12 October, 2007
They are Teh Awesome!
That is all.
29 July, 2007
(via Boing Boing)
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that
companies cannot change their contracts ("Terms of Service" in Web-Speak) without notifying their customers first.
The case that came before the Court of Appeals involved a customer who had signed up for telephone service with AOL. When the service was acquired by TalkAmerica they changed the Terms of Service. Although the changes were posted on their Web site, the customer, Joe Douglas, was not notified about this change prior to it taking place. Douglas, unaware of any changes, continued using the service for several more years (show of hands here, who among you periodically reviews the TOS for every Web service you use? Yeah, thought so.):
When Douglas became aware of the new charges [he] sued in federal court in California, charging Talk America with violating the Federal Communications Act, breach of contract as well as other California consumer protection laws.
One of the changes to the TOS was to force customers into arbitration, which TalkAmerica got a court to do in this case. When Douglas brought the case to the federal appeals court, they basically told TalkAmerica to go pound salt.
The court said that because a contract was an agreement between two parties, one of the parties couldn't change it unless the other party agreed to the change.
..."Even if Douglas had visited Talk America's Web site to pay his bills, he would have had no reason to look at the contract posted there," the court said. "Parties to a contract have no obligation to check the terms on a periodic basis to learn whether they have been changed by the other side."
This has some interesting--and serious--implications. Consider the recent censorship brouhaha at Flickr. They did indeed amend their TOS to reflect the fact that people in Germany and parts of Asia could only view Flickr in SafeSearch mode (I believe in Germany that has changed to where they can now view in SafeSearch Moderate). A lot of the tempest arose from the fact that Flickr did NOT notify users of this change (either by email or on the home page or Flickr Blog) prior to it happening.
Now, in the case of Joe Douglas v. TalkAmerica, this means that Mr. Douglas (and others in the class action lawsuit he's bringing) are not bound by the new TOS,--including the price increase--which, presumably, means they will receive some sort of compensation for overpayment. I'm not sure exactly how this would play out in Flickr's case, whether Flickr would be legally bound to refund the Pro accounts for users who could no longer use the service in the way they were accustomed to (Flickr's refund policy is, basically, NO refunds) or if they would be compelled to otherwise compensate affected users.
It'll be an interesting story to follow.
17 June, 2007
This has been a bad, bad week in the Flickrverse. Earlier in the week (Tuesday, I believe) they rolled out their multi-language localization feature. This project was a huge undertaking, not just in terms of writing code, but also bringing staff on board in seven different countries and training them. But, this exciting new rollout had a very nasty side-effect: Users in Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong and Germany suddenly could only view Flickr in "Safe Search" mode. This means that any images marked "moderate" or "restricted" are blocked from view for users who are signed up through the local Yahoo! domain (such as yahoo.de for those in Germany as well as part of Austria and Switzerland).
Understandably, there has been outrage over this "censorship". At last check, the topic in the help forum on Flickr had over 3,000 comments and topics have been added in countless other groups and more censorship protest groups have been created and there are hundreds, no, thousands, of protest images on the site. At last check Flickr staff have acknowledged that they realized that the language rollout would have some unfortunate consequences and that they actually considered holding off on including Germany in the rollout but at the last minute decided to move forward with Germany in the mix. So I've tried to piece this together as best I can, given what little information I can find (the signal to noise ratio in the forums is disappointingly skimpy), this is the best sequence of events I can construct:
1. A few months ago, Flickr added a content filtering feature known as Safe Search. This allows users to select the level of "safe" content they wish to view on Flickr. For instance, the much maligned kittens, babies and sunsets would be generally marked "safe", while a partially nude person might be marked "moderate" and porn or especially violent images would be marked "restricted".
2. The Flickr/Yahoo merge was more or less finalized when the Old Skool users (like myself) had to switch to using a Yahoo! ID to log onto Flickr.
3. June 12, 2007: The localized language roll out (and especially Germany's very tough age restriction laws) had a head-on collision with Safe Search and users in several of the newly-localized countries found that they could not select any viewing mode other than Safe.
4. Part of the fallout from the collision is that Flickr/Yahoo! had to amend their Terms of Service to reflect this unfortunate change. Other than that quiet amendment to the TOS, Flickr was largely silent about exactly how significantly altered the users' experience was going to be.
5. Protests begin.
Let me make something perfectly clear right here: IMO, Flickr made a very horrible mistake by not immediately and clearly communicating with the community that 1) the new localized rollout would mean users in four of the seven added countries would be restricted from seeing "moderate" or "restricted" content, and 2) they couldn't roll back the localization feature once it was implemented but that they were working on a fix.
A lot of people didn't like the Safe Search feature when it was implemented because of concerns that it would generally restrict users' ability to view all Flickr content. I disagree with this: I see this as a way for users to control their own experience. If a user wants to see nudity, they can choose to do so. If a user would prefer to not be confronted with random genitalia (or have their children confronted with it) or graphically violent images, then they can elect to restrict that sort of content. (It is also handy for users peeking in on Flickr at work who don't want to have a bunch of NSFW images on screen just as the boss walks by.) The best part of the Safe Search implementation was that Flickr staff were no longer compelled to mark someone's account NIPSA for having "objectionable" content (which ranged anywhere from porn to non-photographic images). So, from the standpoint that it gives the individual user the control--and responsiblity--over what content they see and how they label their own content, I think Safe Search is a Good Thing.
Localizing Flickr in several European and Asian countries is also, I believe, a Good Thing. Probably the best reason for having staff in these seven additional countries is that users can expect a faster response time to questions and problems by going to their local staff and not having to wait several hours until Flickr staff return to the office. It also means that users can use Flickr in their native language and not be forced to use the site in English.
Sadly, the combination of these two independently positive features--with a sprinkling of regional laws added to the mix--was a recipe for disaster (how's THAT for mixing metaphors at 1:40 a.m.???) As I said, my best guess is that by the time Flickr (and Yahoo!) staff realized this it was probably too late to do a thorough re-coding to work around the problem. Based on my casual acquaintence with several members of the Flickr staff, I have little doubt that the decision to move forward with Germany in the rollout was not made lightly. It may be that they thought a quick tweaking of the TOS would be sufficient to get them by while they took a look at the code and figured a way to play the hand they dealt themselves.
To ask me if I'm in favor of censorship would be like asking me if I'm in favor of child abuse. Of COURSE I abhor it! Of COURSE I'm upset that thousands of paid Pro users--who are adults--can no longer control what content they see on Flickr and of COURSE I'm frustrated that Flickr staff didn't communicate this drastic policy change sooner.
However, what has happened on Flickr over the last four or five days sickens me. The forums have been flooded with protest threads, I've lost count of how many images have been posted of guys wanking with "CENSORED" printed across them. The photo streams of Flickr staff were inundated with protest images and personal attacks and users are uploading more protest images and tagging them with the names of Flickr staff. The help forum thread about the censorship immediately degenerated into a verbal mosh pit. There are some people who are trying to have a reasoned discussion about the problem, why it's happening, etc., only to be shouted down by others who insist that there is no such law in Germany that restricts viewing nudity and even so it's never been enforced--that is, if there, uh, IS such a law. WHICH THERE ISN'T (they insist). As if all of the screaming and thinly-disguised anti-Americanism wasn't sickening enough, this sudden inability to view pictures of a woman's bare tits HAS BEEN COMPARED TO THE HOLOCAUST and to TORTURE! See, my government actually engages in torturing people, so I am particularly sensitive to that comparison and as to the Holocaust comparison (someone actually quoted the "First they came for the Jews" poem!)...that, to me, is the low point of self-absorption.
As I come to the end of this very long post, I realize I haven't included any links, for which I hope you'll forgive me because I'm really too fried to sift through > 3,000 forum posts and countless thousands of censorship protest images at 2:15 a.m.
I sincerely hope that Stewart Butterfield and the Flickr (and Yahoo!) group can come to a globally-satisfactory resolution on this very quickly. I think one of the huge lessons that we all should take from this awful experience is that, in a global community such as Flickr, there really is no middle-of-the-road, no happy medium. How can there be, when one part of the globe takes no issue with photos of full-frontal nudity, while another part of the world finds a woman's bare head obscene? How do you write code for a midline that shifts, not just globally, but even here in the United States? If the Flickr team can figure out a way to effectively do that then they will OWN Web 2.0!
But, for now, I'm backing away from Flickr a bit. I've realized over the last 36 (actually, closer to 46 now) hours that I can't seem log on to the site without a feeling of tremendous anxiety, anger, frustration, despair, etc. As much as I love Flickr, at the end of the day, IT'S JUST A WEB SITE! I fear I'm losing perspective of that and it's time to take a step back and then return to Flickr when I can sign in without feeling my throat closing up.
(cross-posted at VisualCues)
24 April, 2007
31 January, 2007
I guess I'm one of the Flickr "Old Skool": Got my account back toward the end of 2004 (I think) and have gotten away with putting off merging my Yahoo! ID with my Flickr account. Yesterday I got the "dreaded FlickrMail" saying that, as of March 15, I'll have to merge my Flickr and Yahoo! IDs and use the Yahoo! ID to sign in or I won't be able to access my account on Flickr. This, along with the announcements on limits on the number of contacts (3,000) and the number of tags (75) has created a massive mosh pit in Flickr Central and the Flickr Help forums.
I'm not going to deal with the issue of contacts and tags here, as I cannot imagine ever being able to keep up with 3,000 contacts or slapping dozens of tags on each photo and still maintain my sanity. As to the "forced" merger, however, the reactions seem to range from people who resist ANY change, to people who think anyone who complains about the merger is a whiner and should shut the hell up and leave Flickr, to people who have held their nose and merged their accounts and so far, so good to, well, people like me who are really in two minds about the whole thing.
I certainly have my philosophical issues with Yahoo! and how they use my personal information. But I've had my Yahoo! account for YEARS, so that's kind of trying to slam the barn door shut after the horse is running loose. I do have two concerns, however, that I hope are fully resolved by the time March 15 rolls around and I HAVE to merge:
1) Will Yahoo! respect my cc license? Trying to parse the leagalese in Yahoo!'s TOS left me believing that, yes, if my image is licensed All Rights Reserved, they won't use my photo(s) for any commercial purpose without my expressed consent. However, today some users discovered that wii.yahoo.com was using ALL images tagged wii, even those marked All Rights Reserved. Granted, Yahoo! admitted making an error and reconfigured so only properly-licensed images were displayed, but I wonder if that would have happened had there not been such an angry reaction from the Flickr community (i.e., people tagging ALL of their photos "wii", people uploading images tagged "wii" that called Yahoo! thieves, etc.)
OK, so my images aren't all THAT great and the possibility of Yahoo! plucking any of them to sell their product is probably one of the least of my worries, but it is a concern that needs to be resolved. I'm just not wholly convinced that the snagging of ALL images with a given tag was a simple accident or oversight.
2) Yahoo! is notorious for deactivating a user's account for Gods knows what reason. Maybe inactivity, maybe the user forgot the password (or had the CAPS LOCK on and didn't notice) or some violation of Yahoo!'s TOS, whatever. The problem is, when a Yahoo! account gets deactivated, my understanding is that the merged Flickr account also gets deleted. If I have PAID for a year's worth of Flickr service (which I *just* did before the merger kerfuffle), deleting my--hang on a sec, let me go look--1,300+ photos is a big-time NO-NO, especially given Flickr's No Refunds policy. Yeah, I have all of my images on any combination of hard drives and CDs, but if for some reason I have problems signing into my Yahoo!/Flickr account and Yahoo! decides to just deactivate me, I'm gonna be hella pissed if my account and all those photos gets deleted.
As of about 9:45 tonight, I haven't seen a definitively reassuring answer that if the Yahoo! sign in goes floopy that my Flickr account won't be zapped before the sign in issue gets resolved (which, given Yahoo!'s notoriously pokey and un-helpful customer support, could take quite a while).
And that's really pretty much it for my concerns about merging. I just want to know that my photos are being protected as much as possible (given they're on the internets and are generally fair game for anyone who can right-click on an image...etc., etc.)
editing to add something very important: I do want to commend Flickr staff. They've taken a hell of a lot of abuse in the forums and have done their best to answer users' concerns as timely and accurately as they can. I know times like this it's hard to keep a sense of humour (especially when you're fighting to keep the sense of perspective amid all the hyperbole being flung about). I hope that the worst of it is over soon.
And, hey, isn't it about time for the Flickr Turns THREE party???
(cross-posted on VisualCues)
14 January, 2007
Because life just doesn't have enough challenges, I signed up for the non-human version of the 365 Days* project on flickr. Which means at least ONE photo of the furkids EVERY DAY FOR A WHOLE YEAR! Because, you know, I just don't post enough photos of Simon and Billie on my flickr photostream.
For a cat who used to love hamming it up for the camera, he's not too happy about the prospect of my daily attempt at shooting a nice, lovely portrait of him. It's especially surprising since he gets so many mash notes from his flickr fans who want to shower him in smooches and treats (these are people who have never been jolted awake by having him drool on their eyelids).
Both of the furkids seem resigned to participating in this project because I have just enough of a photographic arsenal that, even if they manage to "accidentally" send one camera flying into a nearby wall, I've got several more on stand-by. As for the people who visit my flickr photostream...well, they either love me (and the cats), or they gave up on me a lonnnnng time ago.
So...here's to365 days of Simon and Billie!
(*because I'm generally ALWAYS late to the table for these things, my 365 days started on 9 January, 2007)