27 Jun 2006 9 pm eastern

Flick’d Away

Until 22 June I had a Flickr Pro account, through which I posted hundreds of photos (most of which were visible only to friends and family) in carefully crafted and lovingly maintained sets. On the morning of 22 June my Pro account expired without notice, and all but the most recent 200 photos were flushed off the site—like that!

The minute I discovered my “Pro” status had expired, I placed a two-year reorder. That was six days ago, and the upgrade is still pending. See, Flickr likes you to pay with PayPal—there doesn’t seem to be any other way to pay—and PayPal can take a week or more to slowly leech the funds from your bank.

Although it’s not the best of all possible user experiences, I guess I’m okay with the sudden, unannounced bump-down of my account status. And I’m semi-sanguine about waiting a week for PayPal to transfer the funds, although they ought to provide methadone while you wait. But the unceremonious dumping without notice or warning of hundreds of family photos feels rough, and wrong, and if I may say so, unFlickr-like.

For this is a program that nearly always understands how people feel. It knows why we take pictures. It knows how we share with each other. Flickr is the warmest and most human web application I know. Thus it is not only upsetting but also out of brand character for Flickr to trash a member’s family albums without so much as a warning.

I feel like the landlord busted down the door to my apartment and set my family albums on fire (all but the most recent 200 pictures) for nonpayment of rent he didn’t tell me was due. I expect utility and insurance companies to bully and bluster and break my heart. But I and you and we expect more and better of Flickr—and the program almost never lets down. A user experience mistake like this feels quadruply wrong precisely because user experience is what Flickr typically gets so right. (It’s like Apple, that way; and we all know what happens when Apple makes the smallest misstep.)

Of course Flickr is a nice way to stay close to far-away friends and family. But it’s also much more than that. For us, it’s the primary tool we’ve used to save our family’s history during our daughter’s first two years of life. And I’ve got to tell you, it kills me that our trip to Spain (where our kid saw The Simpsons for the first time—in Spanish!), a magical day at a Manhattan flea market, her first experience of an ice arena, and more, are simply gone. Using iPhoto, with about ten hours of work, I can probably recreate fair semblances of some of the discarded photosets. But not the texts and the comments by friends and family.

So to my gifted friends at Flickr, who have given us a product many of us can’t imagine living without, this small request: Please notify members early and often as their Pro accounts near their expiration date, and allow a grace period of at least a few days before removing the fragile and irreplaceable human constructions with which we have entrusted you. Thanks.

Updated 10 am ET, 28 June 2006

Ah. Saith Flickr: “If your Pro account expires, don’t panic! None of your photos have been deleted.” Thank you, Suzanne Carter-Jackson (and over 100 other readers) for locating this hidden piece of reassurance.

I contend that I’ve still stumbled onto a problem—that this is one of the very, very, very few things Flickr gets exactly wrong.

Thought. Instead of apparently deleting all but 200 of a user’s photos, sets, and comments, and then hiding the fact that they aren’t really gone on an obscure Flickr Help page, wouldn’t it be better to simply keep the pictures up?

It’s not a question of storage: Flickr claims to be storing the photos anyway. So why send a user into panic by hiding pictures you have every intention of showing again once a PayPal payment clears?

For that matter, why hide the pictures at all? Even if a user deliberately let their Pro account lapse and had no intention of becoming a “Pro” user again, didn’t the Pro account they paid for the first year ensure them the right to keep the photos they uploaded during their Pro period online?

Shouldn’t the “penalty” for ending a “Pro” account be that you can’t upload boatloads of photos any more? Isn’t that sufficient motivation to make most folks re-up their Pro accounts? It was for me. I re-upgraded long before I knew that Flickr had removed almost all of my photos from the site.

While I’m deeply relieved to know that the family photo treasure trove I spent two years building is still intact somewhere on a Flickr server and will be shown again once Yahoo gets its hands of my small, greasy wad of virtual dough, I’m disappointed at being put through a somewhat user-hostile experience on a site I consider among the smartest and best ever mounted on the web. I will keep this post up to remember that nothing, not even Flickr, is perfect, and in hopes that my colleagues there will rethink this bit of architecture.

It’s really pretty simple:

  • Let people know their Pro account is about to expire. Notify them by email and RSS and do it more than once.
  • If a Pro account lapses, keep the photos online that were posted while the account was active.

Over 100 Flickr users wrote to me (a testament to Flickr’s popularity) and I am grateful to all. Several suggested that Flickr had probably tried contacting me to alert me to the expiration, and that its message had gotten trapped in SPAM filters. This is possible, although I filter for Flickr way ahead of filtering for Trash, and I receive dozens of Flickr messages every day, from people who want to become contacts. Flickr messages always seem to reach me, is my point.

I also checked Flickr’s online message board to see if there was notice there, and found none. So it appears that no automated expiration notices were sent to my account, but who can say for sure?

Filed under: family, Ideas, industry, photography, Tools

19 Responses to “Flick’d Away”

  1. miriland » Blog Archive » Flick’d Away said on

    [...] Do you have a flickr account with oodles and oodles of pictures? (Well, who doesn’t?) A cautionary tale from Zeldman: be sure to renew on time. [...]

  2. Crasymaker | Blog Archive | Flickr Did What? said on

    [...] Jeffrey Zeldman is a highly respected individual in the world of web design and when I read his most recent blog post, I couldn’t believe my eyes. [...]

  3. Flickr braucht Speicherplatz » Peruns Weblog - Webwork und Internet said on

    [...] Jeffrey Zeldman beschreibt wie sein Pro-Account bei Flickr ausgelaufen sei und wie dadurch alle seinen Bilder, mit Ausnahme der letzten 200 verschwunden sind. Angeblich hat er keine Benachrichtigung bekommen, dass sein Pro-Account ausluft. [...]

  4. Zeldman’s Flickring Brilliance at Ruminate said on

    [...] How many things can Zeldman get wrong in a simple online transaction? Well, I paid for my flickr Pro extension with a credit card– as it very clearly states when you access the extension form “Visa/MC/AMEX/Discover OR PayPal”– guess that’s too abstruse for Zeldman. Strike One. Then he laments the “hidden” information about his inaccessible photos. Yeah, that information is hidden right in the FAQ with the amazingly cryptic title “What Happens to My Photos if My Pro Account Expires?” and about a dozen other places. Strike Two. I received multiple notices about my account nearing expiration, including a standing announcement at the top of my home page every time I logged in. Strike Three. [...]

  5. links for 2006-06-29 (Leapfroglog) said on

    [...] Jeffrey Zeldman Presents : Flick’d Away Zeldman has a nasty experience with Flickr. He seems to have missed the notifications Flickr sends out before your account expires, but I do agree that hiding all but the most recent 200 photos is a bit silly. It always annoyed me. (tags: Flickr usability) [...]

  6. Porch Time » Blog Archive » My Zeldman Rant said on

    [...] He then whined about it on his blog saying that they should email people and tell them repeatedly, etc etc.  Flickr does. He also flipped out about his photos being lost.  Everyone (over 100 according to his update) and their mothers know that Flickr doesn’t delete your photos.  That “obscure” help page is something you should read when you sign up for the account.  Perhaps it’s just me (and everybody fucking else that does this). [...]

  7. Pig Work - Web Standards Compliant Web Design Blog » Blog Archive » On Whining, Trolling And Feedback said on

    [...] Back to what I wanted to point to here: for the last few days Jeffrey Zeldman has had an issue with his Flickr Pro account with a termination of his account at one stage and the loss of a number of images from the account. Initially he wrote Flick’d Away to point out his issue. Then he wrote My Friend Flickr as a follow up article. [...]

  8. outbreak » The little bumps of the first time user (written on July 3rd, 2006 by Marko Mrdjenovic) said on

    [...] On a side note, there seems to be a lot going on about Flickr. I haven’t really used it ever, but I’m doing it while writing this – I’ve been trying to get around to posting my pics from @media for some time now. [...]

  9. Drew and Brittany Odom » Blog Archive » flickr just won’t work said on

    [...] joe sent me this article to read. basically it is the sad story of jeffrey zeldman and his problem with his flickr account shutting down on him and causing him to go into a mild panic. i don’t want that. so, feel free to still view our flickr account. just know that our gallery is our home for images and with joe’s help….it will return! [...]

  10. afrodesia mediaworks said on

    [...] 27 June 2006 9 pm eastern [...]

  11. Talk To Me, Flickr! - Patrick Haney, Not a Sausage said on

    [...] Well apparently I’m not the only one who’s run into trouble in this area, though Mr. Zeldman was quick to write about the experience, even before he discovered the hidden secret to flickr and expiring Pro account photos. To make things worse, he didn’t even receive an email letting him know the account was expiring (though after this incident and the Event Apart debacle, maybe Jeffrey should be looking into better spam filtering). [...]

  12. blulit | Blog-O-Mau » Annoyed with Yahoo! said on

    [...] Update: I guess Yahoo! Photos is not the only Yahoo! entity with certain issues.  Jeff Zeldman had some trouble with Flickr, but maybe bad publicity made them respond quick…  I wasn’t as lucky.. and I still don’t have my photos. [...]

  13. Flickr: Forums: FlickrIdeas: Bomb PayPal! said on

    [...] i’ve never had any problems with paypal, but zeldman apparently isn’t happy with the delay that paypal has. Posted 5 weeks ago. ( permalink ) [...]

  14. My data is mine - Tweak - by Rijk said on

    [...] My data is mine – Tweak – by RijkOPERA COMMUNITY  Log in | Sign upSkip navigation.Tweak Blog ArchivePhotosLinksFriendsAbout[Sign up][Lost password?]User name:Password:remember meMy data is mineMonday, 19. June 2006, 10:05:34data longevity, open Interesting subjects in the blogoshere: data longevity. I agree with most of what Tantek says, and I’ve also read about Mark Pilgrim’s latest writings. Most of what I do is also done in plain text and HTML. My bookmarks are more or less readable in ADR and easily exportable to HTML. I’m somewhat less interested in open hardware and open software, as long as the closed software produces open data, or is made to handle open data, I don’t see a big problem.There are some unresolved issues, like using online services that don’t always allow export in a usable long-term format. Will my photo albums on my.opera.com still work in 5 years? 15 years? Yes, I’ve got lots of JPGs on my hard disk, what I really want to save is metadata about the selection I uploaded to share with others (which pics, comments, tagging).Update: here’s an example of the kind of problems online services can cause.New pictures of JenseWeek gives Opera 9 ‘analyst’s choice award’ CommentsWell, Google’s WebPicasa and Yahoo! Flickr should ne interopperable in near future. Other services will follow them. That’s for photos (:About HTML – yep, every writting done by me is in HTML (: Well, I’m not so worried about exporting data from Word’s DOC or whatever, but it is much simplier for me to write HTML for tables and formatted text then using Word or another WYSIWYG. I’m not worried about exporting because I don’t like having a lot of stuff. So I don’t like a lot of docs. Everything I think may be deleted is deleted immediatelly (: Also I don’t like many opened windows and tabs. If there are more then 15-20 tabs in Opera (very rare!) I simply close Opera and start from scratch (: And I don’t have bookmarks. The only thing I have in large amounts is music! Even our web-server in office is flooded with my mp3s (: But I’m administrating it, so nobody knows (:P.S. How to turn off text dragging in address bar in Opera 9? Does anybody know? By Aux, # 20. June 2006, 15:33:21 Showing comments 1 – 1. Write a commentYou must be logged in to write a comment. If you’re not a registered member, please sign up. User name:Password: [...]

  15. juque § weblog: Flickr me está cobrando said on

    [...] Zeldman se quejó tiempo atrás de que Flickr no le había avisado que su cuenta Pro había expirado, si no que más bien se dio cuenta de que ya no tenía todas sus fotos el mismo y entró en pánico. Yo soy un poco bastante adicto al Flickr y lo tengo en mi carpeta “Día a Día” de mi marcador Firefox. Recién acabo de entrar y me topo con esto: [...]

  16. Linkage ~ Cameron Moll said on

    [...] Flick’d away. Zeldman’s Pro account expires without notice, and 200+ photos immediately disappear. Good to know — mine expires next week. I’m off to renew immediately… [...]

  17. Mike Davidson - On Joining The Male Butt-Crack Flickr Group said on

    [...] is clearly another situation that Flickr is ill-equipped to handle. I would like to add my photo but am unwilling to [...]

  18. Eric's Archived Thoughts: Forgetful Flickr said on

    [...] wrote yesterday about some Flickr problems he’s having, and while he’s found resolution, his post [...]

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