Preparing for a Flickr Apocalypse (Updated, with Yahoo response)

Preparing for a Flickr Apocalypse (Updated, with Yahoo response)

Summary: What would happen to my food blog and precious memories if suddenly all 12,000 of my photos were suddenly to disappear off Flickr?

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TOPICS: Browser
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flick-zdnet.jpg

What would happen to my food blog and precious memories if suddenly all 12,000 of my photos were suddenly to disappear off Flickr?

Tuesday's posts by ZDNet's Janice Chen and SAAS Blogger Phil Wainewright scared the living crap out of me. I had no idea that Digital Raiload, a high end photo hosting service for professional photographers had just shut down with little warning, and sinking with all its hosted data on it, leaving its users with no recourse other than their own backups.

Digital Railroad's demise is a tragedy, but compared to what would happen if a much larger photo service were to go under it's a sinking dinghy rather than the Titanic. Imagine, if you will, if suddenly Flickr shut down, with little or no warning.

Now, the odds of this happening to Flickr is small, but the idea is still disturbing. Flickr's owner, Yahoo!, is going through a lot of thrashing about these days and its stock is getting hammered, and Microsoft is now in the enviable position of saying it's no longer interested in entering a search deal or buying the company outright.

I have to believe that Steve Ballmer is doing this to drive Yahoo!'s stock price down so they can swoosh in like a giant vulture and grab the company for a mere fraction of their original proposed offer, hoping that Yahoo!'s board will boot Jerry Yang out the door before the marriage is consummated.

The worst case scenario is that Yahoo! goes Chapter 11 or Chapter 7 and that its assets would be sold off piecemeal or in chunks. Flickr is a particularly juicy chunk as it is the most popular photo hosting service on the Internet -- Google may very well want it, as might a few other companies. Still, there is the chance that it might not get saved, and all of everyone's photos might go down with it.

This is particularly scary because Flickr is used as a image hosting service by a lot of bloggers who own free or inexpensive blog hosting accounts and use Flickr's bandwidth and high speed pipes to store images. It's a lot cheaper to use Flickr to hold gigabytes of photos than an ISP would, and the end-user response time for image download is generally faster than say, WordPress.com's, where I host my own food blog, Off The Broiler.

In my particular case, I have 12,000 images hosted on Flickr, many of which are IMG linked in my blog posts, of which I have over 600, starting since 2006. If Flickr were to suddenly die, with no warning, they would all be gone. I've gone through too many computers and haven't backed up the originals -- I simply assumed that Flickr would be a financially stable entity. With today's economy, however, I'm not so sure.

flickrbackup.jpg

Flickredit allows you to do batch downloads of Flickr photos.

So the first thing I did yesterday was look into how I could download my images from Flickr. How much storage would I need? I downloaded a cool utility program called Flickredit, which is Java-based and runs on Windows, Mac and Linux. Among other things, Flickredit allows you to batch download pages of Flickr photos, as well as your entire photostream.

However, I soon found out that 12,000 hi-res photos equals roughly 11.5 Gigabytes of data. Assuming sustained 6Mbps transfer speeds, that could take a while. Still, I have more than one PC, so I started the job on my Vista box and continued my daily work on my laptop. An hour later, Flickredit barfed on the transfer, it only pulled down 700 photos. So I would need a better solution, at least for the initial full backup -- I could use Flickredit for the incremental backups.

I saw an interesting post about flickrfs, a Linux-mountable virtual filesystem. Apparently, it's relatively easy to set up on Ubuntu. Essentially, what it does is mount your entire Flickr stream as a virtual disk, and can mirror the entire content of your account on your local hard drive -- this is a similar technology to rsync or IBM's TDMF software for enterprises, which is essentially host-based replication. I haven't tried this yet but I plan to mess around with it this weekend.

What I ended up doing to get the bulk of my data was use a pay-for-service called QOOP.  QOOP does a bunch of other stuff including printing services, but in particular they will backup all your photos and send them to you for $20 a DVD plus shipping. So for nearly 12,000 photos and roughly 11.5 GB of data, it took 3 DVDs, and with shipping was $70. That doesn't suck. Now I can just dump the contents of all my Flickr stuff onto a RAID disk or external hard drive, and use Flickredit to download weekly backups.

Of course, this doesn't solve the problem of what will happen if Flickr truly dies and suddenly I need to re-load this data into a new hosting service, and then go through all my 600 posts on my food blog and re-hotlink the images because the IMG links would now be broken.

Presumably, some enterprising person or company might figure out a way to automate this -- such as a Google or a Microsoft, given the huge impact of this type of outage on a very large amount of blogs, but I wouldn't necessarily count on it. Any way you look at it, a lot of blogs and websites would be affected and it would be catastrophic.

Do you host a lot of photos on Flickr or some other image hosting service? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Yahoo's Response

Jason – you’ve gone way out on a limb here. Despite the challenges we’ve faced this year, Yahoo! remains a profitable and growing company. We have no debt, and we ended the third quarter with $3.3 billion of cash and marketable securities.

“Preparing for a Flickr apocalypse”? Are you one of those guys with a fully stocked subterranean bunker at home, or are you simply ignoring the facts to make a juicier post? I’d like to know.

Brad Williams | VP, Corporate Communications | YAHOO! |

Topic: Browser

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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13 comments
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  • Hmmmm ...

    "sinking with all its hosted data on it, leaving its users with no recourse other than their own backups."

    If you rely in a third party as the only repository of your data, how valuable can it be? If you don't have a backup, how valuable can it be? I've never really understood the concept of trusting a third party such as Flickr with the only copy of a phoro. Sure, it works for the consumer sheep, but anyone who thinks a few steps ahead is going to see the issues ... or should.

    Oh, and the golden rule of backups - two is one, and one is none.

    Seems simple to me.
    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
  • Flickr ... juicy ...

    "Flickr is a particularly juicy chunk as it is the most popular photo hosting service in the Internet ? Google may very well want it, as might a few other companies."

    Really? maybe I'm missing something but aren't most accounts free accounts and there's no advertising on Flickr?
    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
    • Relative juicyness

      Well, I don't have a lot of metrics on this, since Flickr's financials are buried in Yahoo's balance sheets. I'm a paying customer, and a lot of bloggers who do photo-intensive blogs are. But I'm not sure how many paying customers Flickr has. You can't deny that it's a very popular service though. 3 billion photos hosted.
      jperlow
  • RE: Preparing for a Flickr Apocalypse

    Although I don't use Flickr to deliver images to my blog, I have
    'worried' about backing up my Flickr images so thanks for the tips!
    tom@...
  • Windows Home Server

    I personally believe MS should push Home Server as an easy-to-use server for professionals, amateurs ? as well as regular home users. I believe all the above users should be able to locate all their data (including Internet work related) on Home Servers, and have Internet services (e.g. Flicker) run against them. I see MS moving towards doing that with its mesh system, and I that it is great!

    MS or third parties could also support the synchronizing of data between a Home Server and an Internet service data center ? if e.g. there are significant performance and other advantages to mainly locating data in an Internet service data center. I think this would be a huge selling point for Windows Home Server. E.g. if I could have an application synchronize my data between Windows Home Server and various services? data centers on the Internet, resulting in the central location of copies of all my data that is spread out across the Internet, that would be really, really great. I could then optionally use another service to back up my copies of the data on Home Server to another location on the Internet, and use encryption when backing up my personal data.
    P. Douglas
  • RE: Preparing for a Flickr Apocalypse

    I think if anyone's smart they'd back up their photos in the first place. For 70 dollars you purchased 3 DVD's. You could easily spend that much money plus an extra 30 bucks so for about 100 bucks on Newegg.com and get an external Hard Drive that will store all your data plus anything else you want. Depending on the size of the external Hard Drive you get determines the price of course, but I'd have to say it's the smartest thing to do and then you keep it with you the whole time.

    Just in case.

    But yeah, who doesn't back up their photos already before they just trust putting them ALL on-line? Dumb.

    Better yet, don't count your eggs in one basket, eh? Upload your photos to more than one website. Shutterfly is just as good, free and unlimited. Photobucket as well (minus all their advertising and flash all over their page which I hate), and lastly Windows Live SkyDrive. They only offer 5 GB of storage free.

    But...

    If you're spending 70 dollars to have someone else do it for you, then you can easily spend the extra money to buy an external hard drive, or extra storage on-line with whomever service you choose there.

    Simply uploading 12,000 plus photos to a website and not backing them up first is just silly.

    Flickr as well in my opinion, is "okay" but not the greatest. You have to have a Yahoo! account just to upload to them, plus they LIMIT your uploads by amount per month unless you sign up for an annual fee of around 25 dollars or so.

    So here you've spent 70 dollars already to make 3 DVD's, plus shipping? I don't remember. Plus I KNOW you had to have spent the 25 dollars plus tax on Flickr to store all those photos.

    So you're already at 95 dollars, let's just round it all off, and all you have is 3 DVD's without being able to add or remove to them as you please. Like you would, an external Hard Drive.

    HP probably has the most relialbe external Hard Drives, that for the price will last you a long time, give you the option of obviously backing data up, but also your entire OS if necessary. So, not just photos, but music, videos, even recorded TV if you use your Computer for that and of course documents.

    So, even the CHEAPEST one, for 116.00 plus tax will far out do 3 DVD's worth of photos and oh boy, Flickr's measely 25 dollar annual fee.

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822332025

    One last thing? Don't most Blog sites allow you to upload photos or embed them directly into their website in addition to linking to an external image, so, wouldn't that be better? I don't know. I know nothing about BLOGGING. I read through them a lot, but do not maintain any of my own, so as far as that goes, I know nothing of it.

    Blogging seems kind of nerdy. Though, here I am leaving a huge comment reply on one.

    :P
    Arphenion
  • RE: Preparing for a Flickr Apocalypse

    You would think that by now people would understand the value of backups.
    JDThompson
  • RE: Preparing for a Flickr Apocalypse

    RE: You would think that by now people would understand the value of backups.

    Posted by: JDThompson Posted on: 11/14/08
    ------------------------------------

    LOL
    Arphenion
  • Well, that's the cloud for you...

    here today, gone (with all *your* data) tomorrow.

    Pundits wonder why the cloud isn't being adopted and we business users won't host our data on someone else's servers... all I can say is "who didn't see this coming?"

    Just my $0.02 USD...

    Regards,
    Jon
    JonathonDoe
  • OFFLINE STORAGE!!!!!!

    This scenario is the very reason internet appliances failed to ever catch on. If your connection is down, it's a paperweight. If you choose to use online storage for your data, it's only available to you online. If your connection is down, your data is down. With DVD burners the norm, blank DVDs at about $.25 theres no reason to not make local backups. Look at USB drives. The cost of a 500G USB drive hovering at about $100 and compact 250s around $80 there's no reason to not keep your data local and use services like Flickr just for remote access.
    Scubajrr
  • RE: Preparing for a Flickr Apocalypse

    Why would you trust any online entity to store your photos without any back-up?
    I have only been working in the computer/tech field since 1979, but even I have learned 30 years ago to always backup everything. Grandfather>Father>3rd Generation--sound familiar? I have packs of punched cards and rolls of punched tape that can be read 100 years from now, guaranteed!!!
    Trust No-one But Yourself.
    ccrasher
  • Yahoo's Arbitrary Member Deletion

    The bigger danger for most people is that some idiot with a grudge clicks the "Abuse" button enough times and Yahoo decides to just up and delete your account. From then on you are blocked from logging in, changing your password, gfetting copies of your existing data. Basically, Yahoo does scorched earth and destroys your online persona, and then, for evermore, claims "TOS Violations" whenever you try to reinstate it. This happened to me in 2002 to an identity that I'd built up since the mid-late 90s and that had irreplaceable photos and mail attached. I actually wrote Yang a letter about it, sent through the US mail and delivered to his office, asking him for a backup copy of my data out of simple respect. He never even afforded me the courtesy of a reply. I knew then Yahoo was a useless, bloated company with no regard for its "members" and all it was interested in was selling those "members" as eyeballs to advertisers. And now, as we see, not even managing to do a good job with that. Farewell and good riddance to you Yahoo, Google managed to grow into a huge bureaucracy without quite reaching the same levels of neglect and user hostility as you.
    http://help.yahoo.com/l/us/yahoo/abuse/abuse.html
    YahooSucks2002@mailinator.com
    yahoosucks2002
  • RE: Preparing for a Flickr Apocalypse

    This may come off as self-promotion, but it's relevant: I'm the developer of a small photo migration application called Migratr, which moves your photos (with metadata, and album organization) between popular photo sharing services. I think as far as photo websites go, Flickr is one of the safer ones, but if you want to mirror your collection on, say, SmugMug or Zooomr or something, Migratr would be a really good way to go. For a list of supported photo sites and a download link, you can hit up the official "about" page at http://www.callingshotgun.net/about/migratr/

    Hope this helps.
    callingshotgun