An Open Letter to Elisa Steele EVP & Chief Marketing Officer, Yahoo Inc.

An Open Letter to Elisa Steele

Dear Elisa,

Thank you today for sharing your vision for the new Yahoo! over at the Yahoo! blog today. Your new tagline “under new management…yours,” is refreshing indeed. Sometimes it takes new management to shake things up. I applaud your spirit in suggesting that “I” Thomas Hawk ought to have a say in how Yahoo’s management is run going forward.

In your letter to all of us you write:

“The core of our message will focus on YOU. It will celebrate all of your individual wants, needs, interests, and passions. That’s because Yahoo! really is all about you — we’re constantly evolving to give you more of what you want and less of what you don’t. We want you to make the Web your own and are designing products to put you in the driver’s seat of your Internet experience. Our new brand positioning reflects that.”

I thought that that I’d take a few minutes out of my busy morning browsing photos on Flickr (I browse hundreds a day) to share with you just exactly how you might “celebrate” my individual wants, needs, interests, and passions. Mostly I use Flickr on Yahoo — and boy do I use it. So most of my remarks will be about that.

I thought I’d do this specifically in the form of a wish list. I hope that you are actually sincere in your stated pledge to put Yahoo under “my” management and would take a second out of your equally busy morning to respond to some of these requests — the same courtesy I’m sure you’d extend to any of your other Yahoo managers. By the way, many of these wants, needs, interests and passions, are not just mine, but are shared by many of your other customers.

1. I’d like you to remove the ban on my account from the Flickr Help forum. Censorship sucks Elisa, c’mon, we both know that. Being booted from the Flickr Help Forum indefinitely for pointing Help Forum users to a relevant new blog about Flickr’s censorship practices ought not to get you banned. Don’t shoot the messenger Elisa. I’m sure you can appreciate the irony involved in censoring someone for talking about censorship. It’s personal and it’s petty. And it’s not very nice. Banning someone from the Flickr help forum really ought to be a an action of last resort.

You should consider reviewing the banned list from this Forum and reinstating my account as well as many of the others who are banned there like my good friend Pierre Honeyman. Saying Flickr is all web 2.0ish and is about transparency isn’t really true when you ban people from the help forum. How can we all sing kumbaya together in the campus quad when the security goons won’t let some of us in? Tear down those walls Elisa, tear down those walls.

Oh, one other thing. Let’s lock less critical threads in the Help Forum as well. When we do that it only makes us look foolish when others outside of our little community point out that we’re censoring threads about censorship by locking them.

2. What the hell is up with NIPSA (it means Not In Public Site Areas, in case you’re not familiar with the dreaded acronym)? Why you gotta go be like that? Flickr has a whole public content moderation system, so why the need to secretly apply hidden flags on individual images at Flickr? If you are going to censor people’s images, be upfront about it and let them know.

Don’t label an image “Safe Photo” as moderated by Flickr staff and then secretly remove it from search and other public site areas behind their back just because the image might include critical comments about Flickr. The fact that your recent “galleries” feature won’t allow users to create “galleries” that contain NIPSA photos (another dumb restriction), by the way, is only highlighting how many people (me, included) are currently being secretly censored.

3. It scares me to know that Flickr has no way to recover my content if it is maliciously destroyed by a hacker, myself accidentally, or most scary of all, some of your overzealous censor-happy underlings in the Flickr Censorship Bureau. You may or may not be aware that recently Flickr users have lost *thousands* yes *thousands* of images permanently due to these sorts of actions.

People are putting years of their lives into their photostreams at Flickr. This is more than just about their photos by the way. It’s about living part of your life inside of Flickr. And to think that all of that can just be destroyed permanently and with no recourse with the touch of a button, well, that just’s insane Elisa. Seriously, Stewart Butterfield (back before he left to go mine tin) mentioned that it was a “mistake” for Flickr not to be able to recover deleted content over *two years ago*. The fact that Flickr still has no way to recover deleted content and, as admitted by your staff, ins’t even working on it, well, that’s wrong.

4. I think it’s about time for a rewrite of the Flickr TOS/Community Guidelines. Have you read these lately Elisa? Did you know that you can be deleted from Flickr for being “That Guy.” That’s right. For being “That Guy.” Who is “That Guy?” Is it me? I hope not. Is it Jerry Yang? I doubt it. Is it Carl Icahn? Wait, don’t answer that.

Why the need to force a horribly subjective contract on your users who are investing thousands of hours on your site. Allowing Flickr to delete accounts because someone is “that guy,” basically is the same as saying, “we can delete your account for whatever the hell we want.” Heck, we can delete your account because you didn’t wear purple during our last big Yahoo-love-fest marketing push that everybody needs to wear purple. A lot of the other terms are stupid too. You say don’t upload content that isn’t yours, but then your very own Flickr staff violate that rule. Let’s be specific with the TOS and Community Guidelines. It will make people feel better when the exact rules are spelled out more exactly.

Ok, that’s it for now. I’m looking forward to the next managers meeting. Plus I’m looking forward to the invigorating breakout sessions at the next company offsite. Have you thought about having the next one in Las Vegas Elisa? There is so much cool neon there worth photographing. Remember that time that you all set up that ice cream stand at CES Vegas way back when. Too cool for school!

Oh wait, no, I lied, one last thing. I’m going to post a link to this post in the comment section of the Yahoo blog, but I’m worried. In the comments section on your blog it reads “Notes: Please note that Yahoo! may, in our sole discretion, reject comments for any reason we deem appropriate. Links of value to readers are welcome, but please use them sparingly – wield spam and you’re banished forever. This is a moderated site and comments will appear if and when they are approved. We will review the queue several times daily, so please don’t resubmit if your comment doesn’t appear immediately.” What’s up with that policy? Don’t fear comments Elisa. Let everyone say whatever they want. It makes life more interesting.

Give my best to Carol and the rest of the gang Elisa and know that even when I’m not at HQ it’s still always Sunnyvale in my heart.

Yours Truly,

Thomas Hawk

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  2. heikkipekka says:

    While I don’t know what excatly has happened between you and Flicrk, as a user of Flickr I AM worried about what you let me know. If users photos, comments, discussion, tags and other marks can be deleted by Flickr staff by an accident and then not be put back it would make a lot of people very unhappy.

    What cames to marking jargon I guess nobody likes when a company praises openes but not really following it. I understand companies like to keep only positive discussion online but then don’t say customers are in charge.

  3. fiddlergene says:

    Couldn’t agree more. And all those points is why I have assiduously avoided using Flikr all along. They have a corporate mentality – it’s our site, and we’ll run it as we please….. if you don’t like it go somewhere else.

    Well, I have. Bye bye.

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