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5/21/2013
02:28 PM
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Flickr Can Store Any Data, Not Just Photos

Flickr offers a terabyte of free data, but, thanks to an outside developer, photographers may not be the only ones who find a way to use that space.

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In a bid to revive interest in Flickr, Yahoo has redesigned its photo community website and increased the amount of free storage available to Flickr users to 1 terabyte.

That amounts to more than 500,000 photos taken at 6.5 megapixels, which is about the size generated by current smartphone cameras.

It's enough space to attract the interest of developers who see Flickr as a resource for storing any file, not just image files. The reason is simple: A free terabyte of storage is a pretty good deal, particularly when you consider that Flickr is charging $499 a year for 2 terabytes.

Online storage prices vary widely. Google charges $50 a month to store 1 terabyte of files using Google Drive. That's on the high side: CrashPlan, an online backup service, offers unlimited storage for $60 a year -- although CrashPlan doesn't allow immediate, random file access like Drive does. Amazon's Glacier costs about $10 a month to store a terabyte, with additional fees for outbound transfers. An actual 1-terabyte hard drive costs from about $75 to several hundred dollars, depending on features.

[ Yahoo's trying to reinvigorate its business. Read Yahoo's Mayer Promises: We Won't Ruin Tumblr. ]

The problem with using Flickr for general storage is that it's only designed for images. To get around that, developer Ryan LeFevre has posted Ruby code to Github called flickr-store that lets users encode data as a .PNG image file, so it can be stored using Flickr.

LeFevre, in an email, said that another developer, Ricardo Tomasi, implemented a similar project at about the same time he published flickr-store.

LeFevre said he would not advise anyone to use his code to store critical files. "The ability to store files on Flickr by encoding them as PNGs was more of an academic exercise than anything," he said. "That said, there have been some similar successful projects in the past, such as GmailFS, so it's possible that the project could mature into a somewhat useful tool. Encoding/decoding data from PNG files is also, unfortunately, a bit slow. There is a lot of room for improvement."

There are other programs designed to encode data in the format of an image, such as the Windows applications Clotho, Hide In Picture and Free File Camouflage. Steganography applications do the same thing, although they often are designed to encode small text files in images, rather than large arbitrary files.

The flickr-store code requires a Flickr API account, although it remains to be seen whether the code conforms to the Flickr's terms of service and the Flickr API. A Flickr representative didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

LeFevre said that the permissibility of his project under Flickr's terms of service isn't clear. "I'm sure they frown upon it, but they claim that you cannot upload anything that interferes with the services and I don't believe this does," he said.

Flickr's redesign, which is part of a broader effort to restore Yahoo's lost luster, is about more than upgraded storage capacity.

According to Flickr head of product Markus Spiering, the Home page, the Activity Feed, Photostreams and Sets all have been redesigned. Slideshows, search and social features also have been improved, and facial recognition capabilities have been added to simplify photo organization. There's even a new Android app for Flickr in the Google Play store.

In keeping with the tradition of design changes to major Internet services, a vocal group of users hate it.

Update: On Wednesday, a Yahoo spokeswoman said in an email, "[U]ploading non-photographic content to Flickr would be a violation of the Flickr Community Guidelines and can (in the worst case) result in the deletion of the account."

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