UPDATED: it was a bug, and the Flickr team fixed it. All’s well. Read on for the story:
Something weird and potentially bad just happened to the Flickr photo-sharing site. Specifically, their page listing photos published under Creative Commons licenses now shows far, far fewer of them.
Where once there were tens of millions, there are now 400,000 and fewer.
What happened, Flickr? Yahoo, do you know anything?
Here’s a bit more background.
Flickr is one of the oldest, great social photo sharing sites. I joined it way back in 2004 (my photos), pretty soon after it launched, and found the service extremely useful. It’s a fine place to share my images, an unusual place for getting feedback, a terrific site to discover other images, and good, even unique, at a bunch of other functions everyone should know.
One of its fine aspects is supporting search for non-copyrighted photos. We can look just for images uploaded under the Creative Commons license suite (which everyone should know about; here’s a starter). It’s a grand way to find materials for your next movie, PowerPoint, blog post, or whatever. I found Anders Sandberg’s photo above that way, using this search.
Last I looked (a week ago, maybe) I recall seeing tens of millions of photos under the leading licenses. Back in December Alan Levine spotted 58 million under the Attribution header.
Now the larger collection is of photos shared under Attribution-NoDerivs, and that numbers merely 499,963. That’s a cut of around 98% at the worst.
Other licenses show photos in the hundreds of thousands, except Public Domain Dedication with 59,689 photos and Public Domain Mark with its 68,507.
More than 58 and 16 million photos. What happened?
(I don’t know why the Machine saved this page with text in Indonesian. That must be where they have an active web scraper, I suppose)
Looking for help, I saw that Flickr didn’t have an answer on their site, and really wanted me to ask a question in its fora (I did). They really didn’t want me to contact them directly. Starting two hours ago I took to Twitter, tweeting at the main Flickr account, the Flickr Help feed, and Yahoo Customer Care for good measure. They have not responded as of this writing.
So what’s happening? It’s not something local to my machine, since others have duplicated this elsewhere. Most likely there’s a glitch in the CC landing page. Or, worse, there’s a flaw in the Flickr/Yahoo indexing system, so they only recognize a tiny proportion of CC licenses. Or, worse still, there’s been a policy change that they haven’t announced. Was the change tied to adding these two new CC licenses? Worst of all, have so many photos been deleted?
Whichever one turns out to be the case, this is bad news for those of us who support open content. Because this is a serious cut to the open content richness once available on Flickr, if it’s serious.
Does anyone have any thoughts?
EDITED TO ADD: I submitted this post to Hacker News for yet another venue.
Adding an Internet Archive snapshot was Martha Burtis‘ idea.
UPDATE: it seem to be a bug on the Explore page. Flickr Help tweeted back:
They recommend searching for images using the main search bar, not the Explore ones.
No word on bug fix timeline yet.