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SmugMug is on StackExchange!

February 8, 2012 1 comment

Long time readers will know that more than a year ago, I tried to get a SmugMug site going on StackExchange.

Today, we’re finally in Public Beta! We’re not done yet, though, so please head over and start asking & answering questions so we can flesh out the knowledge base and create a rich resource for everyone to use.

Thanks to everyone who helped get us here!

Categories: smugmug Tags: ,

My love affair with StackExchange (and a plea for help)

December 15, 2010 10 comments

tl;dr: Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope. Trying to move the Q&A for our community to StackExchange, which I love, and could use your help. Please click here, hit ‘Commit’, then click the link in your email if you can help us out.

Full Balcony, Columbia MOThis is the balcony at Harpo's, famous for post-football game riots.  Harpo's is where the mob of fans brings the goal post to cut it up with hack saws.  I've even heard that Harpo's actually distributes the hack saws.  It's been a while since I've been inside, it's not my kind of place.These B&W shots were inspired by Richard Kane, a great photographer.  I'm trying to learn how to use my limited processing skills to bring out the grains, but can't do it like the master.I've been too busy to take new photos, so I decided to do some new processing instead.Daily photo: November 5, 2010, taken October 26, 2010

I’ve been in love with StackOverflow since the day Jeff and Joel announced it. I taught myself how to write SmugMug using Google, not books, so a site like StackOverflow was a dream come true. However, I’d only been a lurker until recently – I figured I didn’t have the kind of time needed to really answer questions.

When ServerFault, and recently, the Photography & Photographic Editing StackExchange site came along, I started lurking more. Now that I run a photography company, I don’t get to take as many photos (go figure), but our employees and customers, obviously, take tons. And just like StackOverflow, the Photo site is full of great information shared by a wonderful, and growing, community. One of the things I really love about these sites is the overflow nature – many photographers are into geekier pastimes and vice versa, so there’s a natural compatibility with Photos and StackOverflow, for example.

Very recently, a few people have both asked “Why doesn’t SmugMug have a StackExchange site? Do you want to control all the data or something?” and “Why does your support forum suck so badly for finding answers to fairly simple questions?”. Our support forum does suck for this (good answers get buried pages deep, searching is tough, you don’t want to read all the discussions all the time, the same question get asked many times, etc…) Which, of course, got me thinking – surely we can just pay StackExchange to solve this problem (I do not want to control all the data – I just want an awesome experience).

StackExchange would be amazing for our community because:

  • The best answers to a question are always on top. No wading through pages of replies.
  • Searching is easy, both on StackExchange and via engines like Google.
  • The same questions won’t get asked over and over – they’ve already been answered and are easy to find.
  • The system encourages people to ask great questions and provide authoritative answers.
  • You can tell at a glance if someone answering your question knows what they’re talking about.
  • They’ve done this for large topics like StackOverflow already, so they understand the ins & outs of the process and software to support communities like this.
  • And more… See for yourself at StackOverflow

Turns out, they won’t take a check. We have to go through a formal community vetting process, to make sure our criteria matches with theirs. After that, it’s free (yay!), but until then, we can’t use it (boo!). The process seems like a sound way to ensure that a StackExchange site won’t just linger and drift into obscurity, and that it starts off with a nice subset of users as it ramps up. After glancing through the FAQ, it looked like we’d be a slam-dunk.

2007 San Francisco Pillow Fight Held on Valentine's Day

We have millions of paying customers, tens of thousands of whom are active posters on our forums at Digital Grin, and they’ve posted tens of thousands of threads with hundreds of thousands of replies around just the sorts of things we’d ask & answer on a StackExchange site. Best of all, we’d instantly have all the world’s experts (say, the top 100-200 most knowledgeable SmugMug people in the world) to jumpstart things. Sounds perfect, right?

Wrong.

Our problem is that during the ‘Commit’ phase, what matters more than warm bodies is your rank on other StackExchange sites, like StackOverflow, ServerFault, etc. And SmugMug’s community, while full of warm, eager bodies, isn’t brimming with StackExchange users. To make matters worse, I can’t reach out to my customers and ask them to ‘Commit’ because there’s nothing useful there to see, and explaining the process is difficult. When it’s in ‘Beta’, this probably gets much easier – since the site becomes fully functional at that point, we can begin directing *all* of our customers to it, and drive usage and adoption pretty rapidly.

When it comes right down to it, we’re really trying to expose tens of thousands (hundreds eventually and perhaps millions) of new people to StackExchange. I’m very confident that many of these photographers would love to be exposed at the same time to the Photography StackExchange site, and that the thousands of developers of our API would love to be exposed to StackOverflow.

This seems to be a win-win for everyone involved: SmugMug gets massively better community-driven Q&A, SmugMug’s customers get the answers to the questions they need answered, and StackExchange gets valuable users, traffic, and data. But we’re stuck with a chicken-or-the-egg problem – we can’t jumpstart our community of fresh new StackExchange users because we don’t have enough StackExchange users.

Bummer.

So our ‘Commit’ process has stalled. And I’d love to have your help. If you’d like to see a repository of authoritative answers for SmugMug questions, from Pro-related sales & money-making to Power-user customization to API developer questions, please, give us a hand.

2007 San Francisco Pillow Fight:  Victory!

Click here, hit ‘Commit’, fill in your details (your SmugMug URL works as an OpenID!), and then click the link in the email they’ll send you.

Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.

P.S. – I’m a full-fledged addict on StackOverflow and ServerFault, now, not just a lurker. Hardest thing? Answering a question quickly enough that someone else hasn’t already answered it. Those communities are on fire!

Why ‘Be Passionate’ is Awesome Advice

November 10, 2010 9 comments

Inc has a article entitled Why ‘Be Passionate’ is Awful Advice where they baldly state that companies built on passion are fairy tales.

They’re wrong.

SmugMug is living proof. Here’s what it was like when we started, in response to their list of questions:

Is your idea really a business or just a hobby from which you’d enjoy creating a business?

SmugMug was an accident. The real business was a social network around video games. We started SmugMug as a side project (aka hobby) since we couldn’t find a good place to host our own personal photos online.

Can you actually realize your vision with your available time, capital, and resources?

We honestly had no idea, but it didn’t seem likely. The video game thing seemed like the real money maker, but it was going to take a lot more effort.

Is there a real, palpable, and evident demand for your offering among consumers? How big is the market?

No way. Every other photo sharing site was free. The bubble had burst and the Internet was a wasteland (this was 2002). The idea of charging for every single account seemed ludicrous to everyone but the two of us.

Does it have a real business model that will allow you to generate income immediately or a “maybe” model that might take years to (maybe) make a dime?

Real model? Sure, we were going to ask people to get their credit cards out and pay us real money. Was it going to actually generate income? We had no idea – asking people to get their credit cards out for a tiny, unknown, premium-only place to store your priceless memories wasn’t exactly a recipe that had investors foaming at the mouth.

Can you fully defend to your harshest critic the reasons why your business is capable of generating a dollar? How about $1,000? $100,000? More?

Nope. Our closest friends, include VC on Sand Hill Road and successful Internet entrepreneurs, all told us we were insane and we’d never make money. After we got a single signup our first week, and only 5 the entire first month, we started to believe them.

Approximately how long do you believe it will it to generate income? Can you survive that long? How about two or three times longer than what you anticipate (which is more realistic, if not generous)?

We hoped we’d generate income immediately. We did – about $30. We bought more ramen and corn flakes. We had no idea when meaningful income would arrive – ‘never’ seemed the most likely timeline.

Why have other similar businesses failed and how is your iteration of an idea different?

We had no idea. We didn’t bother to do any competitive research deeper than “Is there a good place online to host my photos? No? Guess we’ll build one.”

Is your idea a money pit or a cash cow? Will it need constant reinvestment or can you scale organically?

Neither? We didn’t have any money (our idea was so crazy that no-one would invest in us), so we knew it couldn’t be a money pit. But cash cow seemed unlikely, too.

Can you survive a total failure or are you “all-in” if you want to get started?

We could survive a total failure for no reason other than we didn’t put anything into the business other than blood, sweat, and tears. Zero dollars of investment, either by the founders or outsiders, meant we could easily walk away. Painful, but possible. (We bummed free rack space from a friend, used three ancient free servers from a failed dot com, and threw some code on it)

Today, we’re profitable, growing fast, and work with the greatest people on earth. We host billions of photos and videos, we have millions of passionate paying customers. Our offices are possibly the most fun in Silicon Valley, complete with gourmet food, giant gigapixel prints, dogs, go karts, dueling quadricopters, more 30″ displays than you’ve ever seen, and more:

Best of all? We work on the things we love because we own our own destiny. No outside investors meant we got to keep being passionate, day in and day out.

My advice to entrepreneurs? I’m absolutely positive that if you take your favorite hobby, mix in the Internet and a ton of hard work, you can build a great business. Whether you will or not is entirely up to you.

SmugMug is always hiring. Come do what you love, every day.

A look inside SmugMug

September 21, 2010 8 comments

Anton Lorimer, a SmugMug customer and unbelievable photographer and videographer, recently filmed an excellent look inside SmugMug for us:

Make sure to go Fullscreen and turn HD on, or click through to see A look inside SmugMug bigger.

There’s quite the discussion going on over at Facebook, too.

It’s awesome to take a step back and look at what all of our years of hard work have built. The future is bright, I’m excited for our customers and employees!

I owe Apple an apology

July 9, 2010 3 comments

In my last post, I wrote that Apple wasn’t giving App developers access to the high quality 720p video recordings from your Library on iPhone 4.

I was wrong.

The documentation wasn’t clear and we made a bad assumption. And talking to other developers, they all concurred that they couldn’t get access to the high-quality Library videos, either. For years, Apple didn’t let developers get access to the full resolution photos from your Library, which they now permit, so we assumed that’s what was going on here, too. Thank goodness we were wrong.

Sorry Apple!

Go grab the latest SmugShot and enjoy blur-free videos. 🙂

Upload iPhone 4 HD Video over the air!

July 1, 2010 7 comments

Seems to be quite a bit of noise online about how you can’t upload HD video from your awesome new iPhone 4 over the air.  Even Steve Jobs has weighed in.

I have good news – you can do it today.  Easily.  Just install SmugShot, sign up for a free trial of SmugMug (you’ll get a nice discount if you signup through SmugShot), and upload HD video to your heart’s content.  You’ll need a Power or Pro account, but can use either free for 14 days.

Go wild!

One caveat:  Apple doesn’t let us get access to the high res videos from your Library.  So you’ll need to film your HD movies using SmugShot.  We’re hoping this gets fixed – all versions of iOS prior to 4 didn’t let you get access to high-res photos via your Library either, but they fixed that in iOS 4.  I’m assuming they’ll do the same for video at some point (and Steve seems to imply it, too). This is fixed in the latest version, and was our fault, not Apple’s!

(For existing SmugMug family members, yes, this means Power Users can now upload 1080p HD video to their accounts.  As always, we’re listening.)

Windows 7 party with seven 7×7 In-N-Out burgers

October 22, 2009 22 comments
SmugMug's Craig Meakin downs a 7x7 for Windows 7

SmugMug’s Craig Meakin downs a 7×7 for Windows 7 by Chris MacAskill

First, let me preface this by saying this is a great way to kill yourself, and that I rarely eat meat or cheese, let alone 7 patties and 7 slices.  Please go read this book and this one if you’d like to know how I stay skinny, healthy, cancer- and heart-disease free.  Except when Windows 7 isn’t driving our company mentally insane.

So our Windows 7 copies arrived today, and some moron (my brother) decided that SmugMug needed to have a Windows 7 launch party like everyone else in the world.  Except unlike everyone else in the world, we needed to eat 7x7s at In-N-Out Burger.  (Yes, that’s 7 beef patties and 7 slices of cheese on each burger).  And we needed 7 of them, which meant seven Smuggies.

So with the Birthday Boy (a copy of Windows 7) in hand, off we went to In-N-Out.  Dude taking our order explained they no longer make 7x7s (we’ve ordered larger in the past, I’ve seen photos of 100x100s), and that 4x4s were as large as they could go.  We begged and pleaded, then called In-N-Out corporate HQ for special dispensation.  No such luck – 4x4s are the max from on-high.

SmugMug builds their own 7x7 burgers at In-N-Out

SmugMug builds their own 7×7 burgers at In-N-Out by Chris MacAskill

That’s ok, we can do math.  7 4x4s + 7 3x3s, plus a little manual dexterity, and we had accomplished our unholy feat:  Windows 7 with seven 7×7 burgers.  Better yet, 5 of us actually managed to eat the whole thing. (I even ate all 4 buns, alone among our triumphant victors).

Seven SmugMugs eat seven 7x7 burgers at In-N-Out for Windows 7

Seven SmugMugs eat seven 7×7 burgers at In-N-Out for Windows 7 by Chris MacAskill

Whew.

The seven 7x7s race is on!

The seven 7x7s race is on! by Chris MacAskill

Welcome to the world, Windows 7!

SmugMug's Craig Meakin is in it to win it!

SmugMug’s Craig Meakin is in it to win it! by Chris MacAskill

Now, O Wondrous Wizard of Windows, can you please tell Internet Explorer 8 to get with the program?  It *really* needs a speed boost, support for rounded corners plus gradients, and by all means, JPEG/GIF/PNG favicons!  Thanks!

See all the SmugMug Windows 7 party photos.

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