Flickr abandons the "old skool"

An email dropped into my in-box yesterday from Yahoo. Titled "Flickr: Update for Old Skool members", the message went on to explain that Yahoo was discontinuing the old email-based Flickr sign-in system and that from March the 15th, all users will be required to have a Yahoo ID to sign-in to Flickr. It was one of those déjà vu moments when I thought, hang on a minute, haven't we been here before?. And of course we have.

Flickr

An email dropped into my in-box yesterday from Yahoo. Titled "Flickr: Update for Old Skool members", the message went on to explain that Yahoo was discontinuing the old email-based Flickr sign-in system and that from March the 15th, all users will be required to have a Yahoo ID to sign-in to Flickr. It was one of those déjà vu moments when I thought, hang on a minute, haven't we been here before?. And of course we have.

When Yahoo first acquired Flickr almost two years ago, it announced that every user would have to move over to the company's site-wide sign-in system. But after a backlash from the Flickr community, who were already highly suspicious of the new owner's intentions, Yahoo did a u-turn. Existing members would be able to continue logging in using the "old skool" Flickr authentication system, while new users would be required to get a Yahoo ID.

So why open up old wounds? According to the email, Yahoo are:

... making this change now to simplify the sign in
process in advance of several large projects launching this
year.

Over at the official Flickr help forum, Flickr head honcho Stewart Butterfield has been busy defending the decision, after users accused Yahoo of merging the accounts to make it easier for the company to market its other products to "old skool' members.

Butterfield writes:

... this has nothing to do with gathering marketing info on people or bumping up Yahoo!'s numbers...

We're doing this because:

  • maintaining two separate systems is a pain, and
  • it causes little bits of confusion and friction for each Flickr member, whether they are old skool or not, and
  • it will be waste of resources to build out old skool sign in functionality in each new language when new language versions come out later this year, and
  • several new projects which require sign in outside of the flickr.com website already require Y!IDs to sign in (e.g., the mobile site at m.flickr.com and the new Yahoo! Go mobile) because offering multiple options in constrained environments makes the experience worse for the overwhelming majority who aren't old skool, and this will continue as Flickr moves to new devices and environments

And that's it: there's no secret agenda here, no desire to come to your homes and steal your TV. Over time, it just gets more expensive to maintain independent means of authentication and we could "spend" those efforts on other things which make Flickr more useful, more fun, more versatile, etc. And the smaller the ratio of old skool to Y!ID-based gets, the harder it is to justify not spending that effort on improvements.

In return, many users have cried "BS" and, interestingly, much of the criticism is being lead by a prominent user named Thomas Hawk who also happens to be CEO of Zooomr, a direct competitor to Flickr.

Despite the obvious conflict of interest, Hawk says:

This BS about Flickr doing this because they don't want to translate an email page into other languages is an insult to our intelligence and a joke. I KNOW. We've already translated Zooomr into 17 languages and we are just 2 guys. And we are *adding* more ways to log into your account in March, not taking them away. Translating an email logon page is simple. This is not the "real" reason behind this move.

The marketing spin and bullshit is what annoys me the most.

To make matters worse, Yahoo is also going to limit the number of contacts any one Flickr user can have, to 3,000. While the majority of users don't have anything like that number, it does seem a little odd to restrict the amount of social networking that can take place on a social network.

Yahoo clearly feels it can drive through the changes now, despite the inevitable backlash and bad PR because "old skool" users make up only 5% of Flickr's user-base. However, that 5% are the early adopters, who arguably helped grow the site to where it is today.

As one commenter wrote:

"... the early adopters are all "key influencers" -- how many of the "nuskool" ppl do you think we signed up? duhh..."

In upsetting those early adopters I can't help thinking that Yahoo just broke one of the golden rules of 2.0. In an earlier post where I considered whether Yahoo should kill off the Flickr brand and merge the technology with Yahoo Photos, I concluded:

When you acquire a web 2.0 company you are getting three things: technology, personnel, and the users. With regards to social software, it's usually the number of active users which dictates the market value of the company, as a lot of the technology can be fairly easily replicated. However, creating a large and vibrant community of users is a lot more difficult. If it's the community that has the most value, it's understandable why Yahoo would hesitate before doing anything which might alienate those users.

And yet it seems that they have done just that.

Related post: Should Yahoo kill the Flickr and Delicious brands?