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I Have a Bone To Pick With Flickr

I have oft professed my deep love for flickr. I have been a user of it since March 2004, when it had that hokey black flash interface. I have uploaded almost 1400 photos, not nearly prolific as some.

But recently I was slapped by one of their policies regarding a new way I was using it (under another account), and have gotten non-replies to my appeals. Is there a Supreme Court level I can take my case too? Has the Yahoo-ization taken away their spirit? Who knows?

But let’s back track. For our Second Life Project at NMC, I have been working on the NMC Campus Observer, a blog-published site that aims to be the news source for the project, modeled after a campus newspaper, or sorts. As an associated adjunct, I created a new flickr account to load pictures taken within Second Life and to syndicate back to the blog in the sidebar. To extend the photo reach, my plan was to take others who visit the NMC location, to also post their images, and tag them with a common nmccampus tag, ultimately creating a potentially large (maybe) set of shared images (I also set up a flickr pool as well).

But as I kept returning to the all flickr tag for “nmccampus” at http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/nmccampus/, I noticed my images never were included. So I submited a help request to ask why. I did get a response from Ana:

I am sorry but screenshots are non-photos, so your account has been marked NIPSA. Please see our Community Guidelines for more information:
http://www.flickr.com/guidelines.gne

NIPSA? I have been painted with the scarlet letter of Not in Public Site Areas (NIPSA). And this after we upgraded the account to Pro!

I decided to quibble, because if you know anything about SecondLife, these are not strictly screen captures; you actually do manipulate a virtual camera, zoom, pan, etc, and I think the definition of what is a photo gets rather blurry. I know I am splitting virtual hairs, but a screen shot would be just a screen capture, showing the interface, a flat image. Taking the snapshot inside SL, involved the same decision making I do with a digital camera (except expoosure- you always get perfect light there). So I tried again with Ana:

I understand but ask one more opportunity to split a few hairs.

(1) Technically you may call the images posted “screen shots” but they are not captures of screens or windows in a computer application. These images all taken with a different kind of camera, a virtual camera inside the virtual world of Second Life (http://secondlife.com/). For each one, I need to frame a shot of a 3D scene, zoom in, zoom out, crop, etc, more or less the same actions I do with a real camera.

(2) These are in support of an educational project under the auspices of my employer, a non-profit organization devoted to promoting innovation in education, technology, and the arts (http://www.nmc.org/). We are asking participants in our virtual place in Second Life (http://www.nmc.org/sl/) to share their images via a flickr pool and to tag their images. It was our hope we could use a paid for flickr pro account to post images, syndicate to our blog, and include them in the global tags we are asking our participants to use. We could most likely live with your SIPSA marking– it really means our images here are excluded form a al users tag. It also means we will likely not renew the pro account next year. I can just as easily post them from my own personal flickr account– we were hoping to brand this flickr account for our organization.

I have been a heavy flickr user and major fan since March 2004. But it is your call, and I did ignore the guidelines thinking what I was posting were not screenshots.

regards,

Alan

Alas, Ana has not responded, and I am still wearing a FIPSA sticker. I can still syndicate the images into our blog. I could have done an end around, and loaded these in my personal account (and flickr would have had one less paid Pro account), where my “accepted” photos would outweigh what they deem as “screenshots”.

If anyone has some inner pull with the grand flickrians, please lobby for case88575@support.flickr.com.

And please, flickr, don’t get all big and corporate on us.

Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.

Comments

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  2. FYI, and it should have been more clear in my rant, technically I probably did “violate” the terms of use. If I was thinking a bit more, I would have perhaps created a generic NMC account to load with other “real” photos. They are filtering, or NIPSA-ing users who are predominantly loading screenshots, and one can only guess there are precedents.

    To flickr’s credit, even with the big red NIPSA stamp, I can still fully use their lovely feature set for my work.

    What I like to open is more of a conversation, and dialogue, about just what is a photograph? My bone of contention is they are using perhaps a limited definition, or at least, are not considering the way these images are taken (not screen grabs) inside Second Life.

  3. I sent an email to Flickr in support of classifying these as photographs.

    But, couldn’t you just point that shiny XT at the LCD on your laptop and take a “real” photograph to get around this? Seems silly, though… Maybe insert some EXIF metadata into the screenshot to make it appear “real” ?

  4. I’ll be sending an email today. I understand the potential for abuse here, and it may be that that potential puts the kibosh on your plans, but I’m not sure the distinctions Flickr is trying to make will hold up down the line. They may actually drive users away from the site.

  5. Ok, you might be against the TOS here when just uploading SL shots but I actually created just another account to do the same (just SL shots that is) as I wanted to have them separate from my RL account. So the question for me then is if I will have the full feature set for this account as well when I am going to pay it (and thus making it two pro accounts from me).

    If I won’t have that then there is really no reason to pay them another one. Actually I also would like to at least have a statement from them telling us what exactly the reason for this TOS thing is and whether it really applies to SL shots.

  6. The discussion what a photo is might be more or less philosophical. What I actually would like to have is some sort of community site like flickr to host and exchange Second Life photos (or screenshots, doesn’t matter to me) with the same possibilities as I can with other content on flickr.

    An example is mentioned in the post and it’s generally about tagging photos and using the search to get the collection of photos for a topic by all people. And this mechanism is not possible anymore if one or more members are NIPSAd and thus flickr gets cut down to be mainly a hoster without the community part (more or less). And that’s why I think they should embrace these things and not fight it.

    The line is blurry anyway. Will photoshopped photos be ok at some point in the future? photoshopped to what extent? and so on..

    BTW, they even blogged on Second Life screenshot themselves in their blog a year ago (actually calling it a photo ;-):

    http://blog.flickr.com/flickrblog/2005/02/the_gates.html

    So once they were happy about this, now they aren’t anymore and IMHO it’s in their own interest to change that (and even if you need to e.g. flag your image as non-photographic and need to refine your searches to it).

  7. That is an intersting assertion, “anon” that something where an exposure is not set is not a photo? I again submit, that the notion of what is a photograph should not be solely rooted in the current convention of what is a “camera.” – definitions across time are often organic living things that change.

    So to counter that (I cannot resist), I submit that the cameras used in Second Life have an automatic exposure control, that is no different from any disposable camera that provides the same feature. Light is relfected from surfaces and sources in Second Life (hence the shadows, so like your WikiPedia definition, the image formed is based upon the action of virtual light reflecting from virtual objects into a virtual camera. It is more “like” a photograph than unlike.

    And for that matter, see if this holds up- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Screenshot which defines a screen shot a a way to “record the visible items on the monitor or another visual output device”. Second Life photos are not a display of what is on the monitor, but is formed by position the virtual camera, and using its telephoto lens to frame an image. It is not just a capture of what is on the screen, no more than a digital photo is a screenshot of what appears on the back of your camera.

    Yes, I am conducting severe hair splitting, mainloy for the interest in tossing this about. I intend to send this post URL back to flickr, as it has been several weeks since they ignored by previous message, and your example, Tao, is a wonderful one to toss at ’em.

    For a flickr alternative for SL photographers, check out Snapzilla http://www.sluniverse.com/pics/

  8. Go to each of your images and mark them as “May offend.” That will make them viewable to the outside Flickr world in global searches. (It may take a while, though.) Also, if you have a certain percentage of photos in your account, they may reconsider.

    Being NIPSA’d is not so much a bad thing, though, so I wouldn’t get too caught up in it. Flickr is in the process of working on certain guidelines regarding this whole NIPSA thing, so maybe it’ll all just be a passing thing.

  9. Interesting hack-ish idea, but I am not going to maek my photos as offensive; they are as benign as pictures of small cute pets and gentle landscape scenes. Gotta draw a line.

  10. Just to inform you: I seem to be NIPSAs now as well. And I also got an reply to my inquiry about whether I should go pro or not. Again by Ana and just quoting that paragraph. I also did get NIPSAd without any note that it happened. Of course you don’t know to whom that happened, too, as apparently you cannot find photos of them by searching e.g. for “secondlife”. From what I check at least Spin Martin seems to be banned from searches, too.

    So this cuts me off the community aspect of flickr pretty much (same use case as Alan) and simply photo hosting is something I can do myself.

    I also started some discussion in flickr central and in the Second Life group but of course this is just community internal and no word in there from any flickr staff. Another thing is that not much SL people seem to care anyway,
    so it seems not to make much sense to put too much effort into this anyway.

    I am also aware that there are other photo hosters out there with tags but without NIPSA but it doesn’t help actually if everybody else is on flickr.

    Maybe it’s being worked on but then they should say so. At least for now they should at least be transparent about it and tell people that their account is marked (additionally they should maybe make more clear that they only want RL photos on there).

  11. Another interesting addition to this is now Second Life has the ability to create actual light sources. So, in effect you can now do in-world lighting as if setting up a photo studio shot. Even if virtually.. I would think with the addition of light, the concept of ‘exposure’ does now exist. At least no different than with any cheap digital camera… outside of the fact that SL is virtual.

  12. I was gonna sign up for a Flickr Pro account after likin’ some of the other things on the site more and more–sorry, this dampered it for me. And Tao clued me in on more info too. BLAH. So, I’m staying with my free account for now. I was frustrated and wasted time trying to figure out why my snapshots weren’t showing up in searches… ugh. :\

    Rhiannon, good point… and there’s gonna be more and more “photorealistic” effects in the future.

    *sigh*

  13. BTW and what I should have said first, thanx Alan for posting about this. I really appreciate it.

    And I like the dog at the top. It really makes the site feel warm. Bless you.

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