Do you remember during the 2008 financial crisis how we were told the big banks were “too big to fail” and that’s what spurred the government bailout package? I’m no political expert, so I can’t and won’t comment on the specifics of that. What I will say is that this notion of being “too big to fail” is certainly not limited to the world of financial institutions.
As content creators, influencers, bloggers and other Internet professionals, we’ve naturally come to rely on a variety of online services to make our daily bread. You connect with friends on Facebook, network with professionals on LinkedIn, maintain your to-do list on Trello, and keep your list of contacts on Google Contacts. That’s all par for the course. But what happens when we rely a little too heavily on one or more of these services?
Get the Picture?
A prime example is what happened with Flickr. As you might recall, Yahoo sold Flickr to Smugmug in 2018. There was a transition period for less than a year until Smugmug announced that it would be changing how Flickr operates. Instead of offering unlimited storage to free accounts, Flickr would limit you to 1,000 photos or videos. Anything beyond that limit is being deleted.
For my part, I have (well, had) several thousand photos on Flickr. Some of those were just for sharing on Flickr itself (or for sharing links to the Flickr photo page on other social media platforms). However, I also embedded a lot of those photos on my blog. And that creates a bit of a problem if a visitor happens to stumble their way onto an older blog post, which still makes up a good proportion of my overall site traffic.
You could have retained your full library of Flickr content by upgrading to a paid Pro account, of course, but most people didn’t and won’t do that. It’s the Pareto Principle at play again, as they’ll make 80 percent (or more) of their revenue from 20 percent (or less) of users. As frustrating as it is for us content creators and bloggers, I perfectly understand where Smugmug is coming from.
That storage isn’t free for them. It’s taking up valuable space on their servers and that costs money.
The Broken Webpage
For now, there are so many blog posts and webpages out there that are going to show broken placeholders where embedded Flickr images used to be. I know I have several on my own site and it would be an incredibly arduous task to go through my thousands of posts, one by one, looking for where I’d need to replace the Flickr embed with my own upload.
But at least, in theory, I can, because I have backup copies of all those images. Somewhere. I get the irony that all of them have been backed up and saved to my Google Photos account, which currently offers unlimited “high quality” photo and video storage… but Google could just as easily change its mind too, just as Flickr did. But Google is too big to fail, right?
The additional challenge is I may or may not remember exactly what photo was once in each post, because the broken placeholder won’t necessarily tell me.
Visualizing the Solution
YouTube is the same, except it could be a much bigger problem. The videos we host on YouTube are not only much larger files, but the built-in video player offers advantages over a native, “local” video. You could migrate everything over to something else, like Vimeo, but that’s just trading one piece of Internet rented land for another.
So, what can we learn from this whole Flickr situation? Online services are great. They’ve made my career possible and they’re wildly more convenient than their offline, analog counterparts. At the same time, especially when we look at free services, we have to understand that any and all of them can change the rules or close up shop completely at any time.
Use these services. Leverage them to your advantage. But be prepared to clean up the mess if the house of cards comes crumbling down on you.