Changes coming to Flickr following acquisition by SmugMug – here’s how it affects LEGO builders [News and Editorial]

Change is inevitable within any community, and the online LEGO fan community has certainly weathered its share of major disruptions over the past 20 years.

Ever since the future of LEGO photo sharing website Brickshelf.com became unclear in July 2007, the majority of the LEGO building community has made its home on Flickr. But with Yahoo! failing to keep up with the times, the venerable web company has begun shedding its online properties, leading to the acquisition of Flickr by SmugMug earlier this year. Unlike the hysteria back in 2007, the reaction to the SmugMug acquisition among LEGO builders has been fairly muted, and generally positive given the sense that Yahoo! had effectively abandoned Flickr several years ago. This changed recently when SmugMug announced changes it would be making to Flickr’s Pro and free accounts at the beginning of 2019.

Specifically, free accounts that have had unlimited storage will now be limited to a thousand photos. Free account holders who don’t upgrade and have more than 1,000 photos will have their photos above 1,000 deleted. Yahoo! had made free Flickr accounts very attractive, with not a lot in the way of real, tangible difference between the Pro and free account levels other than access to stats about your photos (Flickr even phased out the Pro level for a couple years). Because so many LEGO builders have relied on Flickr’s free account, as much as 15 years of investment by the LEGO community on Flickr may now be at risk of disappearing forever. To put some numbers on this, there are 512,867 photos in the LEGO photo group, searching for “LEGO” yields 1,371,563 results, and there are dozens and dozens of LEGO-focused groups on Flickr, including several LEGO clubs who use Flickr exclusively instead of an email list or online forum.

However, there isn’t any reason to panic quite yet. Most importantly, we encourage builders not to delete their Flickr accounts in a momentary fit of anti-corporate pique!

The Brothers Brick has been featuring images sourced from Flickr since our earliest days on Blogspot back in 2005. Of the 15,000 articles we’ve published over the years, we’re estimating that as many as 95% of our images are from Flickr. (This is already beginning to change as we look more broadly to find a greater diversity of LEGO builders and their models. For example, we use our new Instagram account to find and highlight great builders who aren’t sharing their fantastic creations elsewhere.) We’re pretty heavily invested in Flickr ourselves, so we have strong incentive to find a solution that won’t break all of the images on our articles from the past 13 years.

I never expected when I began “Dunechaser’s Blocklog” back in 2005 that my “silly little LEGO blog” would become one of the top LEGO websites in the world. But as we’ve grown (and simply outlasted many other LEGO websites), The Brothers Brick has become an archive of some of the greatest LEGO creations built over this past decade. We don’t want to lose the value of this archive as a result of thousands of photos disappearing on January 1st, 2019. So, we’re looking into solutions that will re-host every Flickr image we’ve featured on our own server infrastructure — retaining all links, ownership, and attribution to the original builders and photographers, of course. The change will largely be invisible to website visitors, but older LEGO creations in particular that are currently at risk of deletion above the new free account limit will be safe. Similarly, photos featured on TBB by LEGO community members who are either no longer active or have passed away will also remain secure.

Hosting thousands of high-resolution photos won’t be free for TBB. I’ve always operated TBB essentially as a not-for-profit (many readers will be surprised to learn that TBB does not have a paid staff, myself included). I’ve also always worked to manage large risks, retaining enough of a “rainy day fund” to absorb a change in expenses when the need arises. Thanks to several new Premier Sponsors and a change in advertising platform over this past year (something I’ll acknowledge we’re still working the kinks out of), we’re in a position to consider re-hosting the images featured in 15,000 articles from 13 years of TBB and LEGO community history. We don’t know yet what the change in server infrastructure costs will look like, but should we be unable to fully absorb the cost with existing funds, there are still a variety of funding methods we can consider to ensure we’re managing this risk to our shared LEGO history.

In the meantime, what can you do? Complaining about this or panicking won’t help — this is a business decision that Flickr’s new owners have made in order to make the website sustainable for the future, and screaming at them to let you keep your free account won’t change anything. If you don’t intend to upgrade to Pro or continue with your existing $49.99 Pro account, you can download your photos. And for the sake of the broader LEGO building community, we ask you again not to preemptively delete your Flickr account. By letting your Flickr account stand through the end of the year, you’ll allow LEGO archivists an opportunity to re-host your images elsewhere, as we’re planning on doing for LEGO models featured here on TBB.

You can also share your insights on other places on the web with thriving communities of LEGO builders. The best kinds of online LEGO communities are ones that don’t require a sign-up to see conversations and LEGO creations, so this rules out closed websites like Facebook groups and Discord servers (even if both are free, you can’t browse them without signing up, and re-sharing photos hosted there is annoying at best). If you’re starting to see new communities emerging, we want to know so we can continue featuring the amazing creations shared there.


What do you think about these changes? Will it change how you interact with your fellow builders or browse others’ creations? What impact do you think this will have on the AFOL community? Sound off in the comments!

26 comments on “Changes coming to Flickr following acquisition by SmugMug – here’s how it affects LEGO builders [News and Editorial]

  1. David Bacon

    Will you be researching a way to backup all the related photos from each picture? Often you will highlight one photo and have a Flickr link to see the rest of the photos. It would be great if the link would still work and take you to a site where those photos can still be viewed. Thank you for being proactive and supporting the greater Lego building community.

  2. Reggie

    Have you thought about a Patreon account that would allow readers to give money to help with a hosting solution?

  3. Roloff

    I also suggest Flickr users who want to backup (and BB) to backup metadata generated on flickr such as the title, info, tags and perhaps geotag for some pictures. I believe there are backup solutions that can paste (some of this) this data into the EXIF or file header. I still have to look into this myself, but for my off-LEGO-topic Flickr Pro stream, the info I’ve put under photos and the replies often are as valuable as the images themselves.

  4. LegoModularFan

    Ok, I’m going to be honest.

    According to what I see, the fan community is anyway slowly going towards Instagram and I think this will only accelerate and encourage more people to go there. Instagram has some advantages like meeting with people outside the Lego community, the fact Instagram is more popular (in general), it’s easier to become popular so it encourages builders etc. but it also has some disadvantages like lower resolution, the fact the Lego community is spread out over there, the better quality feedback one gets on Flickr, the fact people posting photos of official sets/useless Lego stuff can get way more likes than all the talented AFOLs/TFOLs who post their amazing stuff (so the likes aren’t really honest on Instagram in my opinion) and most importantly the fact Flickr hosts so many MOCs as mentioned above.

    On the other hand, perhaps it needed to change after all these years. I only hope the Lego community won’t go somewhere where it would be almost impossible to find MOCs so to be inspired and to interact.

    By the way, I’m very glad that the Brothers Brick, my favorite blog, is finding a solution to not lose all the incredible MOCs they have been highlighting for many years!

  5. LegoHobbitFan

    I plan to stay on flickr. If too many builders leave it might not be worth it though, so I hope most of them stay. I just joined flickr a month ago, and so far it has been so inspiring, and I would really hate for that to all go away.

  6. LegoHobbitFan

    I plan to stay on flickr. If to many builders leave though it might not be worth it, so I hope they all stay. I only joined a month ago and it has already been such a huge inspiration, and I would hate for that to all go away.

  7. Fraser Ratzlaff

    If people don’t want to upgrade to a pro account, would it be helpful to the Lego community for them to go through their photos on Flickr and pair their photos down to just the best ones to get it under the 1000 number?

  8. Paul Mison

    I approve of the idea of pre-emptively mirroring photos, but I think it may be worth the extra effort to continue to link to Flickr unless and until the original there is removed, and only then switch to using your own mirror for that picture.

    That should be cheaper (more photos will only be stored, not served) and also means the original context of the photo (including things that are very hard to preserve locally, such as whether or not an image is part of a set or group) is still available.

  9. mkjosha

    As a Flickr user since 2012 I am very sad to see them fall into the money-grabbing corporate trap. I understand limiting what they give for free. But to put it in perspective I use 1.2% of my free TB right now. But with 4,000 photos I now have to get rid of 75% or let Flickr get rid of them for me.

    This is the 2nd time I’ve heard of Instagram as a good alternative. So I’ll probably move there. But with most of my photos being linked to Eurobricks the idea of migrating gives me a headache.

  10. Tammo S.

    I’m lucky enough to be well below the 1k photos cap so I will just continue to carefully select which images I upload. A few builders I’m following have carried this very far, only uploading one image per creation and using an alt account for everything else. In general I hope the limit will improve the mean quality as some people post dozens of very similar photos.

  11. Reggie

    Having to migrate at all, is what prompted the suggestion for a home that is set up specifically for this situation.

    It could be brothers-moc.com or even just moc.brothers-brick.com, if you want to keep it as just a sub-domain, which would be slightly cheaper, allowing the finances to go into the bandwidth and space.

  12. David

    Have you considered the legal implications of downloading the photos to your own servers, or are all of them Creative Commons licensed?

  13. stratiformus

    Do we know what happens to ‘groups’.
    I follow a specific LEGO group – does it get deleted, or just selected photos within it (ie, those that disappear where the poster has >1000 and is not pro).
    A lot of this group will be erased I imagine.

  14. Christopher Hoffmann

    I would pay $49.99 per MONTH before moving to Instagram. That place offers empty gratification from likes in place of genuine feedback and criticism. Absolute cancer to creative growth.

    People complained before about Yahoo not keeping up the site, and now that new management is asking for money to improve things they’re even more upset? $49.99 is what, four bucks a month? That’s not much and 1000 photos is a lot of server space. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to pay beyond that, and I think the few of us who are at that point are probably the ones with 10+ photos of the same MOC and a billion convention photos no one ever looks at.

  15. slfroden

    I have to mirror David’s concern regarding the legal implications of making a copy of all images featured in your articles. You might be covered under “Fair Use”, however Copyright Law is tricky at the best of times and I wouldn’t want to see the Brothers-Brick getting into any legal issues.

  16. Russell Chapman

    Thanks Andrew for a great summary of the Flcikr changes and how it affects our favourite LEGO blog. I have to say I think Flickr’s proposed model is fair – it’s not like you can’t have multiple free accounts. If B-B has includes the ability to “report” photos for perceived copyright breaches, and a mechanism to take them down when disputed (who would anyway?), then I think this is a spectacular solution.

  17. Luther

    Such a thoughtful and thorough heads up of an article! Thank you! And I personally would absolutely love to support and donate to TBB if y’all end up raising funds to back up images! I’ve loved coming here since I was a kid and subsequently Flickr for Lego content. Although not a Flickr user myself, I think that was a great suggestion for Flickr users to download all their photos while there’s still time. Sorry for the bad news guys, I’m sure there’s gonna be something great cropping up in the future for image sharing in the Lego community!

  18. Marco Tagliaferri

    First of all, thanks for all the time you spend on running TBB. I really hope you succeed in preserving all the pictures and information related to your articles.

    I’m with Christopher Hoffmann, Instagram, Facebook … are completely inadequate for me. As I have very few pictures on Flickr I’ll just stay there. During the last years I thought on upgrading to a Pro account several times, and 4 bucks a month should be affordable compared to what most of us spend on bricks per month :-)

  19. Chris B

    Great breakdown and info, and mad props to you Andrew and the rest of the TBB, this website is a crucial part of the Lego online community.

    While I’m much more of an observer of the online community these days and haven’t contributed anything in terms of MOC’s recently, I understand a lot of the sentiments expressed but Christopher Hoffmann made some good points.

  20. Exxos

    I left flickr years ago. Between my pictures being constantly deleted, the often toxic communities, the limitations on files, pictures not loading, coding errors, and so on, Yahoo killed it as a viable option for me long before SmugMug ever touched it.

    Is this a business decision to make it more viable? Not at all. It is just a decision intended to make it seem like they know what they are doing in a benevolent way while they are actually purposely killing it slowly. SmugMug can only benefit from Flickr being dead, this direction is to sap off flickr and replace it with the SmugMug brand in people’s minds in the hopes that the money transitions to SmugMug before flickr is shot dead behind the shed.

  21. Aaron

    I’ve been a pro user for years now (before the large free accounts) and plan to stay. It’s a part of my building experience and is far better value than instagram. Ie I can search properly on Flickr. I find it funny many people will happy spend 1000s on plastic but not less than US$1 a week. On photos. Flickr is more than lego for me it covers my many interest groups.

  22. matt rowntRee

    One dollar a week for the high quality images alone is well worth the cost, Flickr should have been a paid service from the beginning. Change is inevitable and welcome IF there are tangible improvements and not simply a money grab. Unfortunately, my personal dealings with Smugmug have left me a bit apprehensive about their apparent benevolence regarding their intentions. It seems to me that grandfathering existing accounts without deletion is a more responsible resolution that Smugmug should consider since it had been a free service before. Any future photos should then fall under the upgrade requirement.

    I have three main concerns. First, of course, is the loss of photos, especially those of inactive builders like Nnenn who are no longer with us and will not likely be switching to the Pro upgrade. Second is the further scattering of this community over multiple platforms, these migrations every few years is getting old (along with me.) And third is the loss of future WIPs and detail shots in order to keep lower numbers of photos which will cripple any input and critique NECESSARY to improve and engage the quality of the builds and allow the builders themselves to expand and grow this artform to its legitimate future. As a tangent of the final concern, I am also curious as to what the fate of groups will be. As an archive themselves, will a limit be set on the photos there? Will discussions have limits?

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