Bating the mousetrap with chunky peanut butter

Flickr peanut butter
Original by starpause kid and shared under a Creative Commons License.
When it comes to mousetraps, it’s fairly common knowledge that an effective cheese alternative for trapping mice is peanut butter.

However, we already know that Yahoo isn’t too fond of peanut butter. At least the smooth kind spread thin.

So it’s interesting to note that, perhaps as part of the strategy to outlaw renegade peanut butter within the organization, the formerly independent outpost known as Flickr will be forcing users to either merge or create a new Yahoo account to login after March 15:

On March 15th, 2007 we’ll be discontinuing the old email-based Flickr sign in system. From that point on, everyone will have to use a Yahoo! ID to sign in to Flickr.

We’re making this change now to simplify the sign in process in advance of several large projects launching this year, but some Flickr features and tools already require Yahoo! IDs for sign in — like the mobile site at or the new Yahoo! Go program for mobiles, available at

If you still sign in using the email-based Flickr system (here), you can make the switch at any time in the next few months, from today till the 15th. (After that day, you’ll be required to merge before you continue using your account.) To switch, start at this page:

Complete details and answers to most common questions are available here:

If you have questions or comments about signing in with a Yahoo! ID, speak up!

You can imagine that not everyone is happy about this, especially after the reaction the first time around:
Jimbo doesn't like it

Now, I’m not interested in opening old wounds. The Flickr folks have given plenty of notice about the coming changes (figure at least a month and a half if not the full 18 months since they were acquired) and of course are available for consolation, hand-holding and so forth.

Oh, and contrary to my tendency towards conspiracy theories, I’ll let Stewart debunk them outright:

And that’s it: there’s no secret agenda here, no desire to come to your homes and steal your TV. Over time, it just gets more expensive to maintain independent means of authentication and we could “spend” those efforts on other things which make Flickr more useful, more fun, more versatile, etc. And the smaller the ratio of old skool to Y!ID-based gets, the harder it is to justify not spending that effort on improvements.

I will, however, take this opportunity to rise up on my soapbox again and point out something worth reflecting on…

Look, Google’s already done the same thing with Dodgeball; it’s a sure bet that they’re going to do the same thing with their YouTube acquisition. We know that Yahoo logins are going to show up on MyBlogLog and eventually, probably Upcoming too — and, for that matter, any other user-centered acquisition that comes down the pipe. Microsoft is no different. Let’s face it: the future of the web is in identity-based services. And this is a good thing, if you’re ready for it.

My buddies Brian Oberkirch and Aldo Castañeda talked about the potential for this new economy recently. It’s coming and it’s scary (for some) and it’s unclear what it looks like. But the more that this happens under authoritarian login regimes, the more concern I feel for the effect these consolidation efforts will have on true democratic choice in where and how you spend your attention.

Realistically, it’s not terribly surprising that Yahoo! and the rest are going this direction. Hell, from a systems perspective, you’re just two entries in a grand database in the sky whereas you could be one. From a service perspective, unifying “you” across systems allows convenience and synergies to emerge. The problem is that these actions belie the sophisticated relationships that some people have with their online accounts and how their personas are represented. Though not everyone cares a whole lot about their screennames, others absolutely do. And beyond that, for whatever reasons they have, some people simply do not want to go near Yahoo! — something they never thought would be a concern of theirs when they originally joined Flickr.

But there’s a curious reality to look at here.

While I call Flickr home (NIPSA’d and all), just as there is a vehicle to vent my individual frustrations to Flickr, those same vehicles and mechanisms are available to me to splinter off and build my own peanut-butter-rich outpost anew. The missing piece of the puzzle, however, is my identity. I can’t just pack up my digital self and move on… whichever login system Flickr uses — Yahoo’s, Google’s, their own — I can’t “take it with me”. Even with their API, which is one of the most generous in the biz, it still doesn’t give me the ability to fully reincarnate myself somewhere else.

Now, I could and would like to turn this into a pitch for OpenID, but I won’t, at least directly. The Yahoo! folks have already expressed their distaste for creating Just Another Identity Silo and I keep waiting for them to prove it. I don’t mind waiting a bit longer. The wheels of the OpenID community are already in motion and I don’t have to plead for acknowledgment from the powers that be. The truth is, there are only a few more sites that will fall. The truth is, we are only now beginning to realize the degree to which we are all exposed and what the reality of our transparent society looks like. And the truth is, we are only just beginning to wake up to the idea that we should and can have dominion over our online lives, just as we believe is our right offline.

Author: Chris Messina

Head of West Coast Business Development at Republic. Ever-curious product designer and technologist. Hashtag inventor. Previously: (YC W18), Uber, Google.

10 thoughts on “Bating the mousetrap with chunky peanut butter”

  1. I’m not sure what it would mean to “take it with you”. You could use the same screen name somewhere else and the same buddy icon, assuming the systems were similar enough. And with that same assumption, you could use identical credentials. But that’s obviously not what you mean … wtf do you mean?

    Is it just sign into some other side using the same OpenID that you use to sign in to Flickr (and presumably other services)? I’m pro-OpenID, but in the grand scheme of these that’s a pretty trivial difference to your quality of life.

  2. i have to agree with stuart.

    unless when you say bring your data elsewhere you mean a simple export of images and tags from flickr to a folder and flat file on your desktop or an easy transfer to another service (which stuart mentioned that he’d support — btw, is that API built?)

    describe what exactly constitutes the ability to “fully reincarnate myself somewhere else.”

  3. [I am CEO of Zooomr]

    The problem with the Yahoo ID is that in general social networks don’t want to be marketed to. And I don’t trust Yahoo not to market to me. I’m also kind of pissed today that I’m going to have to dump 2,000 of my contacts (very unfriendly for a social network) but that’s a whole other topic.

    OpenID works because it is a trusted centralized place, non profit, no hidden agenda with no financial advantage over owning your identity. Microsoft Passport, AOL, Yahoo, all of these places claim to want to simplify your life but what they really want is to market to you.

    This is already happening at Flickr now.

    Check out Flickr’s new “fantastic resource” (their words from the Flickr Blog not mine) their new “camera finder” feature.

    Try this.

    Go to Flickr’s “awesome” new camera finder feature for the Fuji FinePix S9100.

    Now click on the compare new prices link that coincidently links to Yahoo Shopping.…

    Now sort by lowest price.…

    Now check out this article that includes a BBB report on Yahoo Shopping’s low price provider (I’ll save you the trouble, unsatisfactory with hundreds of registered complains):…

    Bamm! Buy that camera and Yahoo just got paid.

    Take my advice though, do NOT buy this camera from Broadway Photo. In fact avoid all Flickr Camera Finder recommendations and stick with a reputable retailer like B&H.

    The point is that this is all about marketing to you. And what better way for you to experience Yahoo Shopping than if you are already logged into Yahoo through Flickr.

    This is the real reason why Yahoo gets to do this. Yahoo did not buy flickr to leave it alone. They bought it for one simple reason. To make money. Leveraging and marketing to Flickr users is a big part of this. Unfortunately, this is not what a community based photo sharing site should be about.

    On the Q3 earnings call, before he was canned, Yahoo COO Dan Rosenweig talked about the “monetization” of Flickr. This is exactly what you are seeing.

    But it still is not right.

    This is the honest truth and being told that it’s being done because it’s too difficult to translate alternative log on pages, etc. etc. is just pure doublespeak. Translation is easy and a log on page the easiest of all. I know, we’ve done it with 17 different languages with two people. Yahoo has how many engineers now?

    This is what bothers me the most. It’s an insult to our intelligence and a mark against transparency.

  4. you make a valid argument, thomas, particularly regarding the potential of yahoo!’s marketing machine. i’ve ranted along similar lines in the past.

    but, for me, when it comes to a service that i get *crazy* value from (unlimited server space, rich community & networking, printing options, etc.), for such a nominal cost (low yearly fee and yahoo! marketing), i’m not losing sleep over yahoo! monetizing flickr in this manner.

    i’d like to see the flickr crew continue to innovate.

    as for functionality changes, 5,000 contacts makes no sense to me, personally. i guess if you’re a professional photographer, it does. so maybe they a la carte that unlimited feature for $10 a year. wouldn’t that be worthwhile to a pro? or an activist? or a politician?

    do you take that as a “monetization” slap across the face or as something you feel ok paying for?

    and hundreds of tags per object *is spam*… maybe what’s needed is a way for people to add synonyms to tags if they need such rich descriptions. again, it’s not something that many people would use, but it would cater to the super explicit and promotional crowd.

    i guess i’d get all in a tizzy if flickr changed features that i used, so again, i feel you. just not to the extent described by chris and yourself.

  5. You basically hit on my issue with these things. I use dozens (maybe hundreds?) of various services across the net. Across these services, I have 3-4 semi-consistent “identities” that I manage, mostly because I want to maintain various levels of anonymity on different services.

    I don’t *want* one identity across all these services. I don’t want my Flickr identity to be linked to my Yahoo Answers identity to be linked to Yahoo Finance to be linked to my account. I use the email address/screenname everyone knows when I want someone to be able to find me on a service. I use a different one when I don’t. Sometimes I want a stranger on one service to be able to find me on another; other times I don’t.

    This becomes harder as more services use a common login – to have a separate identity on Answers and Flickr, for example, I now have to have two different Yahoo accounts – and I can’t be logged into both services at the same time. And that’s a pain in the ass.

    I do get the perspective of people that see creating new accounts as an annoyance. I also get the perspective of companies that want to remove that annoyance and consolidate marketing and all that. But to me it’s a freedom that gives me fine grained control over my identity.

  6. Thomas, the issues you describe don’t seem to relate to Yahoo ID, but have to do with Flickr being part of Yahoo!

    Yahoo supporting OpenID would not change anything fundamentally. The only thing Yahoo would not know is your password.

    I don’t know what a “social network” is, but I do know that most people do not care if they are marketed to — in fact they expect it.

    Yahoo ID for Flickr does not bug me. It is honest. Flickr is Yahoo and this will come to its skin — with Flickr team (that is Flickr) be there in five years?

  7. What’s most interesting to me about this is how little Flickr cares about what this 5% of active/vocal first-users really thinks. Obviously they are comfortable losing all of them, they have seen the volatility of this groups reactions to past announcements, so it’s no surprise to them that the old users are bent out of shape.

    I agree that identification is a huge area for future improvement, I don’t know if that identification is tied into my persona on a particular platform.

    The “big guys” online need a single way to track and monetize their userbase. We all hate it, but I guess that’s the true price of “free”.

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