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Flickr imposes 1,000-photo limit, drops 1TB storage for free accounts

SmugMug ends Yahoo's old policy of a terabyte of free storage and its advertising-focused business.

Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

SmugMug, trying to strengthen its Flickr site as a community for photo enthusiasts, will limit free members to 1,000 photos and scrap the old policy of a terabyte of storage in an attempt to move toward subscriptions.

The move, accompanied by a 30 percent discount on the $50 annual Flickr pro membership through Nov. 30, is the first big business shift at the photo-sharing site since SmugMug's acquisition of Flickr from Verizon's Yahoo earlier this year. And while it'll mean some members have to decide whether to spend some money or save their photos, it also means Flickr's interests are directly aligned with those of its members, not those of advertisers, Flickr vice president of product Andrew Stadlen said in a blog post Thursday.

"We want to build features and experiences that delight you, not our advertisers; ensuring that our members are also our customers makes this possible," Stadlen said.

In practice, relatively few people will be disrupted by the change, he added: "The overwhelming majority of pros have more than 1,000 photos on Flickr, and the vast majority of free members have fewer than 1,000. We believe we've landed on a fair and generous place to draw the line."

The move may cause some displeasure and make it harder for Flickr to sustain its 100-million-member level. But it reflects a broader shift in the tech world away from advertising-supported businesses. Tech giants Google and Facebook target ads by tracking your online behavior, but the Cambridge Analytica scandal involving millions of Facebook users showed just how intrusive that can be.

Flickr executives didn't like the effect the 1-terabyte free option had on the photo-sharing site. It shifted Flickr away from community interaction and signaled "that storage -- and even Flickr itself -- isn't worth paying for," Stadlen said. "Because storing tens of billions of Flickr members' photos is staggeringly expensive, we need our most-active members to help us continue investing in Flickr's stability, growth and innovation."

Jan. 8 deadline

If you're a free member, Flickr will work the same through Jan. 8, at which point you won't be able to upload any new photos or videos if you already are past the 1,000 limit. You'll have until Feb. 5 to upgrade to a pro subscription or download your Flickr photos. After that, Flickr will start deleting older photos and videos, leaving the 1,000 most recently uploaded shots.

SmugMug, whose founding in 2002 predates Flickr's in 2004, is a lower-profile site but one that bootstrapped its growth without an advertising business. The new management has brought some improvements to Flickr in recent months, made possible in part by moving to the Amazon Web Services computing infrastructure, Chief Executive Don MacAskill said Thursday.

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One improvement is cutting the amount of comment spam on Flickr, he said. Another is supporting 26-megapixel photos and richer color options for sharper, more accurate display on modern, high-resolution monitors. And uploading and viewing photos now is faster.

However, another top priority, the move off Yahoo's login system, won't be done until January, he said. Testing should begin in December. The new authentication, boosted by technology help from Amazon, will offer dual-factor authentication options including hardware token support.

"We know many of our members have had challenges with the Yahoo login requirement," Flickr product team member Nihir Patel said in a blog post. "Even Flickr's CEO, Don MacAskill, has been locked out of his Flickr account due to confusion over login credentials."

Features to woo Flickr pro subscribers

Pro members can upload unlimited photos and videos, and neither they nor people who see their shots will see ads, Flickr said.

And to help attract more pro subscribers, Flickr is revamping its Explore feature to spotlight interesting shots. Pro members will get preferential treatment in selection. 

Pros also will be the only ones who can show their work at the highest resolution, 5,120x5,120 pixels, starting in early 2019. The Flickr app will show statistics, too, starting this month, so pros can check how many times their shots have been viewed and other data without having to go to the Flickr website.

Pros also will get a 50 percent discount on a SmugMug photo portfolio site and cheaper options for Adobe software and Peak Design camera gear. And the 3-minute video length limit will increase to 10 minutes in an early January upgrade, Flickr said.

"At SmugMug, we also charged a fair price when others were pretending 'free' was actually free. We work for you, not investors or advertisers. We don't mine you or your photos for data to resell or advertise to you," MacAskill said. "The days of lurching from strategy to strategy at Flickr, chasing hot social media trends, are over. Photography and photographers are our strategy."

First published Nov. 1, 8:16 a.m. PT.
Update, 10:17 a.m.:
Adds further detail about the Flickr changes and pro promotion.

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