Yahoo Could Learn Something from Flickr

by Charles Miller on July 23, 2006

Last week, the weirdest thing happened. Photo-sharing site Flickr went down for maintenance for three hours. By the time they came back up, people liked them more than they did before the system crashed.

How did they manage this? By holding a colouring competition? Well, not entirely.

  • They promptly explained what was going wrong
  • They reassured everybody that their data was safe
  • They made it clear that they were working hard to fix the site
  • They showed empathy with those people who were inconvenienced

Knowing that Flickr has a storage problem and need to move twenty terabytes of of data doesn't help me in any practical way, but it reassures me that somebody knows what the hell is going on.

A Flickr Pro account (the competition's sole prize) costs $25. The competition was a token gesture in every sense, but it was a humanising gesture. Everything about Flickr's message turned them from a faceless website owned by a big corporation into a bunch of guys and gals who were just as upset about this as you, and were working hard to make things right again.

Now to the aforementioned big corporation.

This morning, I couldn't log onto Yahoo! Instant Messenger. And as far as I could tell from an informal survey of people I could find on other networks, neither could a lot of other people. You wouldn't know this from visiting the Yahoo or Messenger homepages, though. They remain cheerfully oblivious.

(Addendum: Yahoo! IM ended up being down for about five hours or so. No explanation or even public acknowledgement of the problem was ever forthcoming. It's at times like these that I'm so happy that instant messaging is still dominated by centralised services with single points of failure.)

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