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Flickr accidentally nukes user's 4,000 photos

By Laurie Segall, staff reporter


NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- It's every Flickr addict's worst nightmare: One day, the vast photo archive you've uploaded and annotated for years suddenly vanishes. It happened this week to Mirco Wilhelm, when a Flickr staff member accidentally deleted his five-year old account, wiping out 4,000 photos.

Wilhelm had e-mailed Flickr customer service about another user's account which seemed to be packed with stolen photos -- a violation of the site's policies. In trying to delete that errant account, the Flickr employee accidentally nuked Wilhelm's.

"Unfortunately, I have mixed up the accounts and accidentally deleted yours. I am terribly sorry for this grave error," the Flickr staff member wrote in an e-mail response to Wilhelm's inquiry about his vanished account. "I can restore your account, although we will not be able to retrieve your photos."

Wilhelm posted the story to his blog, where it drew attention from Flickr users incredulous that the seven-year-old site doesn't have a way to retrieve accidentally deleted data.

A representative of Yahoo, Flickr's parent company, confirmed the accident and said that that Wilhelm would receive 25 years of free Flickr Pro membership.

"Our teams are in touch with the member and are currently working hard to try to restore the contents of his account," Yahoo's spokesman said. "We are also actively working on a process that will allow us to easily restore deleted accounts and will roll this functionality out soon."

Wilhelm told CNNMoney that issues over deleted Flickr accounts and data are nothing new, but his case was unique.

"The issues with deleted account and content have been popping up frequently over the years, mostly based on complaints about content or copyright topics," he wrote in an e-mail.

But he's never before heard of a user account being completely wiped out by mistake.

"Single support staff members being able to delete all account data without review and chance to undo actions is pretty scary for anyone," he said.

The Flickr debacle comes amid growth scrutiny of Yahoo's stewardship of the photo sharing site it acquired in 2005. The site is one of the largest photo archives on the Web, with 50 million members uploading more than 4 million photos each day, according to Yahoo (YHOO, Fortune 500).

But Yahoo has been trimming its product portfolio and shaving its staff. The company cut it's global workforce by 4% recently and killed Buzz, an experimental community-driven news curation site. A leaked internal webcast from Yahoo Chief Product Officer Blake Irving in December displayed a list of services set for "sunset." The roster included some cult favorites AltaVista, Yahoo Bookmarks and Delicious.

So when it comes to Flickr, some are questioning Yahoo's commitment to the site and whether it will continue to expand. A recent discussion thread on Silicon Valley Q&A site Quora directly asked: "Has Yahoo driven Flickr into the ground?"

Ex-Flickr employee Cris Stoddard chimed in with a mixed view. The site has benefited from Yahoo's resources, but its development has lagged, he said.

"The development cycle may be more slow or more stagnant than members (and staff) might care for due to the way things work at Yahoo," he wrote. "But there is a roadmap, their numbers are growing, they continue to innovate and -- as far as photo sharing goes -- they have more features than any other site."  To top of page

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