Thursday, January 29, 2015

This group has been mothballed / Reposted from Flickr

Posted to the discussion section for the Chicago Photography group on Flickr at 2:50PM, 24 May 2013 CST: Thank you, almost all of you, for a few pleasant years. I am putting this group into mothballs. What that means, for those of you who've never had an attic, is that it is going to be little more than an archive, storage that isn't frequently accessed, but is still there for those who want to look at it. There will be no more submissions to the pool or to the discussion section. New requests for membership will not be approved. In fact, they probably won't even be looked at. If you were thinking of making one, please don't take that personally. It's nothing against you. How could it be, when I probably don't even know you? No, it's not you, and it's not me, either.

It's Yahoo.

Yes, I mothballed this group once before, and went on to reverse that decision, but I don't see that happening, again. Last time, I did this reluctantly, in response to a very specific, narrow problem. I was one of the beta testers for a redesign that most of you never saw, which Yahoo seemed very determined to go through with, at the time. Had they gone through with the redesign, there would have been no clear path back to Webring, because the description of the group and the links in it would have been obscured. As a user of Webring, I do have obligations toward it, that other host of mine, and while I wouldn't claim that they've been reasonable (or even civilized) at all times, the basic concept of Webring navigability is a reasonable one. It's a necessary one, in fact - they couldn't do business without it, and regardless of who can show what sort of numbers, I'm not going to desert somebody with a reasonable request, just for the sake of working around somebody else's unreasonability. Ethically, that sets a very bad precedent.

I cut all links to this group, including the one from its companion on DeviantArt, expecting to never return until I learned, much to my amazement, that Yahoo, for once, had listened to its beta testers, and abstained from going ahead with the proposed redesign. What we got, instead, wasn't perfect, but our concerns were addressed, and one had to admit that some of the new features were pretty cool. So, with my usual misplaced optimism, I concluded that Yahoo had turned over a new leaf, and better times were ahead, and re-opened this group.

That was then and this is now, even if then wasn't all that long ago. This time around, the problem isn't a specific issue with the redesign or the need to live up to my obligations to another company. The problem is the broader one of Yahoo's entire operating philosophy, one which I've been trying to overlook ever since the day when I was forced to connect my Flickr membership to a Yahoo membership. Yes, believe it or not, I've been here, that long. One just gets an impression to the contrary because I deleted my first few uploads out of sheer embarrassment - yes, they were that bad - and because Yahoo's record keeping is faulty. I was here well before November of 2006.

Yahoo, for as long as it has existed, has been a notoriously censorious host, which is remarkable when one considers just how dismal the Internet's history has been in matters of free expression. If one wants to do something sick and outrageous, eg. publishing kiddie porn, then the Internet probably offers one freedom and validation such as one would never have seen in a civilized setting, but as for those of us who don't have any desire to be either sick or outrageous, censorship comes our way frequently and on the flimsiest of pretexts.

As bad as the competition has tended to be, Yahoo has managed to stand out. The company's attitude, time and time again, has seemed to be that in any conflict between the crazies and the normal people, that they should side with the crazies because, if the crazies should prevail, they'll be a problem, and if the normal people win, they'll understand. Well, we have understood, all too well, and as the years have gone by, more and more of us have invested less and less time in Yahoo, finding that we were growing extremely tired of being thrown under the bus, just to make a few psychiatric outpatients happy. Others, arguably showing better judgement than I have, tapered off their use, years ago. I, fool that I was, was still arguing in favor of doing what we could to make sure that this site had a chance to recover, as recently as a little after 1 am, this morning, a little over 12 hours ago, although I was having my doubts, even then.

I could go into detail about how my enthusiasm was destroyed over the years, but that would make for tiresome reading and even more tiresome writing. Let a brief summary of the incident that proved to be the straw that broke the camel's back suffice: Somebody found an absurd complaint to make about the latest redesign. I know - with all of the valid complaints one could make, why would somebody want to make a silly one? Who knows. But the complaint was about an alleged "bug" in the new version of Flickr, that left the user logged into Yahoo after being logged out of Flickr. The Flickr staff member responding publicly promised to get right on that.

As I know almost all of you know, this is how the logins have always worked, ever since Flickr was integrated with Yahoo. This is nothing new. I spoke up in support of Yahoo, was publicly attacked for having done so, and when I defended myself, found my replies cut and deleted while the attacks were left in place, apparently at the request of somebody who doesn't seem to be firing on all cylinders. This crank has been seen in the forums, frequently threatening to file "abuse reports" on anybody who says anything he doesn't like. My first encounter with him came after he decided to trade barbs with me, and then whined about the fact that the exchange had gone poorly for him. Utterly pathetic, and this is the sort of person who I can see that Yahoo has chosen to radically empower. Within seconds of this ninny's announcement that he was going to "report me" for talking back to a troll, turning a blind eye to the abuse I was responding to, I got one of Yahoo's warnings about my alleged violation of their vague, broadly written and unevenly applied community guidelines, and was threatened with the deletion of my membership, in the event that I should I violate them again.

Did I mention that I was being abused because I stuck up for them? This is unforgivable, and it's something for me to think about, to be sure. I've been volunteering a lot of my time to build up and maintain communities on a social network that has, at this point, just stabbed me in the back. How is one to respond to that? Here's a thought - by investing a lot less of my time, here, so I'll have more of it to spend where it is less likely to go to waste. So, no more expeditions to find new photos to invite to my groups or new members to introduce to each other here, on Flickr. The companion group on DeviantArt will, for now, remain open and active, and you're all invited to join it. Most of you seem to use this group as a photo dump, and don't seem to want it to be much more than that, so I guess most of you won't bother to act on that invitation, but if you want it, it's there for you.

I had hoped to establish a companion journal for this group on Tumblr, but you know how that goes.

Is this worth thinking about, if you're a member? Will I reverse myself, again, given that I did before? I wouldn't absolutely rule it out, but I seriously doubt that this will happen, and if you look at these events from my perspective, you'll see why.

The issue isn't just the gross ingratitude of the act, one that leaves me tempted to say "either she goes as an employee, or I go as an admin." It's the reality, sinking in, of just how insanely those community guidelines are going to be enforced on behalf of people who look ready to be fitted with jackets with wraparound sleeves. If, as a member of a group, I run into the dementia of my fellow members or the admins of the group, the solution is simple. Long before the drama has any chance to get at all involved, I walk away from the group. This is why I join hundreds of groups - so I can do that, not even bothering to deal with such nonsense, and still have somewhere to post. But what if the drama I encounter is drama I've encountered as the admin of a group, and it's coming from one of my members? How do I walk away from that?

The only way I could do that, would be to abandon the group, but then what happens to all of the work I've put into inviting people and their content, promoting the group outside of Flickr, and just building the place up? I can walk away from a group without losing much of my work, if I'm only a member. I can save my writing by cutting and pasting my posts from there into one of my blogs. My images are still in my stream, and I can add them to other groups. But if I'm an admin, all of that time that goes into making a community happen, that I'm not getting back, and that fact leaves a lot of my time and hard work at the mercy of any ninny with a chip on his shoulder, who crosses my path. That's not acceptable.

Mothballing my groups, then, isn't just a matter of expressing some extremely well justified anger. It's simple prudence. I'm limiting my exposure to risk. I've already encountered members who've generated drama and threatened to go to the administration because, for example, I refused to invite them along on photo walks after they mentioned their fondness for gouging out eyeballs, so the scenario I just described is not a hypothetical, and with Yahoo taking its philosophy of "do anything to make the maniacs happy, and to Hell with everybody else" further than it ever did before, there's nothing else to be done. It's time for me to cut my losses.

This group, as I said, has just become an archive, as all of my Flickr groups will be, sooner or later. The weather is still nice today, if a little chillier than we had become accustomed to, earlier this week, and I'm not going to squander it all on a statement of my own personal discontent. I'll take a while to get to those.

As for myself, as a user - I'll be gradually cutting my links to Flickr, as time allows, until none remain. I might post some very rough stuff, crude efforts I made on the way to making something better, linking out of Flickr, but I can't imagine a good reason to link into Flickr, any more. Ultimately, my objective in all of this will be a simple one - to build relationships with people with whom I can associate outside of Flickr, and that is what a social network is for, I guess.

I still wish I had invested less time in this one. Goodbye, for now, and hope to see at least a few of you over on DeviantArt.

Update, January 29, 2015: Thea Lamkin did eventually leave, but not until after those complaining (generally quite reasonably) about the redesign had gone elsewhere. After a while, I unlocked the pool for Chicago Photography and started letting in new photos. Today, I'm even going to go so far as to remove the mothballing notice from the group - but not from existence. I wouldn't tend to do the latter, in general - who burns his own writing? But aside from that, while Lamkin is gone, her abuse of power as an employee has seen nothing but validation from her former employer, and that's something I can't ignore, any more than I can really ignore the favoritism shown to the trolls in the Flickr help forum. Life is not going to get better on Flickr as long as Yahoo is in existence, as a company, which is to say that it isn't likely to get better any time soon.

Of the many moronic changes made on Flickr on the usual perverse basis - that of pacifying those doing the screaming, as long as they're making no sense - one that has stood out and become a particular problem has been that of eliminating the crossposting limits. Now, when I go looking for photos to invite to a group, as I look at the pools of the groups covering a particular topic (say, groups for photos taken in city parks), I find myself seeing the same photos in pool after pool, with the result that I have to look longer and longer, just to find the same number of photos to invite as I would have before, because I have to keep crawling over the same slowly loading photos over and over, all of those photos displaying at something like full size (instead of as thumbnails) in the pool, courtesy of that 2013 redesign that nobody but Yahoo and the fanboys wanted. It's a lot of work, an insane amount of work, made even more insane for a greatly diminished return on my efforts, because the quality of work on Flickr has been plummeting.

There has been a lot of iPhone photography, usually massively crossposted, and almost all of it terrible. I've seen one person (and only one person) who can get decent (sometimes even excellent) results using an iPhone, and he is the only reason I allow iPhone photos on my groups, at all. The low quality of 100% of the iPhone photos submitted by literally every other use I've seen on Flickr is no surprise. The surprise is that there is somebody who can work wonders with something as poorly designed for photography as the iPhone. Trying holding that thing steady as you take a shot - composition, something at the core of the art of Photography, is damaged almost invariably. But quality isn't really an issue on the new Flickr. Volume is. Waves and waves of garbage to wade through, as one looks for something worth viewing. Asking myself why I should bother, more and more, I find that I'm not. No more grand expeditions for content, no more daily logins. For the most part, all I do is wait a few weeks until a pile of submissions has built up, approve the few dozen photos that are worth looking at (usually from the same people) and then discard the rest. I still get to see some beautiful work, but you have no idea of how much trash I have to clear away to find it, these days. Go back into the earlier archives for this group, remember that I didn't screen the photos in the beginning, and you'll see how much the community has gone into decline. The work really was consistently that good and that creative. As an admin, all I had to do was not get in the way of those doing the work, and to (very rarely) remove somebody who was getting to be a problem.

How times have changed, and not at all for the better. I'll move the mothballing notice, but not remove it from public view. I don't want to discourage people from joining the group, which is what I suppose I had been doing by leaving the notice where it was, but I will keep it for the public records of this group, because the concerns raised in it (aside from being part of the history of the group) remain real and all too well founded.

No comments:

Post a Comment