Flickr Misses an Opportunity

Yesterday, Yahoo!’s photo-sharing service Flickr announced that they were now offering their pro users advanced statistics to help them track their photos.

The announcement has been largely well-received and the addition of statistics was one of the most-requested features according to Flickr.

However, those who are interested in using the new tool to track where their photos are used on the Web and check for violations of their copyright license will be sorely disappointed to know that this new system does not track images that are embedded into other sites.

Though Flickr has still introduced a useful and powerful system that will provide some much-needed insight for its pro members, it missed a golden opportunity to help its users, and the rest of the Internet, understand how the embedding feature is used.

Screwing the Pooch

The problem with Flickr is pretty straightforward. Even if you are comfortable with image hotlinking, as more and more people are, using an image hosting service such as Flickr takes away all control over it.

Since you don’t have access to the server or its logs, you can’t check to see who is using your content and how they are doing so. It is nearly impossible to check and see if the people who are using your images are attributing them correctly or using them in a manner that complies with your license.

Flickr, through this product, had the opportunity to put that information back into the hands of its customers. Since they run the service, it is at least physically possible for them to track embedding and display the information to its users. Since no other photo sharing service I know of does that, it would have put them head and shoulders above any of their competition.

However, for whatever reason, they did not. That seems especially strange considering that Flickr is designed as a repository for artistic work, something mentioned in their community guidelines, and is not just a generic image host.

Artists and photographers, it would seem, would have much more reason to track their content as it is embedded than those, like myself, who use photo sharing sites primarily to embed logos and screenshots.

Combine that with the linking requirement for embedded images and a strong partnership with Creative Commons and it seems only logical that there would be not only a heightened interest in embedding photographs, but an equally heightened interest in tracking and following those embeds.

This omission seems to fly in the face of those initiatives and would indicate that Flickr feels their own site really is the central offering, not the sense of sharing and community spirit.

Whether this is justified or not depends heavily upon statistics and information that only Flickr has and statistics that Flickr will now be holding on to, at least for some time to come.

Conclusions

The decision to limit stats tracking only to pages on Flickr’s site not only provides a very narrow picture of how photos on Flickr are being viewed, but misses out on a great opportunity to obverse, track and understand how the embedding function is being used.

If you want to allow hotlinking but wish to reserve some of your rights, such as attribution or non-commercial use, your best bet is to secure your own hosting account, perhaps on a cheap domain host such as DreamHost and use the server log analysis tools available to you there.

No matter what you do, be sure to follow the image fingerprinting tips I mentioned previously as no amount of hotlink monitoring, or even outright prevention, will stop people from saving the image and re-uploading it elsewhere. In those cases, you’ll need to use other techniques to track your content and fingerprinting can greatly help.

All in all though, Flickr missed a great opportunity to help their pro users not just completely track their images, but monitor their use and enforce their rights.

Hopefully, this is just an initial release of the system and that a future update may add this feature in later. However, Flickr has given no indication that this is case and it appears unlikely that it will be added in the future.

This is frustrating, but just the nature of the beast when you are entrusting third-party services such as Flickr with your precious content.

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