Views from Phanfare CEO and Co-founder Andrew Erlichson

Link Teddy Roosevelt told us to embark on Phanfare 2.0

I have always loved this quote from Theodore Roosevelt:

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Changing the course of Phanfare by adding social networking, allowing Phanfare to be free and leaving our web hosting roots behind us was a risky move for us. But doing nothing was even riskier.

Our only true asset in life is time. Each and every one of us gets to decide how we will spend it. I would rather spend it on doing something great, and possibly failing, than by pursuing a middle course yielding neither failure nor success.

  • Liz

    I am one of the many customers who is moving on from Phanfare due to the “upgrade” to 2.0. (I’ve posted my concerns on other threads, so I will not re-hash them here.)

    I will say that Phanfare Customer Service has been very responsive and helpful in getting me a copy of my media, so I can upload it to another site. (They even informed me that my chosen service, smugmug, has an application that will move photos directly from Phanfare to our new site… VERY helpful!)

    A quick question: Have you considered posting a notice on the main Phanfare log-in page for all of those confused friends and family who are trying to visit our websites, and get the generic page? Just something that mentions that there has been a service change, and in order to access someone’s site, you must create a log-in and be granted access, etc.

    I think this would be helpful, as some of my (less-computer savvy) site visitors simply thought that the site was down or that we were upleading new photos. If they knew that it was required, they might have created a log-in, but instead they just thought that they would try back again later. This would also clear up any misconception that I had created a password that they would need to access the site.

    Just a thought.

  • Andrew Erlichson

    For any 1.0 user, navigating to their 1.0 URL will redirect to the not-connected pages in Phanfare 2.0, where they can ask to be the persons’ friend.

  • Natalie

    At least it’s a relief to see that it’s not just me unhappy with the changes. I thought perhaps I was just terribly unsavvy at navigating the program. I’m a relatively new user and I was hooked on Phanfare (old version) when a friend used it. I was very impressed with the simplicity of uploading photos. However, I just want my photos to be public. I don’t want to network. Isn’t there a way you could allow us to select a checkbox that would let us publish photos network-free? I guess that would defeat the purpose of the “upgrade.” The networking doesn’t even seem to work – I had a friend invited and accepted and she was unable to view my photos. I had to send her a message from the photo itself for her to view.

  • Vanessa

    I have been a loyal and devoted Phanfare 1.0 user for years. I have spent literally hundreds of hours on one Phanfare 1.0 site for my family and on another Phanfare 1.0 site for the 500 or so members of my college class, where class members (through me) could post class-related photos (e.g., reunion photos, classmate updates, etc.). I was shocked and saddened to learn of the planned phase-out of Phanfare 1.0, and words cannot begin to express my disappointment at the change in Phanfare’s business strategy.

    Although much the same concerns apply to both my sites, I am writing you today about one of them in particular — the college site. There are many objections on the part of my class members to using a “social networking” site such as Phanfare 2.0 for the class photo site. Therefore, if Phanfare 1.0 is phased out, we will unfortunately have no choice but to migrate the site to smugmug or another of your competitors. However, before I take that step — which I definitely would prefer not to take, given the many hours I have invested in the current site — I wanted to ask you: Is there any chance that Phanfare 1.0 will survive?

  • Will

    Vanessa–

    I know that I’m not anything like thoroughly acquainted with your situation, but the college Phanfare site you described sounds like a perfect example of the benefits of Phanfare 2. In fact, I can imagine someone pitching Phanfare 2 by referring to the situation you just described. Instead of your classmates needing to share everything through you (which I interpret to mean that they sent you the images and you uploaded them), each person can post their own content themselves using their free accounts and you can all share it in one secure place (e.g. you make a group for your college friends and whatever album each person posts shows up in a centralized album listing that only your college friends can see.)

    Phanfare is not Facebook. It uses some social-networking principles, but it’s not the all-consuming, privacy-invading beast that Facebook is. In fact, Phanfare 2 is more private than Phanfare 1 ever was. Each album is visible only to those whom you wish to grant access. You can’t even search for people on the Phanfare network! Phanfare 2 is not so much an online community as it is an online home for the photos and videos of an already real-life community of friends and family. It’s not a traditional social network of fake “friends” who met each other online and have no relationship in real life. It’s your genuine friends and family sharing photos and videos with each other using the best and easiest image upload and management tools (which have only gotten better from Phanfare 1).

    And your friends don’t even need to come up with a new username to log in. Just their email address and a password grants them instant access to not only all of the albums you’ve posted of your classmates, but also whatever albums any of them want to create. And if they want, they can be automatically informed when new content is posted.

    As I said, I know that I’m not truly in your shoes and I don’t know everything relevant to the decision of whether Phanfare 2 could work for you and your classmates or not, but it seems almost like Phanfare 2 was designed to fit situations just like yours.

  • Vanessa

    Will -
    Perhaps you can explain to me how the word gets out to classmates without emailing each person individually. (This is how invitations are sent out on Facebook, unless you find someone who is already a subscriber, so I presume that it works pretty much the same way on Phanfare.) This is an impossibility as (a) I don’t have access to all of those email addresses and (b) mass mailings to those with email addresses are prohibited by my college.
    The point of having one person post on the website is content control.
    Vanessa

  • Vanessa

    My question still stands —Is there any chance that Phanfare 1.0 will survive?

  • Will

    Vanessa–

    Is the Phanfare 1 site you maintain an official place to post pictures for your class? I had the impression that it was an informal arrangement. Otherwise, I don’t understand the concern for content control. If the purpose is to share photos and videos with your class, why do you need to control the content if the only ones who could upload albums to the group are people from your class? Isn’t it more fun give each person the freedom to generate and post their own content and see what happens?

    Just my two cents.

    Just curious: how did you distribute the link to the current Phanfare 1.0 site? And how did your classmates post things to the 1.0 site through you? Did they have to email or mail you pictures which you then posted?

  • Vanessa

    In my original post, I had hoped to avoid this type of back-and-forth by posing a simple direct question regarding Phanfare 1.0. In the hopes of getting the answers to the question posed in that original post and the subsequent post, I will indulge this fact finding.

    There is one central class email box. Info about the Phanfare 1.0 site has gone out via word of mouth and a class newsletter. Getting out a newletter is no easy matter and took over a year to get through the proper channels.

    All “fun” aside, content control is necessary because, as Facebook has taught all of us, not everyone uses discretion when posting photos etc.

    So….can my questions be answered or do I just take my business elsewhere?

  • Andrew Erlichson

    Vanessa,
    I am sorry that you are unhappy with our change of direction for the product.

    Phanfare 1.0 is scheduled to be decommissioned in June. I believe there is little chance that we will choose to run it longer than that. A short delay could result from our inability to upgrade everyone before that deadline.

    We continue to enhance the collaborative features of Phanfare 2.0, including the groups feature. I believe that by June, it will represent a better way of collaborating with fellow classmates than Phanfare 1.0 was. That said, if only the web-hosting feel of Phanfare 1.0 will suit you, then I think you will be happier at SmugMug. SmugMug does support importing Phanfare content.

    We are planning a feature that will allow you to get a unique URL that will present a Phanfare signup page. Signing up via that link will automatically bring the new person into your group.

    If you have been upgraded to 2.0 and would like to wait until June to make the final decision, then please send mail to support to be reverted to 1.0. You will lose any changes made since the upgrade but be able to use 1.0 until June, as you have in the past.

    Andrew

  • Techphobic Family/Friends

    We too will have to leave Phanfare. This is really an emotional and depressing thing for us. The old Phanfare was so great. If I had wanted to “invite” people to see things and force them to register, I’d have put all my photos on Facebook, for goodness sake! But services like Facebook are not “accessible” to many, including those with limited English and those with limited internet skills. There is no way that my family (including parents, in-laws) can handle the the invitation and the need to register. Plus, we have a very large extended family with whom we do NOT email who received our old URL and who could see our photos. Some of these people either don’t email or aren’t in the US/aren’t native English speakers, so the whole registration process is a mess. As a result, there’s no way that the “groups” function under the new Phanfare could handle this situation. It’s just way, way too complicated. Plus, I used to send my URL around to friends to view casually at work…but now they’d have to register at this service? Who wants to do that. Plus, I don’t want to keep track of these people in my profile. The whole beauty of the custom URL+password is lost. I don’t want to social network over photos!!!! Phanfare is making a huge mistake.

  • Andrew Erlichson

    We don’t expect that you invite work friends to see photos by included them in your network. We expect that you will mail those people external links to albums that give them anonymous, unregistered access to a single album through a long URL. sorry if that was not clear. we intend to make this feature more prominent.

    Andrew

  • Techphobic Family/Friends

    It’s nice to know that such a “long URL” will or does exist. However, this *assumes* that we will always email the URL. If everyone who went to amazon.com years ago when the ‘net was newer had had to click into their email to find a long amazon URL with an embedded authorization code or had had to remember such a comlex URL, no one would have ever gone to amazon. The whole point is that we had a *simple* URL that one could remember quickly or even state over the phone if need be. If we wanted to make a non-public album on Picasa that would force us to email around our URLs-with-authorization-in-one-long-string, we’d just do that. We continued with Phanfare for it’s clean and customizable look, higher quality viewing experience, and ease of use through password-protected website with easy-to-remember URL. Photo viewers should NOT be forced to go to their email to find these links.

  • Brian

    Andrew:

    Enough with the breast-beating about how courageous you and your colleagues are. The truth is that you’re incompetent and arrogant. You provided a service to a sizeable customer base, and you forgot that in the internet era, unilateral imposition of changes that hurt and shrink that customer base are not courageous but stupid and ultimately self-defeating. Enjoy your TR quotes, because in the next 12-24 months, you’ll have a lot of time to read while you’re unemployed and your defunct business is added to the list of dot-bombs.

  • Brian

    And also, let me ask this — what happened to the promise you made to your user (customer) base when you launched and marketed Phanfare 1.0? You know, the language about storing photos and videos “for life”? You provided a simple, easy-to-use product that was valuable to many customers. They enjoyed the simple interfaces both from a “photo manager” and “photo viewer” perspective, and they looked forward to maintaining that simplicity for years to come. But now, you’re changing the rules significantly for your customers, without asking them whether they wanted the rules changed. It’s not that it’s insane, it’s just that it’s BAD BUSINESS.

  • Andrew Erlichson

    Brian,
    The changes we are making are designed to allow us to store your photos and videos for life. I am not sure what you would have done with a business that was losing money and not growing fast enough, but we decided to focus down on our core market and change the model while retaining true to our original mission. The new Phanfare may not be for you and if so, I am truly sorry. But I am not sorry that we took some bold moves to reposition the business for growth.

    Andrew

  • Andrew Erlichson

    Technophobic friend/family, we think that the URL http://www.phanfare.com and a password assigned by the viewer is ultimately easier to remember that YOURNAME.phanfare.com for the average viewer.

    We are looking into integrating external links better into the sharing flow so you can send a message to someone outside Phanfare and bring them in to see a single album in isolation.

    Andrew

  • Derek

    Sorry guys but there must have been SOME other business model you could have pursued that would have allowed the business to grow and continue.

    The social networking space is already cluttered as mentioned and I’m sorry to say I don’t think a picture site is something you can build around when other social networking sites already have this as a feature, not the core.

    This just looks desperate and a me-too type of move that reminds me the old dot com models that went down the tubes.

    I’m sorry if that’s offensive but that’s my honest opinion about it. I’ll be moving over to smugmug. I appreciate the pointers over to that business, but this business move just seems bizarre, and why the old functionality couldn’t have been preserved along side the new one, is beyond me.

    Well anyway good luck.

  • Stephanie Anderson

    I have posted before on this topic of moving to 2.0 and, like many, I am one of the disappointed users. However I wanted to take a moment to say that Andrew and Mark don’t deserve the kind of bashing they are getting from people like “Brian” in his post from March 23rd.

    If we decide not to continue on with 2.0, they have offered us pro-rated refunds and help with getting our content. They have also suggested other sites that may better suit our needs once 1.0 is no longer available.

    Brian — if you have it all figured out, perhaps you should be the next person to create a photo and video sharing site similar to Phanfare 1.0. I’ll be the first person to sign up! I can tell you that I’m far from being an expert in this market or business model and will stay away from telling someone else exactly how to run their business.

    I will say, however, that I continue to be heartbroken over the move to 2.0 but haven’t yet decided if I’ll move to SmugMug before June or give 2.0 a chance. I’m still keeping my fingers crossed that Andrew, Mark and their team can come up with a way to keep the 1.0 functionality that we all know and love.

  • Phil D

    It is noble to dare to be great, but you have failed, so you shouldn’t feel very good about what you have done. After I make sure I have copies of everything I uploaded I will close my phanfare account. What a disappointment.

  • Mark

    Sheesh — tough crowd. I’m a former 1.0 user, having just recently upgraded to 2.0. So far, I love 2.0 — congrats on the upgrade! I can still do everything I needed in 1.0 (by sending users the “external link”), and get the added functionality of automatically notifying my family members every time I upload new photos. In fact, I’m getting other members of the family to sign up, so we can more easily view each other’s photos.

    I really don’t understand the vigor of everyone’s arguments. Is it really that bad to ask people to create a username/password for a free gig of storage space?

    I’m a big phanfare friend, and am recommending it to all family and friends. Thanks Andrew, for your candor in addressing customers directly. I appreciate it, and it’s rare to see that sort of engagement in a CEO.

  • Steph

    “we think that the URL http://www.phanfare.com and a password assigned by the viewer is ultimately easier to remember that YOURNAME.phanfare.com”

    I think possibily the person is referring to their website and then a redirect….

    I do NOT give “YOURNAME.phanfare.com” to my friends and family….I give my personal website address, which my husband and I have had for over 8 years now, and for the photo sharing part, it redirects to the phanfare site.

    Today my husband and I have been trying to get Gallery 2.0 to work on our site to share photos, and it is just nothing like Phanfare’s (1.0) features….each day that June approaches, I am more disappointed. But, maybe it will free up my time on the computer. I share photos of my 4 babies for my mom and mother-in-law for the most part, as well as sisters, cousins, friends, all thousands of miles apart.

    I only just joined up on Phanfare 1.0 a few months ago, after reading reviews online! Phanfare got the best reviews. I never would have signed up and spent hours putting my photos online and getting my friends and family used to it if I knew 2.0 was coming. I must have missed that small print somewhere when I registered and paid $50 upfront.

    I will be leaving Phanfare and hope for a prorated refund as I will not be emailing my friends and family asking them to register on a site. If I had wanted to do that, I would have signed up with a site like Kodak, where I could print directly. Maybe smugmug is where I should go….did do a demo, but was a bit lost….do like that it is connected with Blurb though for photo book making.

    Anyway….best regards.

  • Andrew Erlichson

    Steph,
    Phanfare 2.0 removes the web hosting flavor in exchange for trying to accomplish something much bigger: a high quality, private photo and video sharing network for families. If you are the type of person who might install gallery than you must realize that you are fairly rare. In fact, you were rare enough that we were not making any more serving you and people like you.

    Many people have told me that they used to recommend phanfare all the time to friends and family. that is great, but it did not result in a significant numbers of registrations for us. So somewhere between the recommendation and the reality there was a problem. And that is because explaining the benefits of cname support to the average person on the street is impossible. that is a geek concept.

    Phanfare 2.0 does not have this problem. For the vast majority of potential users, phanfare 2.0 is better than 1.0. that some percent of our users hate it is unfortunate, but I am confident that this was the right move for phanfare to assure long term viability. ore people like 2.0 than hate 2.0, especially if you look at the universe of potential users.

    Phanfare 2.0 has over 75,000 registered users and is now producing conversions to paying at nearly the rate tht 1.0 was, at only about 10% of the marketing budget. Hence, this is a better business for us.

    The ultimate goal of business is to create a customer. The 2.0 orientation will ultimately allow us to serve more customers.

    Andrew

  • Kevin

    I too will be leaving Phanfare due to the “upgrade” to 2.0.

    You really had a nice product (for which I’ve referred several of my friends) and it’s a shame your company is losing so many customers due to this bad decision. I have no intention in “upgrading” to a horrible new product. Your “upgrade” path is comparable to Microsoft’s…

  • RB

    Andrew,

    I was very reluctant to go to 2.0 – as I am totally opposed to making people register to see photos. It is annoying when people send me a link, that makes me “register”. Frankly, I just exit the page and do not register. However, the external link feature of 2.0 works well enough. People who used to be able to browse my photo albums, are the ones most likely to sign up. So 2.0 works for them. Those who only looked at the one album, well they are the ones I keep sending external links.

    Some of the comments that have been posted are out of line.

    Best wishes.

    -RB

  • Sanja

    My account was recently switched to 2.0. While I see advantages of the new networking system – it is going to be nice to connect with friends and family, and see their pics in a user friendly fashion – I do not understand why you do not allow both options (old and new) to coexist.

    Why can’t you allow users to view albums without registering if they do not wish to do so? Provided that the registration and linking to others offer additional features, you would expect that most people would end up registering anyway. Still, you would provide additional convenience to a large chunk of your customers who like to occasionally send their pictures to their casual acquintances and co-workers (yes, I understand there is a linking option for a single album, but quite frankly, I do not think that’s adequate).

  • Peter

    Andrew,

    It is amazing that with endless comments on how unhappy people are, you respond by telling people how they are mistaken. We, YOUR CUSTOMERS, are not mistaken. We get it. We understand what you are trying to do. We just think you are wrong! It is amazing that with all this negitive feedback, you don’t step back and say… ‘maybe we made a mistake… Maybe we should listen to those loyal people who help pay our rent and put food on our table… Maybe we should think about how we are betraying the trust of those who took us at our word.’

    But no, you just blather on about how you think your are doing something great. There is nothing great about the changes you are making; you are just following the pack. 10 years ago it was the desire to make every site “sticky.” Now there was a great concept…

    What you are doing is hurting people. People counted on Phanfare to maintain thier history. You threw that trust into the trash heap!

    Maybe a year from now you will decide to become a match making servce; clearly you don’t really seem to understand how to make a profit.

    Here is an idea, instead of changing Phanfare, sell it to someone who knows what they are doing and repects the customer base.

    Peter

  • leaving

    I’m leaving cuz this new change sucks.

    But i just wanted to let you know that you’re doing probably the stupidest thing you could possibly do by not listening to your customers complaints and allowing them all to bail out to another service that basically offers what you used to ie: smugmug.com, etc.

    the funny thing is later one, you’ll realize you F’ed up bigtime and try to entice people back with the “classic” service- and here’s where you’ll really feel the sting, cuz no one trusts you now, and we will have all spent extra time and money (you stole my money by the way with this bait & switch)
    setting up elsewhere and will NEVER come back.

    you need to to fire whoever the geniuses who came up with this one are..

  • kai

    I loved phanfare 1.0 because it’s easy to share photos and videos with friends and family.

    Phanfare 2.0 just totally sucks because people have to sign up to view photos.
    That’s plain stupid.

    I’ve read the unhappy posts in forum and comments here.
    The response from Phanfare is just brainless: keep telling us how great 2.0 it is with the useless social networking feature, and how much better the 2.0 authentication system is.

    That’s one lesson of how going to so-called web 2.0 is such a bad idea.

  • Katherine

    Please, please reconsider. I will never ask friends and family to set up an account to see my pictures. The main reason is that, as everyone knows, you lose your password and forget your log in for sites you only use occasionally. So I would be putting up a big barrier for my friends and family.

    Your service kindly emailed me the options for sending out the album without asking people to sign up. In order to do this, it appears, I must pay $55 a year and deal with the following:

    - No address book to keep and manage my email addresses
    - No security on the album- anyone can forward my email and anyone can go in. Strangers can see my child in the bathtub and I will have no idea.
    - No way to track whether or not people I have invited via email to see the albums have seen it- so if I am using the wrong email address, I will never know.
    - No album-level security- i.e. I can’t control who sees what album- so if I have dinner with a group of people and want those pictures to be private just for our group for some reason, I can’t do that.

    Please, please, just give us an option of Phanfare 1.0. It was the best service on the web. I am demoing SmugMug and it is so poor but I will be forced to sign up for it if things don’t change, quickly.

    Teddy Roosevelt also said “The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything.” It’s ok to make mistakes, let’s just acknowledge it and give the people what they want- Phanfare 1.0!

  • Shannon T Alston

    nice article! nice site. you're in my rss feed now ;-)
    keep it up

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