Within the last few days, there has been a huge uproar within the Flickr user community regarding some limits that Yahoo was going to start imposing on Flickr accounts. For those that don’t know Flickr, it’s the original photo sharing community. Sign-up for a free account, upload your photos, share them with friends, family, and the rest of the world. Over time the system evolved to allow comments to be left about photos, building lists of friends and favorites, etc. Now that Yahoo has been the owner of Flickr for a while, they are starting to change a few things. In this case, they wanted to limit the number of friends that you could have (limit it to 3000) and the number of tags that are associated with a photo to describe it.
Thomas Hawk has done an excellent job of reporting of the announcement then description of the user reactions followed by his coverage of the slight modification of the new limits. This gave me flashbacks to one of the recent user backlash against eBay. I would have thought that Yahoo/Flickr would have remembered that little incident and taken a different approach to their limit changes.
What this just continues to exemplify is the need for community networks to think and act differently with regards to product management (actually any software company with the continuing movement toward online and community based products). Having spent over 10 years in the software industry working with customers and product managers (including some time as a Product Manager), I’m still amazed at how many crucial decisions are made without clear understanding of the customers or without doing something as simple as asking the customers.
I’ve seen product features be designed with no idea of how a customer uses the product. Products built based upon huge assumptions made from the ivory tower of the corporate office. Even a product manager sit in front of a large fortune 100 customer listening to them state their specific needs only to later say “I think what the customer really meant was…”. As someone who sells technology for a living, my job would be so much easier if at least 60% of what was built was what customers ask for. (I know there is a huge discussion that can be had about innovation here…but that’s for another time.)
Getting feedback from users has only gotten easier and easier over the past 10 years with new internet based technologies. You have internet based user forums, online surveys, user groups, etc. Mostly it’s the time to market pressures that the technology industry creates itself that prevents this from happening.
In the world of community network type services and products a totally different approach is needed. It’s the community that makes the product successful, so why isn’t the community used to drive the development of the product? Flickr, and most community networks, succeeded because of the evangelizing that is done by early members. These same members should be given the option of continuing to drive the success of the business. In the case of the latest Flickr changes, it was a Flickr early user who suggested the change to one of the limits that eased a lot of ruffled feathers.
All the advances and changes in the technology landscape, and yet some attitudes are so slow to adjust.