In the wake of Tumblr’s decision to integrate with ActivityPub — the social protocol powering open-source Twitter alternative Mastodon and others — it appears photo-sharing site Flickr is now considering doing the same. Flickr CEO Don MacAskill today began actively polling users about whether or not Flickr also supports the protocol. If he goes ahead with this plan, Flickr would be the latest major company to pledge to join the “fediverse,” the interconnected group of independent servers around the world running free, open-source software that allows its users to communicate and connect with one other.
The concept poses a challenge to modern social networks controlled by corporations or billionaires like Elon Musk.
ActivityPub is a key component of the fediverse, powering not only Mastodon, whose popularity has grown in the wake of Musk’s takeover of Twitter, but also other alternative social platforms including Instagram-like Pixelfed, video streaming service PeerTube, and other. If Flickr were to add support for ActivityPub, it would no longer function as just a photo sharing site, but would become part of a larger network of social networks where users could find, follow and interact with each other across platforms without having to create separate accounts for each service they choose to use.
MacAskill weighed in on Flickr’s management regarding the fediverse earlier today. Last week, after the announcement of Tumblr, the CEO of Flickr had tweeted that his company had also been discussing ActivityPub support internally.
“It could be for us,” MacAskill said at the time.
But in a subsequent tweet, he warned that going down this path would mean deprioritizing other projects on Flickr’s roadmap, including those clients they said they would. That’s why it makes sense for the executive to try to gauge consumer demand for adopting the protocol before actually making a commitment.
MacAskill today noticed that there “seems to be a lot of interest” in seeing Flickr move forward with ActivityPub, but wanted to gauge the type of interest more specifically first.
So far, the results of a poll posted on Twitter appear to be promising. At the time of writing, only 8.9% of respondents said “no” to the idea of ActivityPub integration.
38.2% said yes, but only if it was free. Meanwhile, two other groups indicated that ActivityPub support may become something that encouraged them to pay for Flickr, as 37.4% said yes and said they already pay for Flickr, while 15.4% he said yes and said he could pay for Flickr if the protocol was supported.
MacAskill conducted the same survey on Mastodon, where interest in making support part of a free product is even higher so far, at 47%. 26% and 22% said yes and already pay for Flickr or would consider doing so if ActivityPub were added, respectively.
Though an older site, Flickr today claims to be used by more than 60 million people a month, according to its job postings page. This would bring a significant number of new people to the fediverse if the company chooses to add support for ActivityPub.
Flickr, of course, could use a feature that would encourage more customer engagement and adoption. Once a leading company in the Web 2.0 era, Flickr eventually lost ground to other social photo-sharing platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, as well as more utilitarian photo hosting services, like Google Photos and iCloud.
In April 2018, Flickr sold to SmugMug, and soon the company lowered limits for free usage, began threatening to delete photos from non-paying users, and urged users to help it find more paying subscribers to keep it floating. Earlier this year, Flickr also began paywalling for the ability to upload NSFW photos to its site.
In more recent days, MacAskill has claimed Flickr is “healthy and growing again” and noted that it has established itself a non-profit organization to preserve its images in case the company falls on hard times again. Flickr did not respond to a request for comment about its ActivityPub plans, but a rep noted that MacAskill is a “wildly customer-focused leader and technologist with a long track record of successfully identifying meaningful innovations.”
“This is potentially one of those innovations, which is why he’s exploring it publicly,” they added.
Updated, 11/28/22, 5:19pm with flicker comments
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