The New Gigabyte

Yahoo’s marketing masterstroke: a free terabyte of Flickr storage is better than unlimited

May 21, 2013
Obsession
The Cloud
May 21, 2013

Yahoo put a lot of marketing behind the revamp of its long-neglected photography service Flickr, unveiling the new look yesterday at a glitzy press conference in midtown Manhattan attended by the mayor of New York and hordes of journalists lured there by Yahoo’s other big news of the day, its $1.1 billion acquisition of Tumblr. Out in Times Square, 11 digital billboards were commandeered to advertise Flickr’s redesign with a cute tagline: “biggr, spectaculr, wherevr.”

But Yahoo’s marketing masterstroke was in promising Flickr users a free terabyte—rather than calling it unlimited storage, which it effectively is.

How large is a terabyte of information? It’s equivalent to 1 trillion bytes, more than half a million high-resolution photos, an academic research library, or the entire archive of GeoCities (a community of sites that Yahoo shut down in 2009).

The point is that a terabyte is fun to think about. It seems like more than as much as you want, and for most people, it is. Only professional photographers who need to store all of their shots are likely to run up against the limit. (They can pay $500 for an additional terabyte, but Yahoo isn’t expecting many people to do so.) Offering unlimited storage probably wouldn’t have cost Yahoo any more than offering a terabyte, but it would have sounded so much less cool.

Yahoo’s strategy takes a page from Google, which in 2004 launched Gmail with a gigabyte of free storage, then an unfathomably large amount of information. (These days, it offers 15 gigabytes of free storage per user across several services.) The immensity of Google’s offering became a part of the story and large selling point for Gmail in the early days.

Nine years later, it’s less clear how much people care about storage size, at least for photo services. Instagram, the Facebook-owned mobile photography app that stole Flickr’s thunder, doesn’t have a  limit but never makes a point of that. And if Flickr is to make a comeback, it won’t be thanks to storage capacity. People who care about enormous cloud storage have plenty of options that go well beyond image files, from companies like Dropbox, Google, and Amazon.

But as a marketing stunt, Flickr’s free terabyte is brilliant. Some day in the future, a tech startup will steal the ploy and offer a free yottabyte.

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