Former Flickr Engineer Attacks SmugMug CEO on Blog

Former Flickr Engineer Kevin Collins is out with a blog post attacking SmugMug CEO Don MacAskill. After a series of tweets back and forth with Collins saying that MacAskill was taking the “low road” by pointing out Flickr’s recent PR disaster of accidentally deleting the wrong user account, Collins is out with a full blog post now (which doesn’t allow comments surprise surprise) criticizing Don and SmugMug.

From Kevin:

I can’t identify the person, and have no interest in doing so, but it seems to highlight a culture FUD and mud-slinging that Don MacAskill seems to practice. I know very well I would never have gotten away with trashing the competition with the way he does- I can’t say I would have lost my job, but I most probably would have been removed from speaking publicly for Flickr at the time and put on a short leash. In any event, I would never have dreamt of publicly criticizing another service, and would be embarrassed to do so. I guess if you are the CEO, you feel you can say it any way you want, no matter how tacky.

How dare someone, especially a competitor, dare to criticize Flickr over an account deletion issue right?

Collins seems to hold the opinion that “benevolent Flickr” can do no wrong and that it’s somehow “tacky” to try and benefit from the horrendous way that Flickr has mismanaged community and especially with regards to unwarranted account deletion issues.

While Flickr did eventually go through the actual work to recover the deleted account in question, it wasn’t until a vast amount of public pressure was put on the company, including mainstream reports in the New York Observer, the Los Angeles Times, CNN, etc. Had there not been this public pressure, Flickr very likely would have stuck by their original statement to the customer that they couldn’t get his photos back. Flickr doesn’t mind screwing people over as long as they can keep it quiet. It’s funny how when enough negative attention hits the company that they “all of a sudden” are able to restore deleted accounts.

Kevin says that during his tenure at Flickr he “managed the help Forum for most of that time.” Back in 2009 when users were upset about Flickr deleting accounts and having no way to undelete them (in one of many user protests) Flickr arrogantly stated that not only could they not get deleted accounts back, but that this wasn’t even a feature that they were working on. Back in 2009 (when Collins was in charge of the Help Forum apparently) Flickr Staffer Zack Sheppard said in regards to the issue of undelting accounts, “we have heard your feedback about that here, and in the past, and we know it is on some people’s wish list, but it’s not something that we are working on currently.” After saying that they weren’t working on undelete functionality they promptly locked the thread to prevent additional user criticism.

Here’s what blows my mind.

After Flickr has deleted account after account after account for the most petty of things. After they have wrongly abused their customers again and again and again with no accountability to users whatsoever. After all the threads that they lock and close where users complain of account deletion. After all the ways that they try to silence criticism about this practice (I’m permanently, “for the time being,” banned from the Flickr help forum where I’ve been suggesting that they develop an undelete process for years — they just kicked out my Pal Pierre Honeyman last week for daring to criticize them as well.) After all this horrible community mismanagement, a guy who used to oversee this mess in the help forum has the balls to attack Don MacAskill and SmugMug for suggesting that if users are tired of Flickr’s BS that they move their accounts?

That “Don” isn’t taking the high road?

You’ve got to be kidding me.

You want to talk about the “high road?”

Why does Flickr ban people from the help forum simply for dissenting? Why won’t Flickr answer real questions with transparency? Why didn’t Flickr develop an undelete feature two years ago when we were clamoring for it rather than wait for a PR disaster to happen? Why did Flickr nuke a friggin’ LEGO group a week ago? Why won’t they still give Deepa Praven an actual real life answer on why her account was deleted? I guarantee you they could restore her account if it hit CNN like Mirco’s did. Flickr deleted a Washington State Firefighter’s 5 year account because he complained about a level 3 sex offender (the worst 3%) who had moved into his neighborhood next to a school?

Why does Flickr stonewall and hide and refuse to address these important issues?

Maybe if Flickr doesn’t want to be criticized they should treat their customers better and actually, you know, operate with transparency, rather than simply try to ban and censor everyone who disagrees with them.

Here’s the other thing. Don MacAskill has been the polar opposite of Flickr. Time and time again MacAskill and his team at SmugMug have bent over backwards to do the right thing for their community. Time and time again they listen to their customers and actually engage them and deal with issues in a real and human way. People aren’t banned from commenting there. People aren’t routinely deleted without warning or accidentally deleted. There is a healthy respect between SmugMug and their customers that doesn’t exist between Flickr and their customers. So maybe rather than criticizing Don and SmugMug, team Flickr should rather try to emulate the way that Don and his team actually give a damn about their users. Until then I think Kevin has no right to criticize Don for pointing out Flickr’s shortcomings.

Don, you just keep on doing what you’re doing, if Flickr users want to leave Flickr due to horrible customer service, that should be Flickr’s problem, not yours.

And by the way Kevin, in terms of nobody at Yahoo ever dreaming to speak ill of a competitor? Yahoo errected a friggin statue at Yahoo badmouthing the GMail team and comparing Yahoo defeating them to the Allies defeating the Nazis. I’m not kidding you, the actual Nazis. Good Lord, and you complain because Don dares to point out a huge and blatant problem at Flickr and suggest his site might do better.

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  1. William Beem says:

    There’s a childish attitude among the Flickr staff members about customer support. I have a SmugMug account and like many of the features there, but it just lacks the kind of social community that exists at Flickr. Too bad.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Thomas Hawk, photo blog feeds, Ray Andrews, stoopid robot, Moore Photography and others. Moore Photography said: Former Flickr Engineer Attacks SmugMug CEO on Blog […]

  3. Keith says:

    Not that anyone at Yahoo! will give a s***, but this is spot on.

    I left Flickr long ago because I had no desire to spend a significant amount of my limited time cultivating something that was at risk of being willfully destroyed without cause or warning. I was afraid from day one, and not long after I cut ties.

    My experience at SmugMug, on the other hand, has been hassle-free and exceptional from day one. Their policies are consistent. They are transparent in their planning, openly communicating their successes and failures. And they have proven time and again that they will err on the side of the photographer. They aren’t making everyone happy 100% of the time, but they’ll answer your damned questions (sad that this is even considered a worthwhile measure, but I digress).

    Everyone should feel free to draw their own conclusions as it relates to Don’s treatment of Flickr–his style isn’t for everyone. But he is *not* the one living in the glass house.

  4. Eric says:

    SmugMug and Flickr aren’t even competitors in my mind. Flickr is for socializing with my photos, SmugMug is about portfolio presentation and print sales.

    But yeah, SmugMug’s customer service is so far above and beyond Flickr’s that it’s a joke.

  5. Mike Cohen says:

    I would love to see SmugMug buy Flickr and incorporate their social features, groups, and photo stream along with their much nicer looking galleries.

  6. JeffPHenderson says:

    Great article. Spot on!

  7. Rob-L says:

    They made a reference to the British and the Nazis, not the US and the Nazis. And Yahoo Mail sucks. I dumped it years ago for the superior GMail.

  8. Gary Arndt says:

    Smugmug rocks. Flickr sucks.

  9. […] deletions are and have been well-thought-out and reasonable. And Don? Well… I guess if you have “Thomas Hawk” on your side, then there’s nothing much left to be said. Yeah, I do speak from experience… [↩]I do […]

  10. Richard says:

    I read the original post on the CEO blog in question, I did not see a SINGLE mention of flickr or yahoo in the post. I did not see anything but a statement of how they try to protect the customers data.

  11. Alberto S. Lopez says:


    Your continued support of Flickr demonstrated by the massive amount of pictures that you continually upload over there is PRECISELY THE REASON WHY Flickr continues to act in the manner which they do.

    It would seem that there is *nothing* too horrible they can do to get you to just draw a line and say ENOUGH.

    I mean, why should they?

    No matter how much you complain, no matter how many irate posts you write lambasting them over their unconscionable attitude towards their customers, there you are… day after day, week after week, month after month, continually adding image after beautiful image, bringing Flickr all of this undeserved traffic and attention.

    I don’t get it. I really don’t. On the one hand, you’ve written tens of thousands of words excoriating Flickr and with the other hand you benefit them enormously with your world-class photography!

    I mean, I can just see the jerks at Flicker… Snickering while reading your complaints in one window and watching the giant traffic flow your images are bringing to them in another window…

    Flickr is like a petulant child that refuses to listen to a parent. He displays horrible behavior and instead of being castigated, it’s behavior is rewarded, day after day by people like you who continue to use the service.

    It doesn’t add up, dude.

  12. Stephen Dickson says:

    Alberto raises a good point Thomas.

    Yes you’ve put a massive amount of time, energy, skill and even money into flickr, made a huge amount of friends there to I’ll wager. But when is enough enough?

    Hell, you wouldn’t take service like that anywhere else….

  13. Thomas Hawk says:

    Alberto and Stephen, As much as I despise some of the practices by Flickr staff, I am deeply connected to the community that is at Flickr. It’s not just a place to park photos. It’s a community where I interact with many friends every single day.

    Unfortunately there is not another site on the web that is technically able to replicate that at the moment. Flickr does a ton of things right and it makes the structure work for interaction. There is no other social photo sharing sit that has the functionality of Flickr groups. One could be built with the right money, designers and engineers, but it’s not here today yet.

    I live and breath photography. It’s a huge part of my life. I’d miss my friends and the flickr experience too much to just up and leave it. At least not without a suitable replacement.

    Maybe someday it’s about hoping that they will actually give a damn. Maybe not this staff, maybe not the next staff, maybe it will take an ownership change or something, who knows. But maybe eventually someday you’ll get somebody there who actually cares. It’s not impossible. Until then I’ll continue using the site and maybe in the next year something equally as social will come along.

    Maybe will be a strong enough photosharing experience. Maybe a new startup will see an opportunity there. Who knows.

  14. Thomas, the answer to all your questions is simple, they are a bunch of idiots. The best thing flickr could do is to would be to revise its policies so that account deletion would be limited to only the most flagrant violations such as invasion of privacy, child porn, and ridicule. Instead flickr plays this stupid game over “that guy”. Someone tell me exactly what they are trying to accomplish, because it does not make the slightest bit of sense to me.

    I was deleted and moved to Almost zero community, although I get a few hits from internal searches every day. Most of my traffic comes from posting in various photo forums and blogs. There is usually a bit of controversy over my stuff, and that brings in tons of hits.

    Anyone know of a close second to flickr in community without the absurd censorship?

  15. […] Thomas Hawk Digital Connection » Blog Archive » Former Flickr … […]

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  19. David Wolf says:

    I believe Don took the low road on this. It doesn’t matter what you think Flickr did or didn’t do; the fact remains that Don, as a CEO of a relatively large business, shouldn’t be slinging mud like that at another company–that isn’t even a direct competitor. It’s unseemly.

    Flickr is all about social media. SmugMug is all about portfolio and sales. SmugMug’s social media aspect (groups) is a joke.

    They occupy two separate markets; appeal to two distinct user groups. But, even if they didn’t have completely separate markets, in attacking Flickr, Don essentially sent the message that the only reason SmugMug is better than Flickr is because they don’t delete photos.

    Negative advertising doesn’t make you look better; it makes you look childish.

    So, Flickr? Yeah, they need to do some work on how they handle things a bit better. More established rules, etc..

    SmugMug? Don needs to learn the virtues of the high-road.

  20. Stephen Dickson says:

    “So, Flickr? Yeah, they need to do some work on how they handle things a bit better. More established rules, etc..”

    I think that might just be the understatement of the year, and it’s not like they are that new a company. Would you not think they could have it sorted by now? All the delay shows is how much they care….

  21. […] Thomas Hawk Digital Connection » Blog Archive » Former Flickr … […]

  22. […] Thomas Hawk Digital Connection » Blog Archive » Former Flickr … […]

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  27. Duluk says:

    Yahoo Mail defeated GMail? What’s that about? Do people actually use Yahoo Mail? For that matter, do people actually still use Yahoo? I’m personally shocked the company still exists. In my personal opinion, Flickr is the only thing Yahoo has going for it. And they’re systematically trying to destroy that. (sort of like everything else Yahoo tries to do)

  28. […] Thomas Hawk Digital Connection » Blog Archive » Former Flickr Engineer Attacks SmugMug CEO on Blog Flickr is dying along with Yahoo!. If you have content you care about up on Flickr you may want to ensure you have a local copy. […]