Don’t migrate Flickr photos to SmugMug

Flickr to SmugMug photo migration[UPDATE 2011-12-23: read the comments for good news.]

I few months ago I migrated my 10,000+ Flickr photographs to SmugMug, and deeply regret it.  So I’m sharing the problems just in case my pain can help others:

  1. Filenames are lost.  The SmugMug migrator program is called Smugglr, and it transfers the “original” size in Flickr, which has a name like “4506134808_20b673be79_o.jpg” instead of whatever it was prior to uploading into Flickr (e.g., “Charles_Darwin_with_a_younger_woman_1860.jpg”).  This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but if you ever want to download the file from SmugMug onto your hard drive, the file is hard to find if your desktop has other files with “_o.jpg” at the end.  Similarly, if you have clients/friends who download your photographs, they don’t benefit from a useful filename.  Also, Google will probably never rank “4506134808_20b673be79_o.jpg” high in an image search even if the image is awesome, and even if you have great caption and keywords.  I’m not sure how Google computes rankings, but I suspect there are algorithms that compare filename data to keywords and search terms.  All of this is not Smugglr’s fault, though — I’m sure the programmer would have used the original filename if Flickr had made it available.  By the way, there is no way to change a filename within SmugMug, short of downloading the image, renaming it, and then replacing original (seems like it would take SmugMug all of a day to batch-enable that procedure…).
  2. Images transferred from Flickr are probably lower quality than your originals.  Flickr restricts size and filetype, so if your camera was producing huge TIFF or RAW files all those years, Flickr constrained your uploads to 10mb/file and required them to be JPGs, GIFs, or PNGs (all fine for internet viewing, of course).  So Smugglr will send over to SmugMug a file that is not as good as the original file that is hopefully still lurking in your Aperture or Lightroom library.   If people find an image of yours on SmugMug and want to buy a $200 wall mural, you’ll be sad if they used a small JPG. Again, not a Smugglr problem, but a problem nonetheless, and one that I didn’t think about deeply enough at the time.
  3. Images are duplicated in a messy way.  You might have an image that showed up in 3 different albums in Flickr, and because Smugglr will transfer each album in its entirety, you end up with 3 copies in 3 different SmugMug galleries.  If you change settings on 1 of those versions, those changes are not linked to the others.  So you really need to go and find the duplicates and potentially delete them.  Endlessly annoying.  There is no easy way to find these duplicates.
  4. In the Smugglr transfer, all my keyword phrases were squished into single keywords with no spaces.  E.g., “United States” became “unitedstates.”  You can batch fix this in SmugMug, but it’s a pain and the “replace” action needs to done for each gallery, and for each phrase.  Terribly annoying.
  5. Smugglr added a number and an alphanumeric as keywords to each photograph.  E.g., “82170932 b7c0b70ea8.” There’s a batch way to remove numbers, but, again, only one gallery at a time.  There’s is no way to automatically remove alphanumerics, so if you have 10,000 images, that’s 10,000 clicks (actually, more). I’ve been informed another SmugMug user that there is a way to prevent these numbers from being added, but I don’t think the settings would be apparent to any newbie thinking about migrating their photos (e.g., I still don’t understand how to do it!).
  6. Photo descriptions in Flickr are not transferred.  So if you had elaborate thoughts about an image, you’d need to go back to the Flickr page and copy and paste over to SmugMug version.  If you have less than 100 photos, that might be an OK use of your day.  But if you have tens of thousands, that’s not a good use of your year.
  7. The less obvious problem is that once you have all the albums converted to galleries on SmugMug, you’ll probably want to organize them in Categories and Sub-categories.  If you are used to the drag-n-drop simplicity of Flickr, you’ll quickly become sad with the equivalent actions on SmugMug, which seem trapped in code amber from the early 1990s. So if you have hundreds of galleries, creating categories and then finding the galleries to add to those categories is laborious and frustrating.  And if you ever want to alter those categories and their resident galleries in the future…you’ll be daydreaming about Flickr’s Organizer, which is almost fun to use.

So, after months of discovering the problems above, I think I’m going to delete my 10,000+ SmugMug photographs and slowly re-upload from the originals in my Aperture library. I could “replace” each photo individually, but that process doesn’t fix the keyword problem.

Anyway, hope the above might help somebody, and if you are wondering why my photo site is empty, that’s why. I’m still a fan of SmugMug, but not a fan of migrating photos there.

About Colin Purrington

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6 Responses to Don’t migrate Flickr photos to SmugMug

  1. Hey Colin,

    Thanks for using our SmuggLr tool and for giving us such thorough feedback. SmuggLr lets you take your Flickr content and transfer it easily to SmugMug, though there are limitations. It will only give SmugMug what Flickr has saved.  We’d like to respond to each of your points, so please check your inbox — I’ve sent you a more detailed note there.

    Katherine
    SmugMug

  2. Hey Colin,

    I shot over a note to you. In case this is easier, I wanted to post here as well.

    1. Filenames are lost.

    Unfortunately, Flickr doesn’t retain filenames. Where possible SmuggLr retains the filename, but if you didn’t get it, it’s because Flickr didn’t retain it.

    2. Images transferred from Flickr are probably lower quality than your originals.

    Since this is a migration tool from Flickr, we take the maximum file size it has saved. As you know Flickr compresses and converts – SmugMug doesn’t do that. So if Flickr only stores a file that is 10MB, there is no way for us to get the original from your computer. SmuggLr will take the highest possible quality Flickr has stored. If you’d like to upload from Aperture, we have some plugins that might be helpful: http://smu.gs/vcGaOq

    3. Duplicated images.

    The architecture of Flickr and SmugMug differ greatly. This makes writing a tool like SmuggLr challenging and complex, and our priority was to ensure no photo was left behind. That being said, we realize there is room for improvement so this feedback is like gold to us.

    4. Squashed keyword phrases.

    Flickr isn’t consistent with the way it returns it’s “tags”, and in the case of thousands of photos being migrated, the available solutions mean multiplying the migration time by significant numbers. We are looking into more efficient solutions but at this time we had to make this difficult choice to ensure photos were first and foremost safely transferred, even when there are tens of thousands of them.

    5. Smugglr added a number and an alphanumeric as keywords to each photograph. E.g., “82170932 b7c0b70ea8.”

    SmugMug has an option called ‘Filename Keywording’ where keywords are extracted from the filenames of files uploaded. This option is off by default when you create a new account, but it appears to be enabled on your account which is the reason those keywords have been added. Here’s more info on keywording: http://help.smugmug.com/customer/portal/articles/93291

    6. Photo descriptions in Flickr are not transferred.

    SmugMug doesn’t support both a caption and description for each image, which is why they are not transferred.

    7. Converting galleries to SmugMug categories/subcategories.

    Using the Collections and Photosets structure on Flickr is carried over to Categories and Albums on SmugMug…which can give you a similar hierarchy. However this could be better communicated and we really think this is great feedback for us, so thank you for outlining it in such detail.

    Let me know if there’s anything I overlooked or if you have any further questions.

    Best,

    Katherine

    • Colin Purrington says:

      1. I heard rumor that Flickr removes filename for security reasons … if somebody knew the file name, he could get to original file even if owner has protected it. Is this an issue for SmugMug, too? I have filenames set to display, to aid people who might be downloading files. But maybe I should change things.

      2. I read up on this prior to my post, and lots of people insist that Flickr doesn’t compress (except tiffs)…though that was my assumption for years and years. I know that SmugMug doesn’t, and that’s great.

      3. I totally understand the challenge. I know there are fancy ways to search within SmugMug for images that match certain EXIF (yes?) fields, and wonder whether those scripts could be integrated in some way. But I actually would be fine if SmuggLr lacked that feature…but that the feature existed somewhere on SmugMug. That said, I think the easier fix is to just deliver a warning to users before they transfer via SmuggLr: “purge your dupes before abandoning ship.” It’s easy to organize in Flickr PRIOR to migration, so headaches can be minimized.

      4. Makes sense. If migration took a week, I would be fine with that, fyi. That week is trivial if action is running in background of life … redoing all my keywords chez SmugMug requires thousands of little actions that sum to more than a week. Any chance you could transfer only single-word keywords, or the first word of phrases? The latter suggestions are not great, but they would minimize the amount of cleanup work for user.

      5. Doh! (I assume that’s something I did.) Migration is something hugely important, and I really should have transferred a few galleries at a time to see how things were working out. It was just so fun, I was younger, and had been drinking most likely.

      6. Makes sense now, but I totally didn’t understand at migration time. Was there a setting to choose which one was transferred? I really grew fond of captions _and_ descriptions in Flickr, and the adjustment has been almost physiologically hard for me. Is it possible to take description from flickr and convert to keyword (no spaces)? Currently, one has to reopen Flickr and find the image…

      7. Ahh, I see. I really didn’t do a good job using Collections because I didn’t like to “show” the Collections visually. But, yes, if you pushed that advice to potential migrators, they could fuss over organization in Flickr before SmuggLing.

      Thank you so much, Katherine. I think for all of the above the problem was mainly because I didn’t properly weigh the tradeoffs of using SmuggLr…was just intoxicated with automatic transfer. A little popup with hints would be totally awesome. I _thought_ I’d poked around the instructions enough to figure it out, but I totally missed all of the above issues. People who are nerds enough to migrate away from Flickr are likely to be understanding of code limitations, I think, if you have option to increase verbiage.

  3. Katherine says:

    Hey Colin!

    See inline below.

    1. I heard rumor that Flickr removes filename for security reasons … if somebody knew the file name, he could get to original file even if owner has protected it. Is this an issue for SmugMug, too? I have filenames set to display, to aid people who might be downloading files. But maybe I should change things.

    Nope, this isn’t an issue for us.

    2. I read up on this prior to my post, and lots of people insist that Flickr doesn’t compress (except tiffs)…though that was my assumption for years and years. I know that SmugMug doesn’t, and that’s great.

    We like our photos big and beautiful. Uncompressed FTW!

    3. I totally understand the challenge. I know there are fancy ways to search within SmugMug for images that match certain EXIF (yes?) fields, and wonder whether those scripts could be integrated in some way. But I actually would be fine if SmuggLr lacked that feature…but that the feature existed somewhere on SmugMug. That said, I think the easier fix is to just deliver a warning to users before they transfer via SmuggLr: “purge your dupes before abandoning ship.” It’s easy to organize in Flickr PRIOR to migration, so headaches can be minimized.

    Thanks for this feedback. We’ll see what we can do.

    4. Makes sense. If migration took a week, I would be fine with that, fyi. That week is trivial if action is running in background of life … redoing all my keywords chez SmugMug requires thousands of little actions that sum to more than a week. Any chance you could transfer only single-word keywords, or the first word of phrases? The latter suggestions are not great, but they would minimize the amount of cleanup work for user.

    Thanks to this feedback, we’ve released a version yesterday that resolves this issue by making the additional requests to Flickr to get the correct keywords.

    5. Doh! (I assume that’s something I did.) Migration is something hugely important, and I really should have transferred a few galleries at a time to see how things were working out. It was just so fun, I was younger, and had been drinking most likely.

    Haha!

    6. Makes sense now, but I totally didn’t understand at migration time. Was there a setting to choose which one was transferred? I really grew fond of captions _and_ descriptions in Flickr, and the adjustment has been almost physiologically hard for me. Is it possible to take description from flickr and convert to keyword (no spaces)? Currently, one has to reopen Flickr and find the image…

    There’s no setting currently…though we’ll add one :)

    7. Ahh, I see. I really didn’t do a good job using Collections because I didn’t like to “show” the Collections visually. But, yes, if you pushed that advice to potential migrators, they could fuss over organization in Flickr before SmuggLing.

    This is good feedback!

  4. I’m thinking about switching from Flickr to Smugmug, but after reading this post I can see that the descriptions/captions issue is a deal breaker for me. Thinking about it though, surely it wouldn’t be hard to merge both into one field as part of the transfer, right?
    Should result in something like this:
    “My great photo – This is a description of my great photo.”
    Either the user or the app could decide what character to use for separation. Personally, I like the hyphen.

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