Flickr and Yahoo! IDs, redux

  Since we first announced the integration of Flickr accounts and Yahoo! IDs last week, there have been many questions: are people who sell v1agra going to come to my home and eat my babies? Will I have to have petition a court to have my name legally changed to chicagoPizzaLuvr83719371285476590123? That kind of thing. And, well, other more prosaic concerns.

The Flickr team has been doing its best to answer these questions wherever they appear — in the forums, in groups, by adding to the FAQs, by email in the help system, and so on — however, it’s clear that not everyone gets the whole story, and with answers all over the place it’s hard to piece it all together.

So I am going to try to answer the most common questions here all in one place, but before we even get into it: We screwed up in not having better answers and a better explanation up before the changes went live — we’d been so heads-down in working out the code that we didn’t anticipate all the questions. And unanswered questions can be freaky — if you don’t know why it is happening or how it works, it is easy to let your imagination run wild and come up with a pretty bad scenario. But it’s not bad. Let’s go through it:

Q: What if my Flickr screen name is not available on Yahoo!? What if I already have two accounts with different names? Other people already know my Flickr web address (flickr.com/photos/youralias) – why does it have to change?!?

A: Don’t worry, it’s cool. Your Flickr screen name does not and will not need to be changed. Sorry to be so large and green about it, but this part needs to be clear: you can keep your existing screenname. The Yahoo! ID is just what you need to sign in to the site (a unique idenitifier so we know you are, and a password so you can prove it) – it’s ok if that ID is not the same as your Flickr screen name. Your Flickr and main Yahoo! profiles can be different, no problem. Your Flickr web address will remain the same and no links will break (we hate broken links almost as much as we hate spam). It’s not going to change.

Here’s the deal: your Yahoo! ID is just what you use to sign in to Flickr, it is not how you need to present yourself to the world. My bank requires me to sign in with my social security number and the electric company uses my account number and the New York Times website wants an email address and on this blogging software uses a username … it’s all just how the software knows who you are. The old Flickr sign in system used an email address and a password, the Yahoo! system works different, but it doesn’t affect who you are or how your friends, fans or foes see you.

Q: Okay … maybe. But then why are you bothering to do this? What’s the angle? Is it some scam?

A: It is definitely not a scam. There’s no angle. Yahoo! is already close to 200 million registered users — we’re not trying to pump up the numbers by getting Flickr users in there.

The fact is a giant number of people already have Yahoo! IDs. (I’ve had mine since 1997 (or ’98?)). That means it is more convenient for more new people to sign up – it’s one less account to create and worry about: they just click a few links, choose a screen name and are off. That convenience is one motivation for letting people sign in via Yahoo!

Another motivation is all the stuff that Flickr can leverage from around the Yahoo! network if people can use their Yahoo! IDs in Flickr. Many of these are still secret (which is frustrating for now — you’ll have to wait and see on those) and some we can talk about now (though they may not be available until everyone is using a Yahoo! ID). For example, we will have a payment system that won’t require you to use PayPal. Since this is close to our #1 all time complaint, it is a big win.

And darnit, as soon as we can talk about the ones that are still secret, we will.

Q: OK, fine. New users can use Yahoo! IDs, but I don’t have one and don’t want one — why should I have to merge?

A: You don’t for now. Some time in 2006 you will. Why? Because it is an incredible pain in the butt to run both systems in parallel and it wastes a huge amount of effort and attention that could otherwise go into making new features, improving performance, and all the things we’d rather be doing than gumming around with this stuff. Granted, it is a little inconvenient to create an account if you don’t have one, but the whole process takes minutes and then you’re done and never have to do anything again..

Q: But when I do that, I have to agree to the Yahoo! terms of service and privacy policy. What does that mean??

A: The terms of service is long. And hard to read. It’s not meant to be confusing, but it does have to be comprehensive. If you’re so inclined, give it a read: the bottom line is that it is not much different from the old Flickr terms of service and agrees in all the places that matter (e.g., you still own your own photos and we host them and display them at your pleasure).

Yahoo!’s privacy policy is actually much more restrictive than Flickr’s old policy in terms of what we can and cannot do with user data. And believe us when we tell you: there is an almost superhuman commitment to sticking to the both letter and the spirit of the privacy policy around here. I don’t have enough toes or fingers to count all the hours we’ve spent in meetings with the policy and legal teams learning what can and cannot be done now that we’ve adopted it.

And look, some of you will be unconvinced by anything we say on this matter. If that’s you, here’s a suggestion: start a donation fund (I’ll even personally donate) and hire a good independent lawyer who specializes in this stuff, and get an outside opinion on what the changes mean. You will find that we don’t have anything at all to hide here.

Q: OMG, it is really annoying to have to log in to Yahoo over and over many times a day just to get my Flickr fix! [This is not a question.] Uh … isn’t it annoying?!!?

A: Yes, it really, truly is. It’s enough to drive one batty. And it’s a bug. And a fix will be out soon. It’s taken a while, but for security reasons we couldn’t do the quick fix here. Just be patient for one more week :)

Or, you know, if you merged your Flickr.com and your Yahoo! ID and it is driving you crazy, then we’ll unmerge your account. All you have to do is write to us (read the announcement  from last week for details). You’ll still have to re-merge it later, but by then things will be muuuuuch smoother.

Q: Yahoo is going to spam me! [This is also not a question.] Er … isn’t it going to spam me?

A: Absolutely, positively, 100% guaranteed, no way. I’m not sure where this comes from: as one of the world’s largest providers of email, Yahoo! is a hotbed of anti-spam technology and a leading contributor to anti-spam policy. We’ve even sued spammers and won. You may get spam that appears to be from @yahoo.com addresses, but that’s because spammers fake the TO: fields in order to get around the first generation of spam filters. It does NOT mean that Yahoo! spams people, or let’s its users spam people, or sell your address to spammers or anything like that.

And wow – that ended up being very, very long. I suspect that no-one will read the whole thing, but in case you do, know this: we’re learning as we go here. Mistakes will likely be made, and we will tell you about then when we make them. We’ll get it figured out, and Flickr in 2006 or 2007 or beyond will not only not be messed up, but it will be better than it was this year, just like it is better now than it was a year ago. We’re just getting started, and with your continued support, we — you and us, sisters and brothers — can keep on Flickrizing the rest of Yahoo! Peace.

Posted by Stewart Butterfield
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