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Flicked off, again

February 5th, 2008

Bitter pill

(Image by net_efekt, some rights reserved.)

In light of Microsoft's recent offer to buy Yahoo!, I'm thinking about leaving Flickr. Not because of the possibility of new ownership, you understand, but because of the entirely predictable and utterly histrionic outcry.

The thing is: I really like Flickr. I have somewhere around 1,200 photos there. I was using Flickr before it was actually a photo sharing service (it started life as a rather odd online game that never made it past Beta), and when the founders and other Ludicorp staff would greet new members in the (long gone) FlickrLive system. I was there when Yahoo! purchased the site and many members began to wail and moan, renaming themselves "old skool" and refusing to migrate to a new Yahoo!-based login.

But at least that particular outcry made some sense.

After all, Ludicorp was a small, independent company, and Yahoo! is a rather huge internet giant. It was, I suppose, the equivalent of your local coffee shop getting purchased by Starbucks – except that the coffee stayed exactly the same as before. I didn't feel the need to join the fuss (after all, what was Yahoo! going to do – unbuy the site?), but I could understand to some extent why users felt aggreived.

This time, however, I just can't for the life of me see the point. One large tech company may, at some point in the future, get bought by another – a Starbucks turning into a MacDonalds, if you will. Microsoft certainly isn't offering to shell out this huge sum of money (and maybe even borrow, if some reports are correct), just to annoy a group of people who like to post oversaturated Lomo photos of kittens and discuss depth-of-field. It's in this for the online advertising market. And, even if Microsoft were set on some crazy path towards Flickr-destruction, it's not even anywhere near certain that the buyout will go ahead, as both Yahoo! and the regulatory bodies have yet to be convinced.

Ultimately, this latest mess seems to be based on two things: irrational hatred of large companies, and an even stronger and often irrational hatred of Microsoft. People who never use Microsoft products hate Microsoft. People who use them every day hate Microsoft – sometimes with good reason, sometimes not. Write an article that isn't wildly critical of a Microsoft product – or one even slightly critical of an Apple one – and you'll hear from these people, voicing their shrill disdain within hours.

(By the way, I wonder how many of the anti-Microsoft slogans daubed all over Flickr today were created in Photoshop under XP or uploaded using IE? Probably more than a few.)

The real litmus test for this will come if, as some reports have suggested, Apple makes a play for Yahoo!. After all, if Microsoft is unduly hated, Apple is often unduly worshipped – it's the huge corporation that many professedly anti-corporate people adore – because apparently good industrial design, a nice interface and a high profit margin make up for all manner of ills. If Apple does step forward, keep an eye on Flickr, and watch for the reaction. If users spring to protest, then fair enough – they're happy with Yahoo!, and don't want to see another group of new owners. If not, then I'd dearly love to know why.

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