Family-owned Smugmug acquires Flickr, rescuing it from the sinking post-Yahoo ship

Flickr exists, in part, because I needed a photo-sharing tool to help me woo my long-distance girlfriend, who later became my wife, and whom I've been with now for 15 years — so I have watched the service's long decline and neglect at the hands of Yahoo, and then its sale to the loathsome telco Verizon, with sorrow.

The service is a kind of parable about squandered opportunity. It was once the greatest photo-sharing service on the web, a paragon of beautiful and user-centered design, with a powerful API that was open to any service that had a similar API that allowed its users to take their data with them when they left the service. It was the first service to send you the text of the messages you received using its toy messaging service and allowing you to reply to those messages from your email client. It was the first service to embrace Creative Commons licenses, and to this day, it represents a CC image repository to rival Wikimedia Commons — I use it several times a day to illustrate stories here on Boing Boing. I have posted 21,706 photos to the service.

But the service is a mess today. I haven't been able to login to it with its app for a year, and gave up on even trying — I only access it from my browser when I'm at home. It is slow and clunky. Its API is much-diminished, and it's been a decade since you could reply to in-service messages with your email client.

There's hope at the end of the tunnel. The family-owned photo sharing service Smugmug has acquired Flickr from Oath (the company that Verizon created to hold its Yahoo portfolio, in a sly recognition of the fact that using services owned by Verizon made people swear).

There's not much news about what Smugmug will do with the service now. Smugmug CEO Don MacAskill made some promising noises to USA Today, saying ""We don't mine our customers' photos for information to sell to the highest bidder, or to turn into targeted advertising campaigns."

I just hope they keep up their commitment to Creative Commons and to hosting Flickr's precious archives — or, if that's not in the cards (please no!), then donate those archives to the Internet Archive for preservation.

My marriage, my family, and my life are inextricably tied up with the history of Flickr, and watching it decline has been a kind of Dorian Gray exercise in watching a portrait of myself at some sweet, long-gone moment age and wither.

A longtime fan of Flickr, MacAskill says before making any decisions, he plans to collect feedback from employees and users.

"It sounds silly for the CEO not to totally know what he's going to do, but we haven't built SmugMug on a master plan either. We try to listen to our customers and when enough of them ask for something that's important to them or to the community, we go and build it," he said.

SmugMug snaps up Flickr photo service from Verizon's Oath [Jessica Guynn/USA Today]