater near my house has a FOR SALE sign on it. I’m calling the number on the sign tomorrow and asking for details and a walk-through of the space. I know that the B.C. Government has grants both for first time buyers and to help young entrepreneurs with their first businesses. You can see where I’m going with this.

I want to know what kind of support I can get, who’s interested in being part of this investigation. I need information about writing business plans, the details of those grants I mentioned and of commercial mortgages. I want to how to get ahold of Alex McKenzie, (see: the Blinding Light Cine), and what are the rules about memberships that let you skirt certain kinds of licensing, (see: Pacific Cinematheque, the Railway Club).

I don’t want to be a non-profit. I don’t want to be a first or second run theater. I want to be a mainly art house repertory, showing all the things that the old place ran. I’m talking everything from original work to old films where the copyright’s run out, and double-bills like Marc Caro nights, (Amélie, Delicatessen, City of the Lost Children), everyone’s favourite director they never knew the name of.

There’s another thing too, when I was younger and lived in the building adjunct to it, the theater was then a venue. Rick Allen gave me a pair of his drumsticks, Neil Young played there with Sonic Youth. If the stage is still there, it might be a viable venue too. A place for plays, short performances, concerts, the coffee house cabaret evenings I miss so much from back east. I work in a Dance Center, I’m passing friends with half the local theater folk, there is no lack of performers who want intimate venues.

Your thoughts? I would very much appreciate in-put.