The Culling of the Flickrsphere or How SmugMug Changed a MOCer’s Refuge.

It must be a full moon because the Manifesto has new content from an old friend of the blog.  You may remember Werewolff Studios from his frequent offerings in the comment section here, or his memorable Blog or Die! essay from 2017.  Our fanged Australian correspondent has some thoughts on recent developments in our shared hobby, so without further ado, take it away Mr. Wolff!

Greetings all! Resident lycanthrope here, and I hope you’re all doing well. I won’t waste much time here, because I want to get into the meat of this post and I’ve spent too long procrastinating as per usual.

Procrastination-300x232So, for those living under a rather large pile of rocks, you’ve probably all heard of the recent shake-up over on Flickr, namely the culling of the one free terabyte of space originally offered to all free users. Following on from this, they proceeded to limit available photos on free accounts to 1000, which seems an awful lot larger than it actually is.

I’ve been wanting to write something about this for awhile, but held off for a number of reasons. One was too see how the community at large would respond, another was to wait until I could collect my thoughts fully.

Mostly though, I reckon I was waiting for someone much betterer at article writing than me to smash out a response. Ah well. I guess you’re stuck with my crock of half-baked nonsense.

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Now, first things first, I completely get the business side of this move. Storing the countless millions of photos that fill the Flickr-sphere can’t be cheap, and a push for pro accounts seems like a relatively logical step. Plus, it’s not like everyone’s being left out to dry. Pro accounts were 30% off during the month after the announcement and the actual removal of user’s data will only start to take effect on February 5 next year.

Wait…removal?

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Yep, now we come to the main part of this whole mess. Starting in February, free user’s with over a 1000 photos will have all their images deleted, from oldest to newest, until the number reaches 1000. Post any more, and away goes another photo, never to return.

Understandably, this has left quite a few users upset (including several here, I’m sure). I too have been left feeling rather dejected (despite my current photo level sitting at 108), and what’s left me feeling flatter than roadkill is the realisation that the safe haven for the Lego community that Flickr has become has started to crumble.

For me, it started with MOCpages, and through that website I began to find my little place in the online community. I met people, made friends and had discussions with others whose interests aligned with my own. For a pretty introverted kid, it was brilliant.

But over time, I began to notice the ‘Pages decline. Though I’d always said I’d stick with it until the end, I began to realise that more and more people were leaving the site. They were fleeing the sinking ship and hopping on board the HMS Flickrtastic. Eventually I bit the bullet and made a Flickr account, intent to have it as a back-up.

Then came Decisive Action 3, and everything changed.

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All of a sudden, the dying website of MOCpages had it’s life support kicked into gear. The activity bar started to crackle back to life, and every attack window brought a wealth of discussion and conversation that could go on for ages. And then there were the private groups, both on and off of the Pages, racking up the ideas and plans for global domination.

Heck, the private group for the Host of Immeasurable Destruction, Dooming Enemies Nationally (*wink wink*) racked up over 3547 comments, with over 29 conversation threads by the end, and it wasn’t even the main group! And it all happened over four months.

The proof was in the numbers. Builders were coming back, and there was fresh blood at every turn. MOCer’s who’d only heard of MOCpages in passing suddenly had accounts and were posting regularly. The main page actually had rotating posts, to the point where you had to plan exactly when was the optimal time to upload, to ensure that your nation got the most MILPO possible. It was intense and it was brilliant.

Note that word ‘was’.

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Yes, dear readers. I’m sure those that were playing, or even those spectating , remember those days of pure frustration. Despite giving the absolute best possible staging ground, the old site refused to meet the demands it’s occupants put forth. For some unexplained reason, the servers decided to change. Then the classic ‘Bonk Smash Thud’ message became as common as missed attack windows.

Carefully laid tactics and time-based attacks were abruptly ruined by downtimes, builds disappeared off the homepage after being there for mere minutes, trolls dragging them down into the abyss. Were we hacked? I’m pretty sure we were hacked at some point.

And then, near the end, our valiant Overlord Goldman contacted Mr. Sean Kenny directly, using the website that Sean was the most active on; Twitter. After receiving nothing back, our Overlord tried again, a little more forcefully, trying to get something, anything, out of the captain of the leaky site.

Welp, he certainly got something.

He got blocked.

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No response, no acknowledgement, no answers; just blocked. That was it. Keith and the DAS decided to end DA3 shortly after. It just wasn’t sustainable and nobody was enjoying the experience to the level that they should’ve been. Was it disappointing? Of course it was. I personally had a whole plan laid out to backstab my team, than backstab the backstabbers. I had builds in the pipeline, ready to go for the sudden MILPO boost I needed.

However, the real question was this; was it justified? Yes, it was. For me, this was the last straw. The Pages were crumbling too fast. The story-telling group I was a part of had dropped in it’s activity as well, and there just wasn’t any real reason to stay. I had to try going somewhere else, refocus my time on a website that mattered. So, with that I packed my bags and leapt onto the still floating life raft that Flickr had extended.

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Flickr was my refuge. Though I was (and still am) admittedly more involved with the art community there, I had friends to talk with again. I had activity, I had more followers, I had room to grow. That shift in thinking really helped me at the time, despite only being a few months ago.

And then SmugMug came along and decided to switch everything up.

That room to grow was suddenly stifled. I had had plans to migrate my 43 episodes strong Insurgency story over to Flickr, but now I couldn’t. Doing so would bump me up over the 1000 photo limit, and any future episodes would demolish past ones. If I truly wanted to migrate everything over, the Pro account was the only option. It was a strongarm grip to pay up or stay quiet.

True, it wasn’t as bad as the MP crash. I still had people to talk to, and there was, and is, little wrong with Flickr’s software when compared to the Pages. But still, I could feel the first gentle rocks against the ship, not dissimilar to those I’d felt before.

How long will SmugMug be satisfied with this push for Pro Users? Will they decide in a few months to drop the photo limit to 800, or 500, or 50? Will they ban photo-posting from free accounts? Will they stay quiet as the community cries out for changes? I’m not sure, and that’s a scary thing.

I think, in the end, it seems like an uncertain time for those in this Online Lego Community. There doesn’t seem to be an entirely reliable place to turn to, a website that meets the needs of this little internet niche. Instagram is an option, but for a more story-focused builder like myself, it’s not ideal. Our good friend LukeClarenceVan had started building a website that shows an awful lot of promise (seriously, go check out the MOCshare discussion page here), but he’s understandably busy, and it’ll be awhile before it’s fully up and running.

The MP refuge is starting to shift, the Flickrsphere is adapting. The future of this community sits on somewhat loose ground, without a space to set its foundation. Who rightly knows how it’ll all turn out?

Thanks for reading all.

Wolff.