‘FuckFlickr’ by the ‘Free Art and Technology Lab’

On: September 22, 2008
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About Marijn de Vries Hoogerwerff
Marijn de Vries Hoogerwerff is a New Media theorist, Web researcher and Internet entrepreneur. In 1999 he started working as IT professional at the broadband Internet Service Provider @home (a franchise of the ISP and search engine company Excite@Home). After working here for over eight years he decided to pursue a study in New Media at the University of Amsterdam. During this study he has been an active member of the Digital Methods Initiative (DMI) research group, working together in a strong team of designers, programmers and theorists to develop new Web-specific methods and tools for doing online research and has written in depth about Internet censorship research, code consciousness and cyber-cosmopolitanism. Next to several stand-alone projects he also started up CYBERLIFE, focusing on building Web-applications, sites and tools, Web hosting and doing Web research. After receiving his Master degree in New Media he continued his contributions to the DMI, has helped organize the Society of the Query conference for the Institute of Network Cultures and has been a thesis supervisor at the University of Applied Sciences (HvA) for Interactive Media. His current company, nochii BV, focusses on utilizing theoretical knowledge and practical experience to help companies get a better understanding about the Web, their network and the space they occupy and its relation to the offline. He holds the strong believe that the Web, both as infrastructure and as concept, can aid in dealing with the increasing complexity of the world (both online as offline) and the relating problematics.



An interesting application on the web, made as an alternative to Flickr, Yahoo’s web 2.0 app for sharing images on the web is FuckFlickr. According to its own description its ‘open-source image gallery software that won’t narc you out. We created it as an alternative to hosting your photos on a certain Yahoo-owned photo sharing site’.

The FuckFlickr application is an initiative by the Free Art and Technology Lab (F.A.T.)  an organization dedicated to enriching the public domain through the research and development of creative technologies and media‘. This particular application is a lightweight php program, which can be installed onto your own server and does not require a database. Just upload the pictures to your server and a FuckFlickr page with thumbnails is automatically created in the ‘fflickr’ directory. Although it’s a handy app, the interesting part is that its created as an alternative to Flickr, as a statement against Yahoo and its practices in China.

In 2002 Yahoo already began drawing criticism for agreeing to limit search results relating the Taiwan independence. In 2005 however Yahoo was discredited for providing information about the Yahoo mail account of a journalist named Shi Tao. In April 2004 the Chinese government ordered the news media not to write about the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protest. This order was send to the pro-democracy group by using his Yahoo mail account. Upon request Yahoo handed over the information to the Chinese government, which led to the raiding of his house in November 2004 where his computer was confiscated. In March 2005 he was given a sentence of 10-year imprisonment.

The fact that Yahoo sold its interest in Yahoo China to the Chinese Internet Giant Alibaba.com but retains a 40% stake in Alibaba.com complicates the matter. Yahoo claims it has no control over the operations, but it also provides Yahoo with a screen to hide for US regulation. Lucie Morillon an RWB’s representative of Washington DC states that “If Yahoo succeeds in not being under US jurisdiction anymore and then is able to do whatever it wants, then it sets an example for other companies that want to free themselves from the Western countries they are based in. It looks like a legal trick, but it does not change the issue“.

It would be too simplistic to just bash Yahoo for trying to establish a presence in a new region with very different national politics. China is becoming an important power in the global market and being in a field where Yahoo has to compete with giants like Google and Microsoft, from a corporate point of view it’s hardly surprising that they stick to their ambitious ‘What we don’t value‘ section on their website and avoid ‘missing the boat’ or ‘passing the buck’. Having to join in the global market, the desire to bring their service to a new world (which may or may not is being viewed as needing the aid of our western services, enlightenment if you may) and having to abide to the local laws and regulations is quite a straightforward argumentation from this view. A journalist breaking the local law will be sentenced according to those same local laws. From a cultural perspective it however is much more problematic. Its interesting to see that with the exception of ‘discrimination’, in the Yahoo ‘What we don’t value’ section of their website, there is no reference to human rights, freedom of speech or any other well know western values.

Being one of the web giants you could see them as one of the big powers in the online realm and this denial of western ideology is conflicting with norms and values of the (web) society. Where once cyberspace was seen as cross-cultural, surpassing the confinements of the borders of the nation-state, the contemporary web is far from surpassing the nation-state (also displayed in the previous quote of Lucie Morillon). How China deals with basic human rights is heavily conflicting with the western view. By being such a large institution within the web society and the realization that the web did not live up to its utopian promises, Yahoo now needs to take their position as a major power into consideration and take responsibility on how their actions will relate to real life situations, sentiment and politics. They are, but more importantly, they are seen as a western company, a company that operates in cyberspace where the fantasies about the web freeing us from the problem of the world still linger on.

Art is often the medium to express resistance or protest. F.A.T. lab’s FuckFlickr is an art project but fights with the same weapons on the same battleground as their opponent. By offering a way to create an online gallery as an alternative service to make a statement against Yahoo, they seems to fight their battle from within. Yahoo and many others who have made a good (and fruitful) transition into the new web, exist on the basis of their users. Not by selling their product or service, but by the users continuous involvement in the community.

Browsing through the piles of web 2.0 applications available on the web, sometime a feeling of claustrophobia comes over me. A feeling of being trapped in a network of services, all making me connect, hungry for my data, longing to become the “the next big thing” or “killer app”, the new YouTube, an improved amazon.com or a smart mashup. Services that will make my online experience better and even simplify my life in the physical world, they need me and I need them. True, I’m an addict too, I want to share, I want to experience the full potential of the web, but at the same time I want to be free and I want the same for every human. It’s the major powers like Yahoo who can really make a difference and it’s us, the users, the soul of their capital who need to guide them in the right direction. FuckFlickr is a good example of this and I hope that F.A.T. lab will continue fighting.

Video: the best way to end your Flickr career…

YAHOO IS A NARC – Screencast from fi5e on Vimeo.

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