While I’m still upset about the tone and method of dpreview’s message to us, I have to admit, after thinking about it a little bit and exchanging some private emails with Phil, he has a point.
We’re a ‘no ads, no spam‘ company, and would hate for our brand to be associated with any sort of spammy tactics. On the other hand, we feel like people should be able to recommend products they enjoy. I love the Canon 30D, for example, and I’m not afraid to tell everyone I meet. But there’s a line, and it looks like some of our customers may have crossed it. (Why on earth a few customers crossing the line results in the banning of an entire photo community, I don’t know, though.)
To that end, we’ve added some language to our referral information in our users’s Control Panel, and in the referrals help section on SmugMug. Specifically, the text reads: “Please: As you know, SmugMug hates spam, as we’re sure you do. We know you’re thrilled with SmugMug, but please refrain from using your coupon code in a pushy way that could be construed as spam. Thanks!”. I think that about sums it up, and it helps us and our customers be better Internet citizens.
To be clear: We never intended for our referral program to be some ‘free ride’ on forums or anything. The original intent was for friends and families to hook each other up. We’re happy to pay for advertising on message forums and websites.
I guess we’re just cursed with zealot customers. Oh darn. 🙂
One of my all-time favorite sites on the net, dpreview, home to all worthy camera news, isn’t happy with us. And I’m not sure what to do about it. Here’s the deal, and I’m hoping maybe someone has some ideas on what we can do:
SmugMug customers are foaming-at-the-mouth rabid zealots. Ever been cornered at a party by a TiVo subscriber who wouldn’t let you leave until you’d promised to buy one? Yeah, they’re like that. Four years ago, when we realized what was going on, we thought it’d be great to have a referral program that lets them get discounts at SmugMug and save their friends a few bucks. Not all that different from any other customer referral program, online or off, in the world. (We do give bennies to both parties, though, which isn’t unique but is fairly rare).
It took off like gangbusters and everyone got warm-and-fuzzies because they were saving themselves andtheir friends money. So they started posting their referral codes in blogs, email signatures, and forum posts. No biggie, right?
Apparently to dpreview, it IS a biggy. Thousands of SmugMug customers are also dpreview forum members. And now Phil Askey, dpreview owner, dropped a bomb in our laps: all SmugMug links in the forums will be blocked. Why? Because he’s upset at our ‘viral marketing’ technique (aka referral program). Here’s the message we got (with no warning whatsoever):
Just to let you know that we will be blocking linking to smugmug from our forums due to the rapid increase in your ‘viral marketing’ technique of using ‘account codes’ for discounts. Numerous of our regular posters are now inadvertently promoting your site by placing such account codes in their signatures, this is considered to be commercial advertising and is against our posting rules. As we have no interest in banning such members we will instead be blocking any external linking or mention of your site.
As I mentioned, we have thousands of shared customers (likely tens of thousands, but I don’t know for sure), so with the flip of a switch, Phil will be pissing off a large portion of his user base. Lots of camera reviews in the forums come from SmugMug customers, complete with both links to their galleries and embedded links to images directly on SmugMug. They’ll all disappear in a heartbeat. If I were a non-SmugMug customer at dpreview, I’d be wondering “What’s to stop him from doing this for Flickr or Pbase or anyone else he chooses in the future?”.
I’d be tempted to say that it’s because we don’t pay him to advertise at dpreview, but the sad truth is we’ve tried numerous times to buy ads there. Phil simply ignored every single one of our requests.
So I have no idea what the motivation here is. You see paid plants for other photo sharing sites (something we’ve NEVER done) running amok over there, posting like crazy with no useful information other than a link to “the GREATEST photo sharing site in the world! Way better than [Flickr|Pbase|SmugMug]”.
I’d really like to be fair here. We owe our customers at least some effort to rectify the situation before their ability to use dpreview disappears. So, help me out here. Are we doing something wrong? Is our referral program somehow harming dpreview and/or the internet as a whole? Is there something we could do to change the program that would make things better?
Are are we just stuck?
There’s some hooplah over Flickr not letting Zooomr have an API key. Just to be clear, as if my earlier post on the ‘lock-in’ subject weren’t already clear enough, we’re happy to play nice with our competitors. Grab a SmugMug API Key, make it easy to migrate your photos – we’re thrilled.
We think competition is good, lock-in is bad, and that the best company should win. We all do things a little (or more than a little, depending) differently than each other. Let the customer choose.
Personally, I thought this would have happened years ago, but they’ve finally done it – Google’s released their SmugMug killer 🙂
I’ve got my account already and started to play with it – and I actually quite like it. I’ve only spent a few minutes with it (you can too, if you can’t get an account – here’s a sample account to play with, at least as a viewer). Unfortunately, I’m travelling and on my Mac, so I can’t play with the Picasa integration yet.
Anyway, the things I like about it:
- It’s very clean and simple. Pages aren’t cluttered with tons of crap, browsing is self-explanatory, and the interface revolves around the photos. Good job, Google.
- Slideshow resizes to your browser window. We do this too, and it’s really the only thing to do. The unique thing about Google’s approach, though, is they show you a lower-rez photo first, stretched to fit your screen, which looks shockingly bad at first. Then the sharp version pops in after Google’s servers are done resizing it. At first, this was sorta disconcerting, but now I’m warming up to the idea. You get a “out of focus” preview while the real deal loads (there’s no getting away from the loading time, there’s a few seconds of rendering time that just can’t be gotten rid of), and then when it does load, it almost looks *extra* sharp because you’d seen the “blurry” one first. Very interesting approach. I’d like to hear from our customers whether they like our approach better or worse (we show a loading pane on the first image, and then don’t flip to the next image until we’ve loaded it completely. Downside is seeing a loading pane, and also irregular slideshow switching times as images are resized).
- No ads! I was shocked to see this, but thrilled, too. People don’t want ads in their photo albums. They don’t go home and clip out newspaper ads and paste them into their physical photo albums. Shocking for Google not to do it, but good idea.
I don’t really have much negative to say about it – Google’s clearly attacking a different market than we are, and they’re doing it with simplicity. I was surprised to see that you only get 250MB (GMail gets GBs for free!), and for $25/year you get 6GB. For $40/year at SmugMug, you get unlimited storage, so this seems outta whack. Doesn’t Google run the largest datacenters in the world? I imagine that’ll change.
Welcome to the game, Google. 🙂