21 Jun 2007 Who’s Driving Fotolia?
Here’s the changes that “V2” introduced:
- Upgrade of all the coding behind the Fotolia website
- New pricing and commission rates
- New servers to deliver the website
- Database cleanout of images unsold in the last 18 months
- New Flash upload facility
- API for interfacing with external applications and websites
- New contributor statistics pages
- New frontpage image rotator
There are also other features yet to be activated that are part of V2.
Fotolia made announcements and press releases about V2 well in advance. They provided details of the new pricing structure and many of the new features. They emphasised how the new website would be substantially faster than the existing version. Like all marketing campaigns they gave it a name: “V2”. They even ran a competition to design a V2 version of the Fotolia logo, as seen above.
It was clear that Fotolia wanted everyone to know about V2, and their marketing department were successful. It was a much anticipated event.
Ambitious or Unwise?
From my experience with my career in technology, I know what’s involved in making changes to large websites. It’s not simple. Everything is complicated by the duplication required to meet the demand of high traffic websites, especially those dealing with large files such as photos. For example, Fotolia have 20 servers to deliver their website. The databases, applications, redirectors, firewalls, DOS prevention, and intrusion detectors all combine to make a server upgrade a massive task.
One of the golden rules of technology is incremental change. When you change one thing you can see what happens, measure the impacts, and easily back out the change if something breaks. Seeing the list of changes in V2 I was impressed. Fotolia are obviously very ambitious to make all these changes at once, and must have an extremely detailed plan, have highly experienced project managers, and done hundreds of hours of testing on this upgrade.
iStockphoto is the lead innovator in the microstock market. They are constantly improving their website with incremental improvements. After implementing a new website layout, they iron out all the bugs until it has stabilised. Then they implement disambiguation and spend a long time getting it stable and managing the controversy in their community. Again, once that’s settled down, they move on to implementing a new search bar. The key here is they’re changing one thing at a time.
What went Wrong?
- The upgrade was delayed “a few days”
- The upgrade commenced in the middle of the week, despite weekends being very slow trade in the microstock market
- The upgrade was planned to cause 12 hours of downtime but actually caused four days downtime (July 13 – 17)
- The website was extremely unstable after it resumed service, going down and up many times
- Uploading has been problematic and periodically unavailable and remains disabled at the time of writing (8 days later)
- Contributors are unable to withdraw their earnings
- Many photos have lost their data
- The new website is extremely slow
What are the Impacts?
Fotolia have lost customers. Four days downtime is unheard of in online businesses, and with such strong competition many buyers would not have needed much incentive to switch providers. Added to that, the website has been unusable due to slowness for much of the ensuing weeks.
Contributors are not impressed. We personally make less than 5% of our income from Fotolia, so we’re more amused than upset. However, Fotolia is the highest earner for many other microstockers. Many of them are letting their feelings be known on microstock forums, including Fotolia’s own forum. As always there’s a mix of understanding and upset contributors, though the latter category are more vocal.
Perhaps the most serious of all impacts is the lost respect. Making such a massive change is very high risk. The fact that it didn’t go well isn’t seen as a surprise. Whether they blame a faulty server or not, Fotolia management made mistakes that impacted a lot of people.
It can’t be ignored that V2 represents a massive improvement. Such undertakings don’t occur if a business isn’t chasing the lead of their market. Outstanding bugs and unavailable functionality aside, the new Fotolia website will please both buyers and contributors and improve the success of Fotolia.
Who’s Driving Fotolia?
I’ve seen from the inside what happens when major website upgrades go disastrous. In every case the technology people pleaded and begged with management to make changes one at a time. It’s the golden rule of technology – make changes one at a time. Sometimes it’s the job of management to ignore the advice they buy. They are the only ones with all the information required for decision making. In this case it appears Fotolia management ignored the advice from their technology people in light of the marketing opportunities of making a big all-in-one upgrade.
Online businesses need both technology and marketing departments, but they don’t always agree on what’s best for the company. This time Fotolia made a decision with significant negative impacts.