Flickr Fans to Yahoo: Flick Off!

A splinter faction of Flickr photo-sharing community members is threatening a symbolic “mass suicide” to protest closer integration with the website’s new owner, Yahoo.

The portal giant bought Flickr’s developer, Ludicorp, for an undisclosed sum in March and took ownership of the site when it moved from Vancouver, Canada, to Yahoo’s Sunnyvale, California, campus this summer.

Now, angered by a new requirement to tie their member profiles with Yahoo accounts, some Flickrites say they plan to kill off their identities before they can be moved into the new family next year.

“If Flickr really forces me to join Yahoo in 2006 in order to still use my account, I will quit 24 hours before the deadline,” wrote Thomas Müller, a Hamburg, Germany-based artist who shows more than 1,400 photos at the site. On Wednesday, Müller created a protest group, Flick Off, that has attracted almost 400 members.

At stake is a new user-profile stipulation that reads: “We will be migrating all independent Flickr accounts to Yahoo’s network in 2006. At that time, if you have not done so already, you will be asked to create a Yahoo ID (or link your account to your Yahoo ID if you already have one) in order to continue using your account.”

Members’ photos will be deleted if they later drop their account with the portal and search engine, disappointing some.

“This comes after many of us have invested so much time and effort; it makes it a chore to do anything except bend over, grab our ankles and smile,” said Dana Smith, a San Francisco-based Flick Off supporter whose photographs rank among Flickr’s most interesting material.

“If Flickr was honestly concerned about anything besides bank account size, then there would be zero point or purpose to force us into an account we did not originally agree to,” Smith said.

Launched in 2002, Flickr has grown along with digital camera sales and has helped popularize tagging. Named “Breakout of the Year” at the 2005 Webby Awards, the community now numbers 37 million photos and 1.2 million members, many of whom are considered to be among the web’s most creative image makers.

The concern comes as the site, celebrated for its close-knit and cozy air, joins the large Yahoo network. The portal ruffled feathers back in 1999 when it bought up web homestead community GeoCities and claimed the copyright on all members’ pages.

Stewart Butterfield, who co-founded Flickr with wife Caterina Fake, moved to soothe fears. He said users and the new owners were “all on the same side,” just that the team “could have done a much better job in communicating what all this meant.”

“(Members’) Flickr identity can be as distinct as they want it to be in terms of how other users see them — it just means that they sign on using different credentials,” Butterfield told Wired News. “The integration will make it a lot easier to most new users, since so many people already have Yahoo IDs, and there will be lots of benefits for everyone. It doesn’t make sense to run both systems in parallel forever.”

Butterfield, who posts with users in Flickr forums, explained that site members would not have to represent themselves using their Yahoo screen names, which would just be for signing on.

Small in context, the opposition to the change illustrates the attachment many feel toward their online identities, according to professor Sherry Turkle, director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Initiative on Technology and Self and author of Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet.

“So many of us don’t have a gathering place that feels comfortable and communal,” she said. “For those who found that on, its transformation into a ‘service’ on Yahoo is a loss; they are losing something important to them.

“It is a harbinger of the greater sensitivity we need to show in the future as we take more seriously the psychological importance of our digital lives.”