An Open Letter to Scott Thompson, CEO Yahoo Inc.

An Open Letter to Scott Thompson

Hi Scott,

I will try to be brief (it’s not easy for me), I’ve got a lot of work to do over at Google+ today (which is where I’m spending more and more of my time) — we have a photo hangout show there tonight that I should be working on right now.

First, congratulations on your new appointment as CEO. As a long-term critic of Yahoo I wish you the best and believe every new CEO deserves a fresh chance. I hope you succeed beyond your wildest dreams. The Street does not like the news of your appointment, but Yahoo’s stock would have probably gone down with *ANY* CEO appointment. The Street wants Yahoo to be sold off and your appointment makes that likelihood a little more murky (why hire a CEO to come get a boatload of severance cash if you’re just going to sell the company in 2 weeks anyways — unless the CEO is being hired to actually sell the company).

I’m going to give you some advice about Yahoo. It probably won’t make a bit of difference (it didn’t for Carol).

1. Flickr represents your *BEST* possible chance for social at Yahoo, but it’s probably too late. Social is key. Social is winning. Facebook is social. Google is social. Twitter is social. Every great web company *must* incorporate social going forward. It’s imperative. You can start from scratch or you can try to leverage your best shot at social which is Flickr. I know Flickr is not the most profitable thing Yahoo does — and I know that profits are very important to CEO types like yourself, but trust me, forget about the immediate profitability, social IS important for your longer-term sustainability.

Google has spent hundreds of millions of dollars so far for social on Google+ — with *NO* advertising or paid accounts. Why? Well for many reasons that have nothing to do with short-term profitability, but just assume that they can siphon off even 1% of the supposed $100 billion value of Facebook, that’s a billion dollars for spending a few hundred mil. Not a bad return. Of course they have plans to siphon off *FAR* more than just 1% and far better ways to monetize things in the longer run beyond even just the network itself.

2. It will be challenging to turn flickr into a full fledged social network. Too many people think of it as a photo sharing site. This is one of your challenges — but fix social for photographers and you’ll pull in other accounts… maybe. But the competition for social is fierce. The competition wants what little photo social Flickr has left by the way. They are siphoning it off right now as we speak. There’s a reason that Flickr’s uniques are down 20% since June (according to Look at this last flickr post by Ingo Meckmann. Ingo’s a great photographer by the way. This is what is happening to Flickr right now. Photographers are leaving. Google+ is siphoning off your flickr accounts and you’re losing your best social asset at Yahoo. Ingo’s move away from Flickr is just one of many, many, many such moves.

3. Flickr lacks vision and a leader. Maybe this is because most people at Yahoo don’t care about Flickr (again, it’s not the most profitable thing in the world). Maybe this is because Yahoo cannot recruit a strong leader. I don’t know. Again, this is your challenge. I’ve been on Flickr since 2004. Remember when Bradley Horowitz bought Flickr for Yahoo back in the day? Back when Stewart Butterfield ran the show there. Stewart was a bold visible leader. It helped that he was cofounder of the site and it was his baby, but he was a big personality who was out there banging the drum, interacting with the community, selling flickr to the world. Even if you didn’t always agree with his management decisions, he was at least visible.

Who is selling flickr to the world now? Nobody, that’s who. Do we even know who the General Manager of Flickr is anymore? Who is out there drumming up Flickr photo walks like Google+ is doing? Nobody. Who is out there talking about weekly Flickr innovation? Nobody.

Look at the big bold leadership of Google+. Look at Vic Gundotra and Bradley Horowitz — the very top guys. These guys are constantly promoting their baby. They live and breath it. It’s in their blood. I had a little censorship hiccup over on Google+ the other day and within about 10 minutes of posting about it at 1am in the morning Vic Gundotra himself responded to the issue and it got fixed. Go to their Google+ accounts and look at what they are posting. Now look what your Flickr Chief is posting (sorry Markus, nothing personal). Who is rallying the troops at Flickr? Who is leading the charge?

4. You have an excellent opportunity to turn Flickr into a stock photography powerhouse and you should. Why? Well for two reasons. First off there are only two companies in the world today who can compete with Getty Images. Google and Yahoo (with Flickr). It’s a multi-billion dollar industry ripe for disruption. But secondly, if you really reformed the stock photography market you’d attract all of the best photographers in the world today to Flickr. If you came out with something fairer than a 20% Getty payout and you really put the muscle behind promoting Flickr as a stock powerhouse, you’d retain many of your top photographers who are leaving and you’d attract many more. It’s a hook, and a big hook, what social person doesn’t like being *paid* to be social? Best of all, you get a cut. How many bored housewives with cameras are sitting out there who wouldn’t want to earn a few extra hundred bucks a month? Make this dream come true not just for some of the accounts on Flickr, but open it up to literally everyone.

5. Innovate, innovate, innovate. Apparently you are a tech guy. Flickr needs circles (like Google+). You need to spend about 3 weeks studying Flickr Groups and why they are one of the stickiest social things on the web over the past 10 years. Alot about Flickr Groups need to be changed (you need more robust blocking tools, you need better ways to track threads across groups, you need to integrate group threads into your mobile experience, etc.), but at core, they are highly social little mini social systems buried deep inside of Yahoo. Figure them out. Free them. Promote them. Use them to their full potential instead of letting them languish in obscurity buried in the basement of flickr.

6. Get a flickr account yourself. I gave Carol this advice too and she never took it. Really. You are CEO of Yahoo. You *should* at least have a flickr account. It would be best if you really used it of course, but even if all it is is a puppet account that your assistant posts vacation photos to for you, do it. If you don’t support your own product, why should we? More importantly, what kind of message does it send to your employees working on Flickr if you can’t even be bothered to set up an account.

7. Overhaul community management at flickr. It’s gotten better now that Heather’s out (I finally got off the Explore blacklist that Heather always denied ever even existed), but barely. Follow Google’s lead and beef up the community management team (I think Google has like 20 community managers or something like that). Get folks in there who will interact with the community, who will promote the community, who will celebrate the community.

Look at Vic Gundotra’s last post over at Google+. What is it? It’s a post celebrating an interesting article by Trey Ratcliff, one of the photo community leaders who has emerged on Google+. How do you think it makes Trey feel when Vic Gundotra himself comes out and brings up one of his posts? How do you think it made Mike Elgan feel last night? Look at how popular a flickr account Trey has. Who at flickr is reaching out to him and making him feel as special as Vic is making him feel? Who is community management?

Vic is leading by example here. And his community managers are doing the same thing. That’s so smart. This is one of the many reasons why Google is winning at social. I hope Brian Rose and Chris Chabot and Natalie Villalobos and Michael Hermeston and Ricardo Lagos and tag team of Dave Cohen and Vincent Mo, and Tony Payne and Chew Chee and Sparky and soooooo many more Googlers got big fat year-end bonuses at Google, because they deserve it (and wayyy more Googlers that I know I left out, sorry).

Where is the community manangement at Flickr? Where is the outreach? Where is the social?

Finally, try this. Hop on the Verge’s (don’t you love cutting edge new tech sites?) article about your new appointment today, or wherever and ask the question, “what is the best internet property that Yahoo has today?” Watch how many people say Flickr. Flickr represents your best chance to funnel positive technology out of Yahoo in a highly visible way. People care more about Flickr than any other Yahoo property. It’s highly, highly visible, despite profitability issues. Let your other sleepy little businesses provide the profitability why you hold Flickr up as your beacon and proof that Yahoo can innovate. Do something bold. Get rid of the paid account. Facebook and Google+ don’t charge for accounts. I know there’s probably a big gasp there as paid accounts are probably the number one thing contributing to Flickr’s profitability at present, but do it anyways. People will love it. It will get great press. It will be a big bold move and a signal that Yahoo has much bigger plans for profitability going forward than paid Pro accounts.

That is all Scott. Best of luck. If you ever want to talk about Flickr, I have many, many more ideas on how you can turn that failing ship around. Show us you’ve got what it takes.

27 Replies to “An Open Letter to Scott Thompson, CEO Yahoo Inc.”

  1. Well-timed. Apparently as you were publishing this, I was pushing the button to publish a comparison of photo sharing websites with the angle that folks are trying to figure out the best options now that Flickr is no longer the de facto standard amongst photographers.

    Hopefully Mr. Thompson shows more desire in keeping Yahoo afloat than his predecessors.

  2. I love this. I pray that someone over there takes the time to read this open letter, thousands of people out there share your thoughts on Flickr and Yahoo!

  3. Wholeheartedly agree with “You need to spend about 3 weeks studying Flickr Groups and why they are one of the stickiest social things on the web over the past 10 years.”

    Also, not sure Flickr needs to eliminate paid accounts entirely. But they need to drop the ancient 200 photo limit for free accounts. That keeps my friends & family off Flickr and drives them to Facebook & Picasa. $25/year is a bargain for me, but others simply won’t pay a nickel to join a website. That fewer of my IRL friends are active than a couple years ago makes the service less valuable for me.

  4. Thomas, I am only puzzled by one thing: why do you want to help Flickr become a better platform for social sharing?

    I took to G+ like a fish to water and also found a very close tie between users and the G+ developers. You can imagine my surprise when I complained about some G+ feature and was contacted a day later not only with a direct comment from a G+ programmer but a fix a few days later. It really gave me that warm fuzzy feeling that people on the other side of the screen were watching, listening, and reacting.

    Yes, I used Flickr for years – but my interest slowly waned as the UI became more and more dated.

    Well, that’s really all I have to say on the subject other than that I totally agree with your recommendations and hope that Mr. Thompson doesn’t follow any of your ideas because any one of them would improve Flickr – and I’d like to see more of the great photographers move to G+ because it is a wonderful environment.

    I even stopped posting directly to my photo blog which I began in 1999 before there were blogs (I called my posts a journal back then) and simply post to G+ and have them ported to my old blog. In other words, I like this new place that much and have discovered so many intelligent and thoughtful artists here.

    Dave Beckerman

  5. Interesting post Thomas, and I find it more interesting that with all the crap you go through with regards to flickr that you still hold hope that it will be the standard again.
    I personally think that if it isn’t broken away from yahoo as a separate entity that goes into startup-like mode, there is no point. I can’t even remember the last time I posted there? Google plus gets me so much more than Flickr ever did and looks better too! They way I look at it is instead of taking the 3 weeks studying it, take 3 weeks to notify users that it’s going away…

  6. Dave, that’s a good question. Like you, I’ve entirely moved the social of my social photo sharing from Flickr to Google+.

    But… Competition is a wonderful thing. As much as I love Google+ for photos and hope that it becomes the greatest social photo sharing venture of all time (and believe that it will) competition is always good. Competition spurs innovation. Google and Flickr should BOTH want to get into the stock photography business. Let’s see them race to it to see who can give us the best vehicle the fastest. With competition consumers win.

    Right now the Flickr/Getty deal (even with it’s paltry 20% payouts) is better than what Google has for us for stock photography which is nothing. If Flickr comes out with a more robust stock photography engine maybe that spurs Google on even faster. Flickr’s sets/collections/suprsetr, etc. are a better way or organizing our photos that Google Photos.

    Team Google wants to win badly. And they are super smart and talented and all that. But there is a special place and probably always will be in my heart for Flickr. But I want both sites to be all that they can be. I want them to push ahead and drive on and succeed. To succeed for them and to succeed for us.

    You are a perfect example of the type of photographer who Flickr should care more about and who Google is reaching out to.

  7. Lars, I hope they unblacklist you. That is not right. it’s terrible for Flickr to maintain a secret blacklist on any user. They did it to me and it sucks. They are still doing it to many others. Flickr needs to be more transparent about their Explore blacklist. Who is put on it and why.

    I was told that I was put on it because I was too popular. But there are many photographers on flickr more popular than me (like Trey for instance). In my case it happened shortly after I wrote an article critical of Flickr.

    It made matters far worse when Flickr folks denied that a blacklist existed, when they absolutely knew it did. Why you would abuse your customers this way is beyond me. Transparency should be a hallmark for every social media company that depends on users for content.

  8. Patrick, when Flickr wins, we all win. When Google+ wins, we all win.

    I love competition.

    Personally I think the Google folks don’t mind competition either. They are fiercely competitive. Look how badly they all want to win. This is a big reason why I say it’s probably too late for Yahoo with Flickr even. But they should at least try.

  9. I’ve also been blacklisted for some time now. It’s been over 3 years since they actually bought me a diet (although they did treat me to lunch).

  10. I agree with Jake: ” But they [Flickr] need to drop the ancient 200 photo limit for free accounts. That keeps my friends & family off Flickr and drives them to Facebook & Picasa. $25/year is a bargain for me, but others simply wont pay a nickel to join a website.”

    Many of my friends, whom I invited to Flickr, do not want to pay $25 per year for Pro account.
    They tell me that “Picasa is free, why I should use something else?”

    Another problem – Flickr doesn’t support Russian language. Which is nonsense.
    Why someone would pay for a service, which is not available in your native language?

  11. Thomas… An excellent open letter. I’ll be pleasantly surprised if he responds. Maybe he will?!

    I used to work at Yahoo! In fact, working there was the main reason I initially fired up a Flickr account. I can tell you Flickr has always had so many exciting opportunities, but never quite bloomed. Kind of the overarching theme of Yahoo!

    Yahoo! is an advertising platform. Pretty much all of their activities are aligned with gleaning interest deom their highest value advertisers. They are so focused on generating ad revenue they sometimes can’t see the forest for the trees.

    I agree with your ideas.

  12. “Lets see them race to it to see who can give us the best vehicle the fastest. With competition consumers win.” That line, and also that you hold a special place in your heart for them…

    I understand that. I’m also all for competition. But I think they’ve blown their chance and would like to see the competition go to a more innovative or even just a more passionate company.

    I also admit that I don’t feel loyalty to companies, esp. when they’ve had many chances to improve their service / mission / purpose and haven’t done it.

    Possibly you still know people there – and that is different. I can understand loyalty to people – but not to failed companies.

    Look at Kodak. They made all my film and some of my chemicals for years. Do I feel sentimental about their current problems. No. But I feel sentimental about people. Other photographers that struggle. Painters. Actors.

    It is such an incredibly difficult thing to survive as a fine art photographer – that it breaks my heart when I see people who are talented but are lacking let’s say business skills. But Kodak, or Flickr? No.

    On the other hand – I have to admit that I have a feeling for Ilford as a company and I don’t know anyone there. Hmmm… I wonder why that is. Maybe it’s rooting for the underdog. And I did recently have a chance to use and review some fine art paper of theirs and had a conversation about issues with the techs there.

    And I can remember other instances where they reached out to me and… yes, maybe that’s what makes a company worth saving — some sense of a relationship with the people there.

  13. Wonderfully worded Thomas. It’d be nice if you could publish a follow-up if Scott replies and is willing for his comments to be made public.

  14. I agree with everything said here, ESPECIALLY about the ancient fee structure. My renewal is coming up in a matter of days, and I’ve been debating the value of it. I don’t mind $25 when I have it to spare, but I need to feel like I’m getting something I can’t get elsewhere.

    Picasa has a much better fee structure: you pay for extra storage–which most people never even need. There must be enough who do to support the structure, but the average Joe never needs it. That is really the only way to make fees work. And 20GB for $5 per year seems a STEAL compared to Flickr.

    And Flickr never really figured out social sharing (to any network). My “share to Facebook” started working correctly just as I was moving away from Facebook. Before that, it was a big mess that required too much time and energy. Yahoo complicates social sharing beyond belief, and every year it’s a new scheme. Now it’s back to “Yahoo Profiles,” with the death of “Pulse.” Social sharing is built into that bloated mess, and you often have to tweak THERE just to get Flickr sharing to work. Have they even HEARD of “AddThis?”

    I’ve always liked Yahoo! and Flickr… but they need some new energy. If I don’t feel like I’m getting any return on my time, I simply don’t use a site. I’m heading in that direction with Flickr, and that would be a shame. There is so much there that is good.

  15. One of the most telling problems with Flickr is the way they wipe out user identity almost entirely. When you think of G+’s community managers, you can easily name names and think of personalities. The only community management at Flickr is through a blog that is almost completely devoid of personality. But the fact that they have such a huge base of users (myself included) says that they have a lot to gain by doing things right…

  16. I’ve always liked Flickr and always paid for the pro account, it’s a fair price. The “photo” features are just better than Picasa, Box, MSN and more – but add social and it’d be awesome. Like Instagram on steroids

  17. is the new
    Flickr Groups is the new

    Sooo there’s that.

  18. Oh man! Thanks for this letter and i hope they listen to you Thomas. I’ve been thinking about some of the stuff you said while ago and then i read this completely agree whit everything you said. The price that flicker charges is totally fair. I wish they would up the resolution and video length up. I would hate leaving flicker since i got some much invested in there all the contacts and images so I’m hoping they improve and listen to the people.

  19. Google + has television ads.

    I quit Flickr months ago, and while I agree with you that it needs a social element, the photographers embrace Google+, and Google has a strong hold on this demographic using all the methods you describe above.

    I wouldn’t say Flickr’s days are numbered, but I think they already missed their opportunity at social. Just speculating here, but if they partnered with Facebook? Facebook’s photo “tools” and upload/album editing process is horrible.

  20. I am holding onto Flickr because I still genuinely believe it is the best website for photo-sharing. That said, it has many deficiencies and Yahoo still have a chance to fix it up before it’s too late.

    Thomas, you may be interested in a blog post that I have written about my own experience of Flickr, what I believe is wrong with it and how it can be improved. Your thoughts would be most welcome.

    The article is at

  21. hmm, took me a while to jerry that this was not a letter from Tony Hawk. I thought wow, this guy is talented. Time to get some sleep I think. Anyway, I hope Yahoo and the rest of America can fight back.

  22. Yeah it’s amazing how thee Shining Light of the Web2.0 Universe Flickr has faded into complete obscurity. Particular shame with people hanging out at boring FacePOOP. Yahoo! had that incubator thingy Brickhouse run by Caterina Fake – co Flickr Founder but I was shocked it didn’t really deliver any Web2.0 Blockbusters. Isn’t Web3.0 supposed to be here by now?? 😉

  23. Outstanding. My complaint for years is that Flickr should do away with the FREE accounts. It does nothing but breed spammers and chaff.

    Posting on Flickr should be a (paid) privilege, not a right.

    Cowboy up, and dump the free riders!

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