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Software United States

Is the Flickr API a National Treasure? 101

Posted by timothy
from the coerce-and-control-network dept.
First time accepted submitter somekind writes "Over the past few months Twitter imposed restrictions on the use of its client API, and Facebook shut down the facial recognition API supporting face.com after acquiring the company. Mathew Ingram noted these and other examples (Google starting to charge for high-volume use of Google Maps) as evidence that 'open APIs' published by a single vendor can't be trusted by outside developers. Worried about the possibility that Yahoo! might do the same with Flickr, Dave Winer has just launched a petition to Obama asking the President to declare the Flickr API a National Historic Landmark, thus (by Dave's reckoning) legally protected from arbitrary withdrawal or wholesale changes by its corporate masters."
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Is the Flickr API a National Treasure?

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  • No it is not (Score:5, Insightful)

    by js3 (319268) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @09:26AM (#42306881)

    If we learned anything, software dies. Twitter, Facebook, Flicker and whatever flavor of the times websites eventually be forgotten like MySpace, Geocities, AOL and Yahoo

    • by Anonymous Coward

      If we learned anything, software dies.

      So does legislation. A law, executive order, Presidential decree, Act of Congress or even Blessing by the Pope is rescinded or overturned when it serves their purposes. Getting government involved in this type of thing is as meaningless as getting them involved in most everything else.

    • I disagree. Maybe those you named failed because they didn't achieve critical mass. I would argue that Facebook and Twitter have done that, which makes it much harder for them to fade. Not impossible, but much harder. Flickr - maybe, maybe not. Picasa online was a decent contender before it got mashed into Google+...
      • by rockout (1039072)
        Facebook, maybe. Twitter? They just got passed by Instagram, of all things, in active daily users. I'm not saying Instagram has reached critical mass, either - if I was forced to bet, I'd lay money that Twitter and Instagram will both fade just as MySpace did. Facebook, much as I hate it, may have a decent chance of continuing on with no end in sight.
      • Re:No it is not (Score:5, Insightful)

        by lgw (121541) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @02:55PM (#42308267) Journal

        Critical mass? There was a time when most people on the internet used AOL. There was a time when most web pages were geocities pages.

        Everything fades eventually. Facebook, twitter, Ozimandius, whatever.

        • I didn't make my point clearly. AOL was popular (certainly not "most people" in the Internet, even back then), but importantly in terms of total numbers relative to the world population, it never made so much as a blip. And as for GeoCities, same applies even more so. Facebook also, unlike all the others, has a really powerful thing in its favour - many people (including me) use it as a way of keeping in very occasional touch with others - at a glance I can contact them, see what they've been up to recentl
    • Yes, but we're talking about the API, not the software. There are hundreds of formerly-useful websites out there that ran on a now-withdrawn API. I always used to love using "GoogleFight" to compare the relative frequency of two phrases, but the old API is gone, even though Google is still going, (and other Google APIs are still in operation) and GoogleFight no longer does anything. For a quick reference as a language learner, comparing Google figures was invaluable.
    • Re:No it is not (Score:5, Insightful)

      by buchner.johannes (1139593) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @10:30AM (#42307095) Homepage Journal

      If we learned anything, software dies. Twitter, Facebook, Flicker and whatever flavor of the times websites eventually be forgotten like MySpace, Geocities, AOL and Yahoo

      Google is a prime example of trying out fancy things (even buying companies with awesome ideas), and being very happy to let them die, abandoning users. That would all be fine, if another company could pick things up, but software patents in the US are stupid.

    • If we learned anything, software dies. Twitter, Facebook, Flicker and whatever flavor of the times websites eventually be forgotten like MySpace, Geocities, AOL and Yahoo

      Flickr is the "it" thing for amateur photography right now so it's interesting. I do amateur photography. I don't think I'm very good, but as I've talked to other amateurs over the years at camera shops etc, they ALWAYS end up having a flickr. It's to the point where you wouldn't ask someone if they use flickr, but just what their name is on flickr because the safe assumption is that they do use it. It will probably be around for a while because they have a pay upgrade that many people use (I do) which

      • Re:No it is not (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Omestes (471991) <omestes@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Sunday December 16, 2012 @05:56PM (#42309079) Homepage Journal

        I don't know, it seems Google+ is slowly replacing it, a lot of my photography friends have either ditched Flickr, or haven't touched it in months now. There are also better services out there, like Smugmug (also might be suffering a bit), and 500px. Yahoo has pretty much forgotten about Flickr, and they really don't garner much confidence. When was the last time Yahoo really saved, or improved, something? Hell, when was the last time anything of relevance was connected to Yahoo?

        I used to use Flickr a lot, my hobby was colorizing and restoring old images, and I managed to find some good communities there full of people with like interests, and more experience, willing to help me and critique my work. Lately, since venturing into macro photography, I was looking for a like experience. Flickr didn't really fit, it seemed more Instagram-y now, Facebook-y even. Lots of "Wow!", and "Great Job!", and very little "Good, but your framing is a bit off", "Good framing, but you need more/less light/exposure" Useful, and meaningful criticism, not just empty social blurbs and group ego massaging. Flickr feels like a dying community, not like it was a few years back.

        The serious people, who want a good UI, and better templates have moved on to 500px. The people who want community first, and a good UI and display, have move to G+. The casual crowd has moved on to Facebook. Why niche does Flickr fill, that these other sites can do better?

        • The serious people, who want a good UI, and better templates have moved on to 500px. The people who want community first, and a good UI and display, have move to G+. The casual crowd has moved on to Facebook. Why niche does Flickr fill, that these other sites can do better?

          Google+ didn't really do anything for me, but I hadn't heard of 500px. I'll give it a gander, thanks!

          I think the quality of comments you garner will depends on the groups you join and post to. There's certainly no shortage of groups that give lame "awards".

          • by Omestes (471991)

            I suck at social networking, so I'm having a pretty hard time with G+, Flickr at least had baked in groups, that were rather easy to find. 500px is wonderful if you want to make a portfolio, or go "pro", but is somewhat odd when it comes to social features. I also found a bit of snobby elitism there, which didn't really mesh with my amateur, enthusiast, streak. I'm never going to make money with my hobby, nor do I really want to, I want to be good at it for its own rewards. I'm a photo geek, not a phot

  • Uh... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CajunArson (465943) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @09:27AM (#42306887) Journal

    Dave Winer has just launched a petition to Obama asking the President to declare the Flickr API a National Historic Landmark, thus (by Dave's reckoning) legally protected from arbitrary withdrawal or wholesale changes by its corporate masters."

    Yeah nice meaningless stunt.

    If the API is truly "open" then this guy can buy the servers and the network connectivity and the electricity and the hosting support needed to host the sotfware that keeps it going in perpetuity and he won't have to worry about Flickr suing him becuase it's "open".

    Something tells me he is more upset that somebody else won't be paying for all of those things for his personal gain. Well guess what: When you live by the "free" service you die by the "free" service.

    • I would personally find it quite hilarious if Yahoo! preemptively shuts it down just to avoid any headaches caused by this nonsense.

    • by hjf (703092)

      Why does it always come down to the "it's free, deal with it" attitude? As if paid services never get shut down...

      • by khallow (566160)
        Why ask? Sure, it's an obvious thing to say. But people don't seem to get that.
      • by lennier (44736)

        Why does it always come down to the "it's free, deal with it" attitude? As if paid services never get shut down...

        Right. It's not "it's free, deal with it". Try "it's the Cloud, deal with it".

        The Cloud will always die. The Cloud will always eat your data. The Cloud will always steal your privacy. The Cloud will always skimp on safety, reliability and security, expose you to risk, and charge the highest prices it can get away with - because that's how it's designed to work. It's not working for you. It's working to make money for the investors. Their aim is not your happiness, it's your data and money.

        Don't trust your d

        • "The Cloud will always die."

          Old clouds never die. They just fade away. Might as well be consistent with the meteorological metaphor.

    • by jonbryce (703250)

      He can do that, but what he can't do is buy the twitter.com or whatever domain that all these services are hardwired to talk to.

    • ...has just launched a petition to Obama asking the President to declare the Flickr API a National Historic Landmark, thus (by Dave's reckoning) legally protected from arbitrary withdrawal or wholesale changes by its corporate masters."

      The White House needs some better spam/troll detectors.

      Starting fake petitions, so you can brag about it, may have been funny for the first guy who did it, but no one likes a copy cat. This Dave Spamer guy really needs to come up with something better.

    • If the API is truly "open"

      Open is a nonsense word when it comes to APIs. An API is just an interface, and in the USA it can't be copyrighted, so anyone can implement any API. It only really makes sense when talking about APIs like OpenGL or POSIX, which are maintained by a consortium and so can't be arbitrarily modified by a single vendor, but describing a single-vendor API as open is pure gibberish.

    • Something tells me he is more upset that somebody else won't be paying for all of those things for his personal gain. Well guess what: When you live by the "free" service you die by the "free" service.

      More than that, he's a hypocrite. If you reply to his post he gets very uppity if you're not super-polite, and there's not really any debate allowed. If you don't agree with him he will delete your comment. (as happened to me)

      His argument being: "You're a guest here, play by my rules". Fine, but guess what, Flickr, and all sites, have a similar policy.

  • I can understand his frustration, but national treasure? That's a little ridicules.

    • The pictures and picture metadata are the most important bit. Imagine an API without any pictures behind it - hardly a national treasure.

      I do think it's a good idea to make some effort to preserve the pictures, though, for historical reasons.

    • by Pope (17780)

      It's Dave Winer; of course it's ridiculous.

  • by pushing-robot (1037830) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @09:30AM (#42306891)

    My mates and I are lobbying to have the neighborhood Pizza Hut declared a national landmark, so we can always eat there for free.

  • by mrvan (973822) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @09:38AM (#42306917)

    'open APIs' published by a single vendor can't be trusted by outside developers

    No shit, sherlock!

    You mean that companies that offer free (or non-free) stuff can and will stop doing so when their own interest points in another direction?

    I think google et al are great for writing software that allows other people to interoperate in an easy way ... but that does not put a burden on them to continue supporting it after it is no longer in their best interest. We could define "open API" to mean that the server side software is implementable by a third party (like IMAP and even SMB are), but probably their APIs are so useful because they plug into a core product that they're not willing to open source and is extremely difficult to replicate (cf. iOS maps).

    If your business depends on google doing or not doing something, then you are either taking a big risk (and entrepreneurship is about taking risks, so that's not necessarily a bad idea) or you should have a contract with google that they will do as needed for your business to succeed. If you take a big risk as a company and fail, well that's what bankruptcy protection is for ;-).

  • by Anonymous Coward

    that companies would act as charity and keep their business available for free?

  • by jcr (53032) <jcr.mac@com> on Sunday December 16, 2012 @09:42AM (#42306935) Journal

    The last thing in the world we need is a pack of bureaucrats telling anyone how to develop their products. Maybe Dave Winer thought he was being funny, but if he's serious, he should be slapped upside the head, good and hard.

    -jcr

    • by timeOday (582209)
      It's a dumb idea and nobody likes it and it would never happen, so there's little point in 500 people taking time to say the same thing about it.

      So instead, what are some better ideas to solve the same problem?

      Best would be moving the Internet back towards distributed implementations of standards that are actually open.

      Short of that, certain companies could consider offering choosing to guarantee a stable API to build on for a certain number of years, like the promotion, "CenturyLink High-Speed Intern

      • A "younger, hungrier" company can't make a meaningful guarantee that they'll still be around in 5 years. No, your first idea is the only real solution: open standards and distributed storage.

        • Ridiculously ambitious guarantees are common from small companies in lots of industries. You'll find sole trader carpenters who'll happily slap 200 year guarantees on house repairs because why not? It sounds good and they probably won't be around for it.
  • by Yfrwlf (998822)
    Aren't standards something the FCC is supposed to protect? Even better though an international organization should champion standards. I would suggest the ISO but after the whole OOXML fiasco they seem to be okay with declaring these same kinds of proprietary standards as standards.

    Real standards need to rely on only open pieces throughout, and revisions especially if frequent should be backwards compatible. If you break compatibility, you should be creating a totally new and separate standard.
    • by bmo (77928)

      >Aren't standards something the FCC is supposed to protect?

      Who? Why would they have anything to do with this?

      The FCC covers the broadcast of radio waves and allocated spectrum at last look, not APIs.

      --
      BMO

    • The FCC only has jurisdiction over RF broadcasts since a governing body is needed to manage the shared spectrum. It can't do anything more without Congressional approval.

      • The FCC has jurisdiction over pretty much all interstate communication systems. I'm not sure why you and the sibling poster thinks its limited to radio communications, that's one of its jobs, but it's been regularing wireline services (phone ,cable TV, etc) forever too.
    • by lgw (121541)

      "real standards" are whatever the biggest vendors do. A standards committee at best documents what the biggest vendors do, and at worst produces a meaningless document. Often standards are in no way open - sucks, but life often does.

      You don't think folks on the standards committees share your ideals? Most do, but then there's reality, and nothing in reality is more worthless then a standard that vendors don't choose to follow.

      • by Yfrwlf (998822)

        "real standards" are whatever the biggest vendors do. A standards committee at best documents what the biggest vendors do, and at worst produces a meaningless document. Often standards are in no way open - sucks, but life often does.

        You don't think folks on the standards committees share your ideals? Most do, but then there's reality, and nothing in reality is more worthless then a standard that vendors don't choose to follow.

        Because everyone knows there's no way a government can have the power to protect citizens and ensure corporations don't fuck them over by ensuring interoperability. It's not like they have these things called legislatures that can make laws or anything. Besides, corporations were created to give all the wealth of a nation (and world) to one or a small group of individuals, not for the common good of society!

        • by lgw (121541)

          What one earth are you blathering on about. Some of us have actually served on international standards committees and aren't just making shit up.

          Somehting simple like the length of a second or an inch? Sure, ANSI etc have a direct impact. But anything more complex? Trust me, no matter how carefully you write a standard, it will be possible for two vendors to produce devices/software such that each has a good argument that it complies with the standard, but they don't interoperate.

          Ultimately, successful s

  • Interesting problem (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ilsaloving (1534307) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @09:46AM (#42306949)

    On the one hand, yes, anyone who complains about a company that stops providing a free services is a whiner who deserves the scorn people send them.

    On the other hand, there are a lot of sites that make use of all the various APIs going around. Some of which may not even be maintained anymore. If google dropped it's maps api tomorrow, a massive number of websites would break, or parts of them would break. It's the internet equivalent of the world economy. There is functionality now that other sites *can't* replicate, because it's not worth doing so on the scale of an individual website. But I have yet to see a single one of these APIs that could be considered essential. The web worked just fine before all these APIs appeared.

    People will have to learn that these services are not actually free, and start paying for the privilege of using them, or they should learn to do without.

    • by c0d3g33k (102699)

      On the one hand, yes, anyone who complains about a company that stops providing a free service is a Winer who deserves the scorn people send them.

      There, fixed that for ya. :-)

  • So, because it's a service that others find useful, the company should be responsible for maintaining it, for free, in perpetuity?
  • National Treasure 3: Quest for the IP Hoard
  • The problem is that one individual or one company doesn't have enough bargaining power to keep an API available. Collectively, many individuals and businesses would have bargaining power. Pre-Internet, government was a practical way to collectivize action. These days, it's no longer necessary, with things like the ransom model [wikipedia.org] used to release Blender 3D a decade ago and Kickstarter now.
  • by thetoadwarrior (1268702) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @10:16AM (#42307043) Homepage
    Seriously, does he think the government will prop up Yahoo, should things get worse, to protect the Flickr api? This is the problem when you can't build your own websites or choose not to and rely on other people. They aren't charities. They will eventually charge you or remove the service. That is just how it is always going to work so long as you rely on businesses for "free" things.
  • What an awesome idea! Why don't we use the same method to prevent gas prices going up - just declare all oil companies property of the Federal Government!

    We can do this with EVERYTHING! Shit!

    Free pot for everyone!

  • by Shavano (2541114) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @10:37AM (#42307127)

    It's unreasonable to lay a burden on a private company that it must or even should continue to support any piece of privately developed and useful software.

    The obvious solution is not just open APIs but fully open source software. This ensures that whoever finds the software useful can maintain a workable version as long as they need or want to use it. However, businesses are reluctant to do this because you don't want to give away your ability to do business to competing services. This means that even if you open-source parts of your business's code, you may want that code to pass information along to proprietary software for services that are important to your business but not to the generic-use aspects of it.

    For a service like Flickr, there could be an open-source program for uploading, viewing and downloading pictures, but you might use proprietary and commercial software to manage such functions as controlling which other users and accounts can see your pictures, editing them online, managing commercial accounts, etc.

    In general, I think industry would benefit greatly if companies would release superceded versions and obsolete and no-longer-marketed software as open source under free-to-use-and-modify-as-you-wish terms. There's no need to lock up old code that you're no longer interested in selling.

  • Dave should own it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cryfreedomlove (929828) on Sunday December 16, 2012 @10:54AM (#42307203)
    There is a solution for Dave's dilemma. He should start a rival service to flickr (i.e. pay for it) and then personally guarantee to keep it and its API running for free forever. Go ahead Dave! What is stopping you?
  • What we need are open protocols that allow anyone to run a personal server of their own (at home or shared hosting or whatever - it's your choice).

    Unfortunately it seems the social networking generation is more than happy to let Facebook, Twitter and Flickr control access to their own content.

    • It is already really easy to setup your own personal server, and share your photo's and whatever else. This works fine if you want to share with a specific and limited set of people. If you want to share with the "world", which many people do, then the world needs to be able to find you, and that's where the problem lies.

      What the services like Facebook and Twitter "really" provide, is a managed way for others to find what you are sharing, and unfortunately, I don't think that will be possible to replicate e

      • But imagine if the open-source variant allowed everyone to run a server but the API also makes it possible to talk to other servers. Sort of a decentralized Facebook/Twitter/etc. If you add someone on your list, you get the URL for their account+server. Some would still use a third-party servers but others would run their own.

  • This is fucking ridiculous.

    Although it would be funny if this was done. Yahoo! could then wait for the uptake and start charging "maintenance costs" for it.

    Either way, if it ever did happen Yahoo or its future owners would end up with tax payer money to safe guard the national treasure. It'd be funded by the tax payers, it would be almost impossible to change it anyway, so would never be enhanced.

    Sounds like a lwin-lose situation. Yahoo wins, users and citizens of the United States of America lose.

  • I can understand the motivation. Flickr is yet another massive trove of user content from all over, much of it banal but with quite a few gems as well that could disappear on a corporate whim. It's not really a great state of affairs for human culture. It's only natuiral that people want to see it preserved somehow.

    Meanwhile, there is a growing ecosystem that depends on the API. We wouldn't want to swee all of that just suddenly stop working one day either.

    All of that said, Declaring the API itself a nation

    • by gnapster (1401889)

      Meanwhile, there is a growing ecosystem that depends on the API. We wouldn't want to swee all of that just suddenly stop working one day either.

      This makes me think we're dealing with the inverse situation to that of the Riemann Hypothesis [wikipedia.org] in mathematics: There is currently an ecosystem of math results that are currently tenuous because they rely on this huge unproven conjecture. One day, it will be proved or disproved, and all the dependent results will either be vindicated or swept away.

  • Now when companies can't compete and can't sue one another to prosperity they demand the government step in and exercise fascism.

    Awesome. I hope all the executives of this company die in a fire.

  • No it isn't, but like many things that have transpired on the WWW, it could have been implemented as an RFC. If it had been, it would be not only a national treasure but an international treasure like the IP protocols, TCP, and any number of other protocols with free specifications that we are free to implement, without the encumberance of patents, copyrights, or trademarks.

    If we as a country really feel that much about all this we could purchase a license to the API and have the Library of Congress host

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