Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Ballad of Mirco Wilhelm: Flickr Still Flying Without a Net

In 2004, the photo sharing and storage website Flickr was born. It grew quickly in its popularity because of its features and ease of use. It was a fun, good experience. In March of 2005, Yahoo acquired Flickr for $35 million. They have now had 6 years to grow this product from the great start they had with loyal customers.

So where are we today? Ask Mirco Wilhelm. He is an IT professional that has been posting photos to his Flickr account for years. Thousands of them. He tags them all and people link to them from all over. They are really lovely. Well, they were really lovely. You see, Mirco found someone illegally posting photos on their account so he complained to Flickr. By mistake, instead of deleting the other account, they deleted his. All 4,000 photos, stories, tags, links and everything that is Flickr is gone, and Flickr can’t do anything about it to recover them. They gave him a 4 year credit for Flickr Pro.

This would be horrible under any circumstances, but almost exactly three years ago to the day, the same loss of data happened to Steve Portigal. Someone phished him and deleted his account without his consent and Yahoo could do nothing to recover it. I blogged about it when it happened to illustrate that this is a simple scenario to plan for and that others do it all the time. Even Mirco says that it is part of what he does all the times in his day job.

This means that Yahoo/Flickr has known about this for three years and they just don’t care. Chief Product Officer, Blake Irving, just days ago tweeted the following:

"Is Yahoo committed to Flickr? Hell yes we are!"

Just days ago the New York Times wrote a story on how Yahoo is committed to Flickr, despite shrinking traffic stats. Here is a quote from the article by Matthew Rothenberg, Head of Product Strategy and Management of Flickr:

“We’re trying to build the best experience that we can.”

I think what resonates with people is not your strategy or tweets, but the experience you actually deliver. Here are the words from the Flickr support staff member sent to Mirco:


Unfortunately, I have mixed up the accounts and accidentally deleted yours. I am terribly sorry for this grave error and hope that this mistake can be reconciled. Here is what I can do from here:

I can restore your account, although we will not be able to retrieve your photos. I know that there is a lot of history on your account--again, please accept my apology for my negligence. Once I restore your account, I will add four years of free Pro to make up for my error.

Please let me know if there's anything else I can do.

Again, I am deeply sorry for this mistake.


Flickr staff

That is the real experience and message we get as customers, not what Product Managers tell reporters. Mirco’s story is being written about by large news organizations and propagating quickly around the web. I hope it doesn’t take Yahoo another three years to finally listen to these and other traumatized customers, and they fix this problem that everyone else seems to have solved. You have to afford and "undo" when it comes to your product, especially if you see this happen over and over.

Here is Mirco's story in his words:

Here is Steve Portigal's story from three years ago:

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