Why Microsoft Owning Flickr is No Worse Than Today's Yahoo Ownership of Flickr, And Why In Fact Microsoft Ownership Might Even Be a Little Better
Some Flickr users wary of a MSFT takeover - Boing Boing Boing Boing is out with a post this morning, "Some Flickr users wary of a MSFT takeover." The post, in part, is in response to a group that has sprung up at Flickr called, "Microsoft: Keep your evil, grubby hands off our Flickr." The group, which has 828 members at this point, says that they have a stated goal of "STOP(ping) MICROSOFT FROM BUYING YAHOO! AND DESTROYING THE FLICKR WE KNOW AND LOVE OR WE WILL DIE TRYING." The New York Times has a post out on the group as well.
My first response is to look at a group like this and laugh. People on Flickr will of course start groups to protest anything and everything. There have been protests mounted at Flickr for everything from the fact that users want free donuts to more serious matters of censorship. So for me to hear that a group is seriously (maybe) protesting the corporate governance of Microsoft over Flickr, well this is a stretch to me.
Flickr has been rife with censorship ever since Yahoo took over. From permanently deleting users images and comments, to deleting conversations in group threads under the stated goal of "moderation," the site sold its soul to the man a long time. Put more directly, I see no difference in corporate ownership or the censorship that might be put on Flickr with Microsoft as a corporate owner than Yahoo.
I think most of the gumbling is simply coming from people who enjoy the drama of conflict and protesting (hey, and I can certainly appreciate this) or people who have some sort of blind hatred of Microsoft.
Personally I don't get caught up in the whole Microsoft bashing thing. Microsoft does some things very very well. They do other things very poorly. But I don't think that Microsoft would ruin Flickr anymore than Yahoo would ruin Flickr.
Would there continue to be censorship under a Microsoft controlled Flickr? Probably. No different than today. But I've also heard some pretty ludacrous things coming from those that object to this deal as well. Like Microsoft might only make Flickr work with IE as a browser. C'mon, there's no way that I'm buying that Microsoft would break Flickr for Firefox, that's just, well, way, way, way, out there.
So what good *might* come out of a Microsoft controlled Flickr?
Well for one, I think that Flickr's image search technology is the top image search technology on the internet today. Particularly when you watch the advent of geotagging, Flickr represents the most organized ranked collection of imagery in the world. Recently Flickr began putting their top ranked images in Yahoo Image Search and I think that this has increased the exposure for Flickr users. Now some may not want this increased exposure and for those users there is a way to opt out of this. But for those of us who do want this increased exposure, a combined Yahoo/MSFT search property would only ensure more exposure for imagery.
Right now Yahoo has direct access to Flickr's internal proprietary ranking methodology -- a ranking methodology that relies mostly on social input by Flickr users. While Google and Microsoft can try to rank Flickr images similarly, they can't do near as good of a job without having direct access to the algorithm that Flickr does, nor would they want to promote a competitor this way necessarily.
A combined Yahoo/Microsoft would mean more exposure for your images not less.
A combined Yahoo/Microsoft would also mean that we would see much more rapid development of Flickr into other Microsoft desktop properties. Most exciting would be the integration of Flickr in Microsoft's Media Center platform. Media Center (and XBox 360 as a Media Center extender) are so perfectly designed to serve up *amazing* photography as content and art.
Media Center does slide shows very, very, very well. By unleashing the content of Flickr into various Media Center slide shows, again, your photos would get even more exposure.
Imagine pushing a button on your TV remote and having all of your favorite photos on Flickr float beautifully across your 48 inch plasma. Imagine being able to sort the highest ranked photos of your contacts, or being able to search for certain key terms or geographically based geo tags. Microsoft has been developing Media Center for a number of years now. It represents the best consolidated way to manage and control media for consumption in your home. Incorporating Flickr into this mix would create both a more meaningful visual experience for the Microsoft end user, as well as more attention for the photographers that populate Flickr.
Once again, if users, for whatever reason, didn't want their photos showing up on people's Media Center PCs, I'm sure that Microsoft would develop ways (as Flickr has with image search) to opt out.
Finally, what I'm most excited about with potential Microsoft ownership over Flickr would be the potential for Flickr to finally do something meaningful in the stock photography market.
While it's probably still a bit early to talk about a Flickr partnership with Corbis, certainly this sort of partnership would flow easier if Microsoft controlled Flickr as Bill Gates controlled Corbis. I believe that it is only a matter of time before amateur photos begin finding their way into the stock photography market and Microsoft ownership would certainly open up possibilities with Flickr.
Now for those of you who say, ewwwww, who wants all this extra exposure and money from stock photography, I want my little community watering hole that Flickr used to be. I don't want Flickr to go mainstream. To you I say this is too late. Flickr lost the small community of photographers a long time ago. When Flickr merged Yahoo photos into Flickr they pushed the mainstream smack dab in the middle of it all. Your experience on Flickr today would be no different than it would be with Microsoft owning it.
But even here all is not lost. Lately I've been pleased to see some truly innovative community stuff that has been being built as a layer on top of Flickr to regain some of the smallness and community that old school members used to enjoy. I've really enjoyed watching photophlow move forward for instance.
Photophlow is a real time service created by Neil Berkman and striatic that kind of converts the Flickr experience back into a small circle of contacts and friends chatting live and sharing photography. I've blogged about it in the past here. Flickr is Flickr and Flickr will always be the community that it is. Even as it grows and gets more mainstream there will still be hidden pockets around where the old style community takes place. And this won't change regardless of who is running the mother ship.
By the way, if anyone needs an invitation to photophlow (it's in private invite only beta at the moment) feel free to email me your email address or leave it in a comment on this post and I'll invite you as long as I have invitations left.
Who knows what is going to happen with the Microsoft bid. Personally I think that it will be hard for Yahoo to find a way to wring more money out of an acquisition by someone else at this point and so in my opinion it's pretty much a done deal as it is. But I don't think that Microsoft corporate ownership over Flickr will be any worse than Yahoo corporate ownership. And if and when censorship takes place with MSFT and Flickr, you'll hear me bitching about it just as loud as I did when it was Yahoo and Flickr. In the meantime though, I am looking forward to some of the synergies that a MSFT/YHOO deal might produce.