Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Why Flickr and Yahoo! are not part of the current Social Network augmented revolution

Going back to May 2007 the BBC ran a report on Rebekka Gudleifsdóttir. See Flickr site. Comments on her photo stream were censored in mass by Flickr because a few were rather angry. Seems that her work was being taken off Flickr and sold by a company, and when her fans got mad on Flickr they soon found themselves censored.

At the time this event had a massive chilling impact on those hoping to use the Internet as a platform for democratic discourse. 2007 was the year when the idea that the Internet was just a means of control and domination seemed inescapable.

But we should always remember the Internet is a tool. Fast forward a few years, introduce some new players with ethics, energy, and a wider perspective and you have Twitter, Facebook and Google actively helping the protests in the Middle East and becoming a major enemy for regimes in those nations.

And now the story has changed a great deal:

"Feb. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed the U.S. will step up support for global Internet freedom, as citizens using social networking sites run by Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. organize demonstrations spreading across the Mideast and North Africa."

From a purely business point of view the lesson is pretty clear: if you are going in to the Internet communications business don't sell your customers out to their brutal regimes: its bad press and bad business. Yahoo! has lost the confidence of a generation of web users who can't even remember why it was hot back in the 1990s. But to say they "lost" it is an understatement, they intentionally crushed it.

And this is why we hear about Google, Facebook and Twitter on almost every news broadcast and nothing about Yahoo! and Flickr. The key lesson is that you can't control a Web 2.0 environment, users will find a way around you and in a landscape that encourages insurgent innovators they will find another place to go. Flickr lost the photo market to Facebook, and now people who may have started using Facebook as a place to post photos are seeing it as a place to organize political identity. When people tried to do this on Flickr they were beaten down.

In the summer of 2009 Flickr carried out a mass cull of posters that showed Obama as the Joker. They claimed copyright infringement but most people took it as either part of a deal with th White House to distribute photos on Flickr, thus bypassing the official web site, or just the bias of the users. No one has ever claimed that their images were violated.

All of its established a pattern of a careless center out attitude towards control and content that was clearly part of the the culture of Flickr and Yahoo!. The thing is this center out approach is precisely the opposite of the flow of social networks. Social Networks are not simply new broadcasting formats with the content producers as controlled unpaid, or in the case of Flickr even paying, slaves. People will soon figure out any structure that tires to play them in to that roll and work to get around it. In the case of Flickr the work around was to go to Twitter and Facebook.

Firms that do not grasp that there has been a fundamental decentralization of information creation and distribution are doomed.

Web 3.0 technology using mobile phones just extends this. If you block your employees access to sites like Twitter and Facebook they will just go to their smartphones. If you try and control the content of groups and forums people will just form them on freer networks. Flickr has an amazing services for creating groups and managing discussions but it plays no role right now in current cyber organizing because no one trusts Flickr.

chaosMonster (The Mind of Bob 2.0): Yahoo 'censored' Flickr comments

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