What the Hell is up with Flickr?

Flickr have just announced that they put limits on the number of contacts a member can have (3000) and on the number of tags for a photo (75). These are rather generous limits, but they do present problems for some users. In most cases, those users use contacts to allow people to look at their private photos (usually nudes, which Flickr is picky about, and it’s a little dangerous to not make them private), and despite lots of requests that’s the only way to currently do that.

What really puts me off is the reason for introducing the limits. They say it’s to improve Flickr’s performance, because lots of contacts makes calculating permissions slow, which shows more about their dedication to Flickr than anything else. Usually, when you want to improve the performance of a system, you make the implementation faster, not put limits on your users. And as a software engineer I can attest that if they can’t (easily) solve that problem they’re either incompetent or just don’t care.

Or maybe they just don’t have the time. They might be more busy with blocking people from public search and kicking members out. Those activies seem to be among their more popular pastimes. Implementing new stuff certainly isn’t – Flickr hasn’t had any major new features in ages.

Some alternatives solutions have been proposed, but the Flickr people persist that this limitations are necessary.

All in all I’m very disappointed with Flickr. The community is great, but management, or whoever is responsible for those debacles, sucks big time. I hope Zooomr gets their shit together and implements some much-needed community features soon.

3 thoughts on “What the Hell is up with Flickr?

  1. Purely from a software perspective, if they had say 10000 contacts and a private photo that is still potentially 10000 checks somewhere in the system for one photo. OK it will never be that bad but I can definitely see why Flickr have done it. They are hosting a monster of system that runs pretty darn well for what is essentailly a free service, I really cant see the £13 per pro user going very far so for what it is I love it. Agreed tho they are very slow on the feature uptake.

  2. No, that’s not the way it works. If you want to check if user A has permission to view user B’s friends-only photo, what you have to do is see if there’s an entry in the friends database that says “A is friend of B”. That’s like looking up a name in a telephone book, and not even a stupid computer has to check every single name in a phone book to find the one it’s looking for.

    Instead it looks at the one right in the middle, and if the name it’s looking for comes alphabetically before that one, it can disregard the whole second half, and vice versa. Mathematically speaking, the number of names you have to look at is given by the binary logarithm of the number of names in the phone book, and that’s a very slowly growing function.

    A concrete example (these numbers are real, not made up): To look up a name in a phone book with a million entries you have to check 20 names. If the phone book contains the names of all the people on this planet (let’s say 8 billion), you have to check 33 names. In other words your computer doesn’t even have to be twice as fast to grow from one million to everybody on the planet while retaining the same speed.

    All databases on the market (even the free ones) have algorithms like that, but better suited to disk storage – look up B-trees and extended hashing.

  3. As I said it wouldnt be that bad but it would still be an annoying amount of checks for a server that cant spend too long on one task.

    I spent way too long looking at search trees in DB 101 so i’ll pass thanks :D

    My point was that I can see why they would ahve to limit these friends as their database can only be hammered so much / photo.

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