Our Bad

Our alpha site has been up and running less than a month, and we already have learned a hard lesson of what NOT to do. It may serve as a cautionary tale for other fast-moving startups, and so here is a recap of what happened over the past few days with our friends at Flickr.

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By way of background, our site is basically a search engine for anything for your mobile phone: games, pictures, ringtones, apps, etc. Our intent is to build a place where people can learn about great stuff for their phones, and, like other search engines, provide results with links to websites where you can learn more about items, and download or purchase them.

As we were building our site, we received feedback from test users that they wanted to get pictures from their Flickr accounts onto their cell phones. It sounded like a useful concept, so we built a feature that enabled users to send images to cell phones, in the same way that users could download Flickr pictures to their computers. We reviewed the terms of use on Flickr, and we thought that the best thing to do was to post thumbnail images of pictures for download, along with a link back to each original image on Flickr.

Within days of launching our alpha site and before we had any real traffic, a Flickr user found his thumbnail pictures in our search engine results, and assumed we had stolen his photographs and were selling them. On Tuesday morning this week, he posted a note on a Flickr forum that generated heated responses and more than 400 postings – you can see the forum thread here. Mobicious was accused of a lot of bad things, and our forums and email inboxes were flooded with concerned and angry Flickr users. We found out about this on Tuesday afternoon and immediately offered to remove any pictures from Flickr photographers who did not want their content included in our search results, or shown in any way on the Mobicious site. However, it quickly became obvious that the community felt strongly that this was not an appropriate way of interfacing to the Flickr site at all, and later the same day we therefore completely removed all thumbnail images and links to Flickr from our site. We also received advice and helpful information from the staff at Flickr themselves on how to interface properly to the Flickr site using their commercial API – for all you other startups who want to avoid making any similar mistakes please see this link.

This was clearly our bad. As (until recently) a two-person startup, we had to make a lot of decisions quickly, early in the company’s life. In doing this you hope more are right than wrong. With the benefit of hindsight, this was the wrong approach and we apologize. It’s certainly no excuse, but we have learned a hard lesson. Going forward, we will not only continue to listen to the community, but we will find a way of getting more community input as we add new features to the site. Please tell us what you want, both here and on our forums. We really do want to make Mobicious a great service for everyone, and we can only be successful by listening to our users.

George and David

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