tumblr tells a user to get lost

I spent far too much time today reading through the story surrounding David Karp (Tumblr CEO) telling a user to go away:

Plenty of services will import Tumblr blogs. Please go away.

Now, I will point out that there’s a bit of a “he said / she said” type thing going on as per the comments on Hacker News.

Here’s the original email:

I am writing this email to you to express my recent disappointment with Tumblr.
Not only with the level of uptime tumblr has had over the past few months, but with countless issues posting, queueing (which I only realised was down when I visited your help page), and your ‘backup’ mac application deciding not to work.
I would move to a different service, but with no export feature and with the friendships I’ve made through tumblr I will have to hope that you fix these issues in the near future.
Yours Truly Disappointed,
William Tildesley

And the point of contention is that apparently William sent this email to several of the staff at Tumblr.

Now I will say that it certainly puts one of Karp’s sentences in a different light. Specifically:

we have no interest in customers that will go out of their way to discourage our entire team

On the other hand, in the Hacker News comments, William states that:

I didn’t email your entire staff only the people who I thought would respond to my concerns.

why I care

The reason why I even care is that I had another negative dealing with the tumblr support staff lately, so this has been fresh on my mind.

My theory is that the Tumblr team has been getting a lot of these types of emails lately. So Karp was probably already on edge when he saw this one. So from the perspective of the tumblr team, I can see how seeing this would hit some already frayed nerves. But was the response appropriate? No.

Personally, I don’t see William’s emailing of several staff as doing anything wrong. From dealing with Tumblr support, Tumblr seems to be actively preventing any direct contact with their developers. (My personal experience: when I contacted Posterous for an issue, frontline support passed my issue onto a developer, and I got a response back from that developer directly. With Tumblr, they said they were passing something on to a developer and that’s where the communication ended.) So I think the fact that William was so bold as to bypass frontline support and email the team directly probably struck a nerve right there.

But in this day and age of accessibility, it’s not uncommon for people to track down the email addresses of higher-ups in trying to get a response. And as William pointed out, it’s not difficult to figure out the email addresses of staff at Tumblr, so it’s not like he was doing some heavy duty digging to find this info either.

Now I don’t know if there was some sort of history with this user, but based on the email itself I don’t think he was being abusive as some of the comments seem to suggest. He was expressing disappointment and he didn’t result to name-calling or any other tricks I would consider abusive. So based on this email alone, Karp’s response seems way overboard.

It seems more like a situation where Karp was targetting his overall frustration at one specific user.

I do support the notion of “firing” an abusive user, but there are far more tactful ways to do it than the approach used in this email.

the jilted early adopters

I’m projecting here, but William seems to have a similar background to mine in this, which is that he has been a loyal user of this service that now feels jilted.

My oldest tumblelog is from August 2007, and they launched in February 2007, so I’ve been with the service from the early days and it’s been disappointing to watch them stumble, er tumble.

My impression is that they’ve grown to the point where they may absolutely care about the service in general, but they’ve grown to the point where they don’t or can’t care about the individual users.

And given that I’ve complained about tumblr before - something that I’m sure would demoralize the team, apparently I would be another user that they would gladly tell to sod off. I feel the love.

my specific complaints

In the Hacker News comments, pauljonas listed a whole bunch of technical issues that have yet to be resolved.

tumblr is awesome

Let me be clear, tumblr is awesome. Of all the years it’s been around, to me, it’s still top dog in being the most user friendly blogging service. And I think that’s why it’s so easy for me to hate on it. For a service that’s so user-friendly, as of late, the response from the humans behind tumblr falls short of the service itself (technical glitches aside).

To compare Tumblr to Apple, both have a fantastic user experience, but inevitably, sh*t happens. But so far, in those situations, Apple has taken care of me; Tumblr has not. My issues with Tumblr either resolved themselves on their own or were just bugs that I apparently needed to learn to live with.

So tumblr may be awesome, but I increasingly come back to the fact that I need to stop trusting it as my sole blogging service. Despite lip service from tumblr to the contrary, no one cares as much about my content as I do.

And even if Tumblr really does care as much about my content as I do, I have serious concerns about how Tumblr is going to become a viable business. After all, they can’t continue to care about my content, if they run out of money.

And I can’t imagine that tumblr is ever going to become a sustainable business without doing something fundamentally different like converting to a freemium service or putting a bunch of advertisements up. Honestly, I think both routes would be doomed. We’ve all been spoiled with an ad-free Tumblr experience, so putting up lots of ads could result in a mass exodus and frankly I can’t see a freemium service attracting enough paid users to keep the lights on. I’m just making a guess here, but Tumblr’s fastest growing segment seems to be people who are using the service like it’s facebook. I doubt those people would pay for facebook (I sure wouldn’t) and I doubt they’d ever pay to have a tumblr account.

complaining about free again

In my rant about the tumblr downtime, I made the argument that it’s valid to complain about a free service like tumblr because even though people aren’t paying actual money to tumblr (in most cases), they have been paying by providing exclusive content. Something that ultimately draws more attention and traffic to the site.

But I’m going to amend that with the following argument: Tumblr is a business. It’s not a non-profit; it’s not a charity. Though they may have noble goals, they are still a business.

I still say it’s human nature to complain about something regardless of whether you paid money for it, but I disagree that tumblr should be let off the hook just because their service is free. They are a business; they have a product. That product will inevitably be judged regardless of cost.

coming to the same conclusion again and again

Really all of my complaining about how Tumblr is handling their customer service is moot. For me, there is only one clear option: I have to take my content elsewhere.

Though options do exist, getting content off of Tumblr is not the easiest thing in the world. And if I care about my content at all, I absolutely must start saving somewhere else first and then post it to tumblr, not the other way around.

I do hope the tumblr staff make it through to the other side of their current growing pains, but honestly, responses like the one that kicked off this post are making it harder and harder to root for them.

And when some of your most loyal supporters start turning on you. You’ve got a problem.

When you actively give them a reason to turn on you. You’re Tumblr.