Why We Continue To Use Crappy Old Apps Like Flickr

I just migrated my photos off of Flickr. Yes, it's 2017, and I was still using Flickr. Why? Because I'd been using it since 2005, it's free, and the mobile app is… fine. But now that it seems like Flickr is joining the likes of AOL and Earthlink in the internet graveyard, it's clearly time to leave. Why did it take this long for me to leave to begin with?

Image remixed from Flickr/Arno Kathollnig.

First off, let's talk about why someone would want to leave Flickr, even if it might seem obvious to anyone who's attempted to use the service in the last couple of years. Beyond the fundamental lack of development in Flickr, including the fact they pulled support for free automatic photo uploads, there was that massive Yahoo hack they revealed last year, which turned out to be worse than initially thought. Then, a few months ago, Verizon purchased Yahoo, which puts Flickr's future up in the air. All these factors combined were enough of a signal to me that it was time to go. But it still took months of convincing myself to do so.

The Longer You're With a Service, the Harder It Is To Leave

The sunk cost fallacy is a term that pops up with work or financial investments a lot, but it's applicable here as well. The idea behind sunk cost is the more you invest in something, the harder it is to abandon it. If you've ever woken up one day and realised you're using some outdated, junky app that barely works because it's what you've always used, then you know exactly how sunk cost works.

I had invested a lot of time in Flickr. I'd spent hours uploading photos. Hooked up IFTTT recipes that scooped up photos from Facebook and Instagram, and created shared holiday albums. As time went on, I sunk more and more time into Flickr, even though I knew the service was never going to get updated. When I signed up for Flickr aeons ago, there weren't a lot of options, but even two or three years ago the likes of Google Photos and even Apple Photos had outpaced Flickr. Too bad though, because I'd spent so much time learning the ins and outs of Flickr's increasingly dated system that it felt too complicated to leave it. I hated Flickr the last couple of years but I also didn't have to think too hard about how to use it. Sure, it had its quirks, but I'd worked them into my workflow and I could use it without a ton of thought.

So I continued to use Flickr because I felt like the time it would take to research alternatives and migrate over wasn't worth it. This is the exact same thinking that prevents us from quitting stupid projects, or even keeps us playing a dumb game. As humans, we often prefer to stay the course and persevere in the hopes that things will get better. Once we've spent a lot of time on something, it feels like a waste to let go of it.

Web Services Make It Hard to Leave on Purpose

The difficulty that comes from trying to leave a service isn't all in your head. Web services are notorious for making it difficult to leave. It turns out that Flickr might be one of the worst offenders.

To download all your photos from Flickr, you have to select every single photo, move it to an album, and then download that album. When you do so, Flickr breaks that album down into separate ZIP downloads. In my case, I had 12 archives to download. Each ZIP was about 1GB in size, and each one failed to download three or four times. One of those archives refused to download at all. That meant that I would sit there, waiting for the archive to download, then for no reason whatsoever, it would quit, cancel the download, and I'd have to start over. As best as I could tell, this was because the connection speed with Flickr was awful, but I tried it over the course of several days, on different browsers, and even on different computers, all with the same result.

Eventually, I tracked down Flickr Downloadr, which, although archaic at a glance, could at least download all my photos in bulk. And then I had to install a few different frameworks to get the app to run. Once I did that and got used to the fact the app wasn't entirely in English, I was able to download all my photos.

Over the years, we've talked more and more about the importance of data portability to a point where it's now one of the most most important aspects to consider about any service. The fact is, no app or service will last forever, and at some point, whether it's because the company does something stupid, the service goes under, it gets bought out, or it starts to suck, you will want to leave. The ability to do so is important. I even pay for my notes app now because it offers easy data portability.

Why'd I choose Google Photos, even though Google's Privacy Statement always creeps me out? Because it takes one click to download my entire photo archive if I choose to leave.

Here's one more sad confession about my relationship with Flickr: I actually tried to leave a couple of years ago and migrate everything to Google Photos, but gave up halfway through because I had the same download issues I experienced more recently. This made the second attempt all the more difficult, because not only did I have the sunk cost of my time with Flickr, I also had the sunk cost of one failed migration to deal with.

This time, I suffered through it, and after a week, I finally had my photos downloaded and accessible.

Flickr's garbage download capabilities are bad, but it isn't like they're the only ones who do this. Apple is notorious for making it hard to export your files, and a lot of productivity apps -- to-do apps especially -- make it impossible to move over to something else using any type of automated service. Even leaving a service that seems simple, like Evernote, can get complicated, and you'll lose some of your formatting in the process. Flickr, for all its clunkiness and all-around outdated design, at least kept my photos in their original resolution and format.

Anyway, I took two lessons away from this whole stupid process: Don't let the time you've spent on something prevent you from leaving it, and make sure it's easy to take your data with you whenever you sign up for a new service.

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