Yahoo! Photos to close and delete photos

The news comes, via Thomas Vander Wal, that Yahoo! Photos is to close. I’m not a Yahoo! Photos user myself, but I think that this decision is wrong-headed and ill-conceived, in so many ways.

Thomas’ post is dated 7 July, and the email he had from Yahoo! Photos informs him that the service will close on 20 September 2007, at 9pm PDT. Assuming that Thomas didn’t miss an earlier email, that’s a little over two months’ notice – is that really enough time to notify all your users that you’re closing a service? Thomas says:

many of the people I know and run across that use Yahoo Photos rely on Yahoo Photos to always be there. They are often infrequent users. They like and love the service because it is relatively easy to use and “will always be there”. Many real people I know (you know the 95 percent of the people who do not live their life on the web) visit Yahoo Photos once or twice a year as it is where holiday, travel, or family reunion photos are stored. It would seem that this user base would need more than a year’s notice to get valuable notification that their digital heirlooms are going to be gone, toast, destroyed, etc. in a few short months.

I think it’s rather optimistic to think that everyone who’s going to be affected by this will find out in time to take action.

But let’s dig a little deeper, and go beyond the looming deadline to take a look at Yahoo! Photo’s help pages concerning the closure.

Yahoo! is giving people three “options if [they] want to keep [their] photos”. (I find the language here more than a little alarming as to me it implies that the default view is that people won’t want to keep their photos, and I’d bet money on that not being true.)

1. You can move your photos to Flickr, Kodak Gallery, Shutterfly, Snapfish or Photobucket. You can only move your photos to one service, and once they’ve been moved, options 2 and 3 become unavailable to you.

2. You can download your photos, but you can only download them one at a time. There’s no bulk download, so if you have a lot of photos you’re in for a tedious ride. Again, Yahoo!’s underlying assumption seems to be that people aren’t interested in keeping all their photos: “for many of you it won’t take much time to download your favorites”, as if your favourites are the only photos that matter.

3. You can buy an archive CD, but only if you’re a New Yahoo! Photos user. Yahoo! have partnered with Englaze to offer a price of $6.95 for 700mb of photos. Why not use DVDs, I wonder? They’ll take a lot more data than a CD and surely the aim here is to help users, not screw them? Although old Yahoo! Photos users have to either download one by one, or move services, so maybe screwing users isn’t that big of a deal for them.

You can choose all three options, if you qualify for the CD of course, and if you have few enough photos that downloading them one by one doesn’t cause you to tear your hair out.

Digging deeper into Yahoo!’s help pages causes further concern. Maybe this is just me being a bit sensitive to language, but if I were a Yahoo! Photos user, I’d want to know exactly what this means:

How long do I have to make a decision about what to do with my photos?

You will have until September 20, 2007 at 9 p.m. PDT to make a decision about your photos.

Of course, we encourage you to decide sooner rather than later, to avoid the last-minute rush. All users who choose to move to another service will be added to the queue for that service. So the sooner you make the decision, the sooner you’ll be have access to your photos at their new home.

“Added to the queue”? How long is it going to take people to have their photos moved over? And what happens if you do get stuck in the “last-minute rush”? Oh, wait, we get that answer over on another help page:

Be patient…the move can take several days or even weeks depending upon how many other users are in front of you in the queue.

I’m getting the feeling that this is going to be a sub-par experience for anyone moving their photos.

But hey, it’s ok, because Yahoo! get to blame the other services for any delays:

How long will it take you to transfer my photos to another service?

The move itself should not take long at all, it depends more upon the number of users ahead of you in the queue to be moved.

After you’ve opted to move to another service, you’ll be added to a move queue managed by that service. The queue will be managed on a first come, first served basis. When they get to your Yahoo! Photos account, they will copy your original resolution photos into the account you identified on their service and send you an email when the move is complete.

Although if it all goes wrong – and goshdarn, data transfer never goes wrong, right? – Yahoo! will be there to sort it all out. Or not.

What can I do if I have issues with transferring my photos or my transfer fails?

Each of these services should be able to successfully transfer all your photos and will be responsible for all issues once that transfer occurs. So if you encounter issues with your new account you should contact them directly.

But if you’ve received emails that some of your photos failed to make the move or that the service was unable to move your photo collection, then it’s likely due to more complicated data issues with your account. Any failures that are specific to a user’s account will be reported to Yahoo!

In these cases, the best alternative may be to download your favorites or purchase an archive CD (for users of the New Yahoo! Photos only).

I am presuming the lock that Yahoo! will put on your account once transfer has been initiated will be lifted if transfer fails, because if not, how will users be able to download their “favourites” or buy an archive CD? Of course, I’ve presumed before and been wrong.

Finally, if you’ve been using any of your Yahoo! Photos in any other Yahoo! products, then you need to know that:

Yahoo! Photos features in these services will all be going away soon, which means your photos will no longer be accessible from these services. And your photos will definitely not be available from these other services (or anywhere else on the Web for that matter) after Yahoo! Photos closes and all remaining photos are deleted and no longer accessible.

Oh dear god. They’ve really buried the lead here. Let’s just read that again, with some emphasis added:

Yahoo! Photos features in these services will all be going away soon, which means your photos will no longer be accessible from these services. And your photos will definitely not be available from these other services (or anywhere else on the Web for that matter) after Yahoo! Photos closes and all remaining photos are deleted and no longer accessible.

This was my big unanswered question. What will happen to the photos that haven’t been transferred before 20 Sept 2007? Answer: They will be deleted. Yes, that’s right, you’ve got two months to get your stuff, and then it’s toast.

This is absolutely astonishing. User’s stuff should be sacred – giving people just over two months to find out that their photos are going to be deleted is absurd. As Thomas said, people put their trust in companies like Yahoo!, who’ve been around for years, to still be around for years to come and this is a massive betrayal of that trust.

If a service has to be closed – and I recognise that from time to time, that’s inevitable – then it has to be done in a thoughtful, careful way. A staged process would be the best way to deal with such an eventuality, where uploading is closed first, followed by a period during which people can download, transfer or archive their images before the site is ‘fossilised’. But there should be a lot more time in between the emails warning people and the cessation of uploading. Deleting people’s photos should be verboten. (And that’s not just about the importance of users’ data, but also about the wider issue of causing linkrot, which is something that responsible service providers try to avoid.)

Is there even a good reason for Yahoo! to be closing Yahoo! Photos? Yes, it’s true that they bought Flickr, but Thomas points out that these two services have different userbases:

Having similar service running allows for one to be innovative and test the waters, while keeping one a safe resource that is familiar to the many who want stability over fresh and innovative. Companies must understand these two groups of people exist and are not fully interchangeable (er, make that they are rarely interchangeable). Innovation takes experimentation and time. Once things are found to work within the groups accepting innovation the work becomes really tough with the integration and use testing with the people who are not change friendly (normally a much larger part of an organization’s base).

It would have seemed the smart move to be mindful that Flickr is the innovation platform and Photos is the stable use platform. The two groups of use are needed. Those in the perpetual beta and innovation platform are likely to jump to something new and different if the innovation gets stale. The stable platform users often are surprised and start looking to move when there is too much change.

I agree with Thomas that Yahoo! Photos and Flickr users are not interchangable – to treat the former group as expendable is pure foolishness. It’s not like there aren’t business models to experiment with for Yahoo! Photos, so is it really necessary to close it?

Whilst this closure is at first not going to affect Yahoo!’s international users, they should get out whilst the going’s good. I see no way that Yahoo! Photos won’t be closing their international sites, so I find it absurd that they are still allowing people to sign up and upload photos to the UK site. But then, I find the whole thing absurd.

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