Flickr needs to get its #$% together

If you haven't noticed yet, Hossam over at Arabawy has been having a lot of trouble with his Flickr account lately. For several years now, Hossam has been using his Flickr account (and introducing other Egyptian photojournalists to the service) to spread the use of photography for political advocacy, a strategy he passionately believes in and that has been an underpinning of his media-heavy blogging (which is costing us a bundle in hosting fees!) I think Hossam's style of blogging (whether or not you agree with his radical politics) is extremely innovative and a great example of how "Web 2.0" services ike Flickr or Twitter can be put to a use their founders never even imagined.

It's therefore really sad that Flickr fails to see the point he has been trying to make in posting pictures by photographer friends who have given him permission to use their pics on his Flickr account. Flickr says that the account should only have his own pics. That's silly: he may not be using Flickr only to showcase his own stuff, as most Flickr users do, but as a tool to collect information (in the form of pictures) about certain events and causes. As long as he has permission to use that information (and he does), Flickr should not be reducing the usefulness of a service he paid for.

For me, the troubling thing here is not just that Flickr has taken some questionable decisions, such as marking pro-Palestinian and pro-separatist Irish murals as "unsafe" (and therefore only viewable with a login) with no reason whatsoever. It's not just that Flickr seems to have arbitrarily selected Hossam's account, where he openly acknowledges and credits photos that are not his, when its millions of users could simply take credit themselves for other people's pictures and get away with it. Its great crime, unpardonable for a US company, is that it has shown very poor customer service in this case. If a customer wants to host his and others' pics - basically wants to have a group account - why shouldn't he? And if that's not possible under Flickr's account rules, then the rules are silly and should be changed, because the customer should always be king.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.