January 31st, 2012
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org
In the last 4 years, I can only think of mistakes that Yahoo has made. I can not think of a single time in the last 4 years where I thought, “Wow, Yahoo made the right move!” Their constant disregard of Flickr is truly incredible. Flickr is such a great site, one has to wonder, if Yahoo can not be successful with Flickr, then what can it possibly be successful with?
After we write and ship code that probably contains a bug or two (or three), our job is to then write more code, which will also contain bugs. It’s a bad cycle.
This means that someone has to be in the middle, as the face of Flickr, acknowledging these mistakes and going to great lengths to fix things. This is often a thankless job, as users just want their problems to go away and developers (usually) don’t like to be told they messed up. But they do it for the good, and for the love, of the site. Every bug that gets filed and every support case that gets carefully answered makes the site that much better.
After being a liaison between these two worlds long enough, you end up knowing more than anyone else on the team. When you have millions and millions of users that hit every button and link in combinations you would never dream of, then reporting the “interesting” outcomes of their explorations, these support agents become walking encyclopedias of the ins-and-outs of the site and with Flickr, there are odd edge cases waiting on every page. Having people on your team aware of everything the site does is huge. You literally can’t buy that or replace it or outsource it, though it appears that Yahoo thinks it can.
With big sites, not only do you have bugs, but you have outages. These same agents that can recite all the guestpass-viewing conditions and know offhand whether a photo should be visible in Germany, also get to sit on the front lines and explain to users with emotions ranging from impatient to pissed-off that some section of the site will be back as soon as possible. This is not a position to be envied but one they always handled with grace and aplomb.
To be constantly deluged by the requests and demands from stressed users and keep showing up in high spirits day after day demands a special kind of character. Not only do you have the patience of a saint (imagine getting asked the same 3 questions, 50 times a day, every day) but also the tact to work with developers and product folks whose priorities are different from the users, as those things tend to go.
And that’s probably the biggest thing that hurts: the users of Flickr lost their major advocates today. At product meetings and developer meetings, it would be these support folks constantly asking, “But what about the users?”