Views from Phanfare CEO and Co-founder Andrew Erlichson

Link Reinventing Phanfare

Andy Grove used to ask his Intel co-founder, “if we got kicked out and the board hired a new CEO, what would he do?” Then he would do that. It’s a great exercise. Phanfare 2.0 is the result of that level of soul searching and re-invention. We remained true to the mission of serving the family-oriented photo and video shooter, but everything else was up for re-evaluation. We worked hard to differentiate trends from fads on the Internet and believe we came up with a product that leverages the network and reflects the future of photo and video sharing. All the while, we were thinking about the business model, people’s willingness to pay (Phanfare 2.0 is designed to be as free as possible to as many as possible), and the core needs of the user.

So what has the reaction been? We had 11,000 paying subscribers in the 1.0 system when we made the switch, and we have about 25% of our customers on the 2.0 system, with the rest still needing to be upgraded. As of today we have approximately 48,000 users on the 2.0 system. Not bad since we have been up for a little under 7 weeks.

We have already been actively iterating and adding features to reflect the feedback we have been hearing. Some people said that they wanted to suppress downloading of originals and printing. We thought this was a pro feature, but the people who told us were family photographers. So we added that back in.

Other people have told us that the automatic content notifications that go out to family and friends are too coarse, that they want the ability to suppress notifications to certain people about particular albums going up, so we added that in.

We are working out usability and flow issues and polishing the product. Although Phanfare is nearly 4 years old, in many ways we are approximately 7 weeks old. We are excited to be innovating again and leveraging the true nature of the Internet to deliver a more collaborative experience.

I certainly know the feelings that caused people to love 1.0, since we built the system to fulfill our own needs, but Phanfare 2.0 is actually better. If you have seven friends, and they each protected their Phanfare content in 1.0 with a password, remembering all those URLS and passwords was a nightmare. Now, I am connected to them with my own account and after logging in at www.phanfare.com with my own credentials can see what is happening across my entire personal universe. The result is that I am more aware of what is going on with my family and friends and enjoy digital photography and video more than ever.

I won’t pretend there are not people who are not happy with our new orientation. There are. But overall, they are a minority and I truly believe that they will be better served by some of our former competitors. For the family-oriented shooter though, I am confident we have built the best system in the world and it is only going to get better.

To those who are staying on for the ride, thank you.

  • Alan

    Andrew,

    The Internet is a moving target. Your ability to distill these changes, user feedback, and changes to the Internet experience is remarkable, and for this you and your team should be commended!

    Phanfare’s success will be dependent on this ability to stay with your vision while continuing to listen to your users and stay ahead of your competitors. I believe that with this approach, Phanfare will be a success for all involved; your customers, your investors, and your very responsive Phanfare Team!

    Very Well Done so far. Thanks, and keep up the excellent work!

    Alan

  • Aviv

    I got to tell you that the need for my guests to register at phanfare is something I didnt expect. One of the reasons I chose phanfare is the ease of sharing- my guests need not to do anything, just go to my album and view it.
    Now, all of a sudden, this very-appealing simplicity is gone.
    I guess I’m one of those “better served by some of our former competitors”.

    Sad for me.

  • http://geribrownphotography.phanfare.com Geri Brown

    I am extremely disappointed that in order to view my site that guests must be invited and register. I am an amature photographer and enjoying sharing my images with my Camera Club, friends and aquaintances. This site has been an important way for me to share my work with anyone who wishes to view it. Now it seems like I will need to look elsewhere for a more viewer friendly site. I am so sorry this has happened because my experience with Phanfare has been a good one.

  • Liz

    I am very disappointed at the changes with Phanfare. I certainly understand the desire to connect as a “social networking” site, and I have many friends with Phanfare pages that I view regularly. However, I also use the site to update friends and family who are not familiar with social networking, and for whom typing a web address into the correct line is an achievement. Phanfare was the perfect way to stay connected with these individuals who already felt “left out” of much of what happens on the internet. (Additionally, we’ve done a lot of education with some of our older relatives about being wary of “click this link” or “register now,” language online or in emails. Many of them do not have or regularly use an email account, so they will be unable to share in our photos.) Some of our friends are already part of 2.0, so we have had some notice about the changes, and we are already actively looking for other options. I am sad to see that Phanfare is not continuing its user-friendly service.

  • aaron

    I share the disappointment – i like to share photos with family that turning on the computer is a challenge – they hated ImageStation by sony for the reason that they had to register and log in.

    They have loved phanfare.

    This is very sad indeed

  • S.T.

    I’m also upset about the changes and have started looking into alternative sites. The part that bugs me is that I have already invested a substantial amount of time in designing my albums, providing caption for the photos, arranging them in such a way that they tell a story, etc. I guess most of that work will be wasted now that I need to switch the service.

    BTW, is there a way to check out a sample 2.0 site? I guess I’d like to see the new look and features before I make my final decision on whether to cancel my account.

  • Toni

    I am also very upset with the changes. I liked the fact that it was simple and easy for my guests to use. My Phanfare site WAS an easy website for my elderly family, with minimal computer/internet abilities, to view our family pictures, at anytime. Now, its to confusing for them to access. I’m very disappointed in the direction Phanfare has gone with this change. I did not want a “social network website”. Even more disappointing is that I referred others to join Phanfare and now they are disappointed too. I guess I will have to take my business elsewhere. Once again, very discouraging since I will have to redo all of my albums, captions, themes, etc. that I have spent so much valuable time on.

    I would willing pay $3-$6 more every month to have it back the way it was, as I’m sure others that have seen the changes would agree. The reasons that I chose Phanfare just went down the toilet with this change. It WAS the best product available on the market in my opinion and I believe Phanfare just lost it.

  • Stephanie

    While I certainly understand the need to scale the business, I eccho many of the others here. I am sadly disappointed with the changes mainly because of the need for friends and family to register before viewing my photos and videos. Many of my friends and acquaintances complain continuously about many of the other sites that required an account and I was always so happy to tell them about Phanfare and how it was different.

    I have loved every single part of Phanfare 1.0 and would also be willing to pay more $$$$$$ to keep Phanfare the way it was. Would it not be possible to give people that option?? Pay more for 1.0? If so, I am in! Otherwise I’m afraid I will also most likely need to look for an alternative. If I do end up leaving Phanfare, I’m very sorry to Andrew and Mark as I think they created an amazing product with 1.0.

  • Bo

    Yes, why not pay extra to keep Phanfare as it was ? If not, i have to look for an altrenative

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  • Joe

    Add my family to the list of those who are not happy with the changes in Phanfare. Many changes may be for the better, but we are very disappointed with this force of registration and logons and “social networking.” We just want to look at and share pictures – NOT – to have to log in to yet another site and – NOT – to network. There are plenty of other sites for that. Also it seems that Phanfare has lost the simplicity it was known for. It used to be so easy and a pleasure to use, now it has become so complicated. We would also be willing to pay a premium to bring back features we loved!

  • Josh Gibson

    I am also dissapointed with the change to 2.0 With 1.0 I could have someone with little computer knowledge upload new photos to the galleries and ANYONE could view them. None of the other I have found come close to the same type of features.

    On another note. The number of “new users” “48,000″ are mostly people who are signing up for accounts to see photos that were already on the site.

  • Keith Flynn

    Im also unhappy I joined to share photos with friends not to have them fill in form and register
    What a shame as it was soooo nice to use and I had 3 friends join because I sang its praises.
    Moving over to smugmug, does not look quite as good but what can ya do – I want that unique URL and the freedome to share without form filling

  • Nick

    I too have to echo everyone else’s comments. I LOVED phanfare 1.0 and am extremely disappointed with 2.0. I can also say that I talked to several friends that I referred to Phanfare who fall into the group of people who are not very computer savy and who just want to share pictures with friends and family. They too do not like the new version. All it would take to make us happy is to add the ability to make our sites ‘unsecure’ where anyone could browse all of our albums. We have invested a significant amount of time uploading gigs of pictures and the thought of changing sites is pretty sad.

  • J.

    Hello Andrew and Mark,

    I love the vision that you have and the work that has been put into the company. I have brought you about 55 paying accounts. I am glad that you are continually striving to innovate, but many people are willing to pay more to have the simplicity and ease of use of not requiring people to login. You will have to make the decision and so will we. Right now it doesn’t look like we and 55 accounts will be with you in a year. You have to try to run the best service and we will choose the best service for our needs.

    REALLY, What would it REALLY take for you change some / all of the current 2.0 plans ?

    Respectfully.

    J.

  • David

    I’m an international user. My family hardly understand English-
    and now they everyone have to go through the registration to keep it working. Before, it was simple for them to use phanfare. Now – no good.
    I’d happily double the price I’m paying to keep it simple.

    do you refund unhappy customers?

  • Andrew Erlichson

    We are providing pro-rated refunds for those who are not happy. I know you miss having the simplicity of web hosting. But for families that care about privacy, Phanfare 2.0 is significantly better. What’s more, once you go to the trouble of having your close friends and family signup, you can get a unified view of what is going on in their lives across all the phanfare accounts. Yes, the product is different, but for family photos and videos sharing it is better.

    We do not plan on keeping the 1.0 system running past June. I am aware that many of our users would have paid more for 1.0. But it stands to reason that at 2x the price, the market for the product would be even smaller than it was before.

    Before condemning the new orientation, I urge you to try it. It has the best aspects of social networking with killer photos and video sharing (phanfare style) and no zombie armies or superpoke.

    Phanfare 2.0 is free to use under 1GB, so having friends sign up for it is not a big imposition. We don’t send any marketing email. Phanfare is just a collaborative system for sharing photos and videos with people you care about.

  • Barb Lord

    As an individual who has been paying to host my photos that are shared with a large public group, I will not be renewing in the future. The new direction of phanfare defeats my purpose and is not longer useful for me. I will be looking for a new photo sharing service. Thank you for the past years of service.

  • http://kevinandjackie.com Kevin

    I’m very disappointed with the change to 2.0 with 1.0. I was thinking to became a lifetime member, but now I’m actually looking for a different service like smugmug. I have my own domain name and would like my friends and family just to view the site without the hassle of logging in. I would prefer it like it was. From all the comments above, I think you have a LOT of unhappy customers.

    Thanks

  • http://kevinandjackie.com Kevin

    Hi,

    It’s me again! Adding to the disappointment, if we wanted to have our friends and family log in, we all could have join Flicr or Snapfish or Kodak, even Facebook. Most people already has all the login for those sites, why would they want to sign up for another one. Phanfare was a very nice way to share photo without the hassle. Now, you’re just the same as everyone else.

  • http://jeskefamily Libby

    I also have been very saddened by the changs in the way others can view the site. I am a lifetime member, upgraded to 2.0 and then downgraded to 1.0 again while I evaluated the options. Phanfare remains the most user friendly site with the greatest features. I am online on another site at this time, but we all like the Phanfare viewing best. I guess I will maintain 2 sites, one for general access and one for registed viewers. I don’t like the limitations it places on all of us that are paying for the service and am hopeful that some forwarding options may be added in the future. The “Privacy” issue is rather lame, as we always had the options of password protection on any or all albums. But I will stay with Phanfare, changes can always be re-evaluated and I hope for some future compromise.

  • David

    I really liked Phanfare 1.0 for all the reasons everyone else mentions. Now I’m looking around for an alternative. I will likely go with a service that doesn’t require sign up, but since I’m back to the drawing board, I’m looking at Flickr too. So, what does Phanfare 2.0 offer that is better than Flickr? Seems like if I have to go with the social networking model, I might as well go to where everyone already is.

    How does Phanfare differentiate itself from Flickr?

  • http://zeldashouse.com LaRell

    I was horrified to realize today that my phanfare had been updated and that viewers of my albums will have to register. NO WAY!! Phanfare has been so awesome up to this point, what a huge disappointment!!! I will have to move all my albums for sure. I hate to register on sites and I know my friends and clients feel the same. Who can direct me to something similar where friends and clients don’t have to register to view photos. Two thumbs down for the new Phanfare. Wouldn’t it have been nice to keep the 1.0 with happily paying customers and add the 2.0 for those looking for the free ride? :(

  • David K.

    I agree completely: this exercise shows how to take a good experience and completely ruin it. I’ll be looking for another service to host my pictures.

  • Geraldine

    I’m awfully disappointed that viewers now have to sign up to view my albums. No ads and hassle-free viewing worked for me. I really had a great experience with Phanfare but unfortunately, it was not to last. I found a diamond in the rough but now, Phanfare’s just like any other social networking sites. Seriously, do we need any more of these? Thank you for the excellent service and superb customer support. Phanfare was the only online service that I was truly satisfied with. I hope Phanfare will bring back the old features eventually, but I guess you win some and lose some.

  • Brian

    Chalk me up to the list of those sorely disappointed with Phanfare’s new direction. Although 2.0 offers many nice features that were missing in 1.0, the fact that users must register is unacceptable. I’m on the fence whether I’ll leave Phanfare and go elsewhere because, frankly, no one else offers the same excellent integration of photos and videos into albums and slideshows. Smugmug is close, but it’s more for people who want to spend a lot of time tweaking their site. Other options like Zenfolio and Sharpcast are as good or even better than Phanfare for photos but lag way behind in videos and slideshows. Rather than Phanfare develop it’s own social network (akin to Flickr’s, which I dislike), I’d rather have seen Phanfare integrate into existing networks like Facebook and MySpace, just as Smugmug, Picasa, Flickr, Photobucket, and others already do pretty well. If I stay with Phanfare, I’m sure my close family and friends will register, but some will not like it. My more casual friends really lose out because I can’t just give them my website URL and say go look at it. They have to register. I’ll probably set up my own hosted website elsewhere and make heavy use of Phanfare’s direct link to galleries, to partially alleviate that concern.

  • http://www.ToddMelet.com Todd Melet

    I am with those above. The upgrade is a downgrade, and being able to share photos without users needing accounts was a KEY feature that set Phanfare above the rest. Now I am shopping alternatives.

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    How has the reinvention worked out?

  • http://www.k9stud.com/ jasonwillam

    Phanfare is really the true result of reinvesting and rethinking, and implementing those new thoughts for better quality and service. The 11,000 paying subscribers really tell about a great experience just by its number. Still they’ve kept monitoring and adding new features to remain competitive in the market.

  • http://www.easynamechange.ca Maiden Name

    Although you guys have reinvented Phanfare, it's great to know that you guys retained the name. Keep it up!

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