On November 1, 2018, Flickr announced a plan to remove millions of images on February 5, 2019. For Canvas users, this news was quite concerning, as Canvas offers Flickr as an easy way to find and insert images into content and as Canvas Dashboard Course Card images. On November 9, 2018, Flickr clarified their announcement, explaining that material licensed by Creative Commons would not be removed. The good news is, the Flickr search mechanism we implemented for all course content in Canvas will only return Flickr images licensed by Creative Commons. Therefore, images added to your courses using Canvas’ Flickr search are expected to be safe from the February 5 removal of images.
However, the Canvas Dashboard Course Cards may not be as safe. The Flickr search mechanism we employ for this feature uses both Creative Commons search results and Public Domain search results. This combination means there is a chance that images may be removed from Canvas Dashboard Course Cards.
We want to help!
While Flickr didn’t give us a ton of time to find and implement a solution to help our users with this problem, we jumped into action as quickly as possible. In addition to a short time frame, a few considerations have made it tough for us to have a perfect solution.
Flickr replaces removed images with another image that says “image not found”. While that behavior seems like a nice thing to do, it’s quite out of the ordinary. Normally, when images that are hosted on other sites (like Flickr) are removed, we can detect the image removal. Flickr’s method of replacing the removed image with another image makes normal “image not found” types of detection ineffective.
Flickr is removing images at the very beginning of a semester (February 5). Why is that a problem? Well, it creates a challenge for us because the beginning of a semester is when a lot of classes are just beginning and just ending. Determining which courses are active or soon to be active becomes a challenge.
So what’s the plan?
We very quickly updated the Course Link Validator to detect Flickr’s unusual broken image method. That work went to beta December 10th and will be in our next production release, January 5th.
We will run the link validator globally on February 4th to check for Flickr images. We’ll do the same thing on February 6th after Flickr has done its mass removal of images. At that point, we should have a pretty good idea which courses have been affected.
We will send an email to all owners of the affected content to tell them exactly where we detected a Flickr broken image.
We’re happy to have come up with and implemented a short-term plan to handle the mass removal of Flickr images on February 9th, but we also saw this change as an opportunity to look for a better long-term, more holistic solution for all of our Canvas users. As many of you may know, we’ve had a history of issues with Flickr returning unsafe images to our “safe search” query. This has led some schools to block Flickr, and some requests that we remove Flickr from Canvas.
The one thing Flickr had over its competitors was a Creative Commons search and a “Safe Search”. For a long time, we couldn’t find anything to properly replace Flickr by meeting both of these searching requirements.
In early 2019 we’ll begin the process of untangling Flickr from Canvas and replacing it with a fabulous product called Unsplash. Unsplash provides hand-selected, professional photographs for free. We highly encourage you to go check out their site. They are a fantastic, collaborative company, and we think when you see the quality they provide, you’ll be as excited as we are about what a positive effect Unsplash will have on your Canvas course content in the future.
Watch for future changes to the Canvas Interface to be announced in the release notes, as well as additional information about our new partnership with Unsplash.