Thomas Hawk Replies

After my post about Thomas Hawk, CEO behavior, and Zooomr vs. Flickr last night, Thomas jumped into the comments and kicked off the discussion. Kudos to him.

Due to some comment limitations his in-depth reply wasn’t accepted and he asked me to repost it:

Jake, a little background on my involvement in Flickr over the past few years is in order.  Thank you for lifting the character limit as I’m not particular good at brevity.

I am very obsessive compulsive. This can be good and bad. On the good side I can have an amazing amount of passion, drive and energy to accomplish things. Even great things. As an artist I’m trying to finish 500,000 fine art photographs before I die for instance. This would likely make me the most prolific photographer who has ever lived. I’m not saying that to brag and there are certainly many who would argue that I pursue quantity over quality, but that’s who I am.

I have literally lived inside of Flickr for the past 2 years. Both before and after I began work on Zooomr — I have spent on most days an average of between 14 and 20 hours inside the site. I have uploaded over 9,000 photographs, I have over 6,000 contacts, I have received over 40,000 comments on my photos. I have personally faved almost 25,000 photographs. In addition to these activities I have been very, very involved socially on the site. I literally post in forums and groups every single day. I have stayed up all night long posting in forums before. Frequently I will not go to bed until 3am in the morning because I am active on Flickr.

For the last 2 years I have eaten, slept and breathed flickr.

Now I know that this is not healthy. And in fact to the extent that other more important things in my life have suffered in some ways I feel regret over some of this time spent.

Still, the fact remains that I have been far, far, more active than you have on Flickr.  I think you need to know that about me.

That said you have to understand how integrated flickr has become with who I am today. I don’t expect you to understand this really, but if you ask those that really know Flickr they will in fact confirm my involvement.

I could no sooner quit talking, thinking, debating about flickr at this point than I could cut off my hand.

Well before Zooomr I have been an ardent anti-censorship proponent on Flickr. It was I who started the very first "Uncensored" group on Flickr. A group that has evolved into one of the most active groups on Flickr and that has spawned 60 or so other uncensored groups on the site.  A group, by the way, that is censored by Flickr today.  You can’t get to my posts in it unless you are logged into Yahoo.

I tell you this because I think you need to understand that irrespective of anything else I have been as connected to Flickr as any zealot might be connected to their religion. And when something gets that deep inside you (yes I know it’s only a photo sharing site, but for a handful of us it something far more) you just can’t *not* talk about it.

Now with that in the background I think you will find me talking less about flickr in the future. For a few reasons. First, my obsession with Flickr is not healthy. Too many more important things have suffered because of it. Also as Zooomr has gotten better and better and especially more social with our most recent release I suspect I will be spending much more of my social photo sharing time on Zooomr rather than Flickr.

But also in some ways my heart is breaking with Flickr. It’s hard to really put into words but the past month has in fact been very stressful and hard on me personally.  I think yesterday I posted what will be my last image to the site.

I can tell you that as passionate as I’ve been about the censorship issues I have equally been passionate about other issues on Flickr. And much of it well before Zooomr. I have argued about the need for trackbacks on Flickr, for stock photography on Flickr, for image search on Flickr. I’ve debated many things that have little to do with Flickr on Flickr. The right to shoot an anonymous couple at their wedding in City Hall, artists who make babies cry, altercations with security guards, politics, alcohol, food, religion, photographic technique. So many things really.

Many of the people on Flickr and especially in the deleteme uncensored group are like my family. They are really that close.

You might not like reading my criticisms of Flickr. But at the end of the day my blog is a personal web blog. A place where I can go to talk about things that are intensely personal to me.

I understand that what I say here has much larger implications than my own thoughts. And I can understand how that might bother you, especially given that I am now working on a competing project to Flickr.

But that’s who I am. And that’s all I can really give you at this point. I think you might understand more if you’d lived in Flickr. But you haven’t. Not like I have anyway. And until then I couldn’t begin to hope that you might understand.

To answer some of your questions.  Zooomr is not a "business" to me really.  It’s a passion.  It’s something I’m doing to make the world a better place for photography as a photographer.  It has a beautiful and vibrant community.  One of the most passionate communities that exist on the internet today.  I think we are doing something right there.  My salary for working on Zooomr by the way is 0.  I’ve taken out a second mortgage on my home to fund it.  I work a second day job to make ends meet.

Personally I have felt that I’ve given up nothing with regards to my community involvement with Flickr since joining Zooomr.  I’ve written many many positive words about Flickr since I’ve joined Zooomr.  I’ve praised their geotagging efforts, their sets of sets, the people many, many times. My most popular Flickr post that I’ve ever written I wrote after I joined Zooomr about the 10 best ways outside developers were developing for the site. 

But when I see things that bother me I’ve been critical too.  I wouldn’t expect to just shut up.  Simply because I’m working on another photography project.  I do think it’s important that I disclose that affiliation, which I’m very good at doing.

2a, yes.  2b, no. 3.  I don’t know, maybe, maybe not.  3b. no.  4.  yes.  5. No, I say and write what I feel — I’ve never felt especially constrained by the "repercussions" of the blogosphere. I’m all for free and open speech.

By the way and this doesn’t really mean anything except to give you a sense of how utterly I’ve been involved with Flickr over the past few years.  Do a couple of Google searches.

"thomas hawk" flickr = 290,000 results

"stewart butterfield" flickr = 133,000 results

"caterina fake" flickr = 136,000 results

"heather champ" flickr = 43,400 results

"Cal Henderson" flickr = 53,000 results

"Jake McKee" flickr = 15,300 results

There is not a person alive who has written about Flickr more than I have.  To expect me to shut up or only say positive things about them now that I’m working on Zooomr probably won’t happen.  I’ll probably blog less about them in the future because I decided yesterday to largely stop using the site — except for hanging out in the deleteme uncensored forum with my pals.

Again, thanks Thomas for the lengthy reply and willingness to have the conversation. I don’t even begin to disagree that you are and have been a power user of Flickr, or that you are a fantastic photographer.

But I’m of the extremely strong opinion that we are the choices we make. You answer that you’d be completely comfortable with the Facebook CEO hanging out on MySpace all day bashing them is acceptable to you. That’s where we differ. I’m of the opinion that the CEO of a company, no matter how committed or how financial tied that CEO is to a company, represents that company. You said it yourself:

I understand that what I say here has much larger implications than my own thoughts. And I can understand how that might bother you, especially given that I am now working on a competing project to Flickr.


Well said. In fact this dovetails with another point you make:

But when I see things that bother me I’ve been critical too.  I wouldn’t expect to just shut up.  Simply because I’m working on another photography project.  I do think it’s important that I disclose that affiliation, which I’m very good at doing.

Completely agree, and as you say, disclosing affiliation doesn’t equate to carte blanche for saying or doing anything you want. But here’s the real issue – you’ve not yet made up your own mind about what Zooomr is and where it’s going.

Zooomr is not a "business" to me really.  It’s a passion.  It’s something I’m doing to make the world a better place for photography as a photographer.  It has a beautiful and vibrant community.  One of the most passionate communities that exist on the internet today.  I think we are doing something right there.  My salary for working on Zooomr by the way is 0.  I’ve taken out a second mortgage on my home to fund it.  I work a second day job to make ends meet.


Either this is a business or it’s not. Either you and Kris are building a business, and engaging users or you’re having fun playing around with code. I have to believe that you’re building a business that you hope to see financial return and/or reward from or you wouldn’t have mortgaged your house or signed up for a second job.

If that’s the case, perhaps you should care a bit more about the perception, as the Zooomr CEO, you give off to the blogosphere. Who wants to sign up for and participate with a web service that they’re unsure will exist in the near future? Where the CEO regularly present an unprofessional, negative vibe? Where the core marketing plan seems to consist solely of siphoning off users from their biggest competitor? Who seemingly has no understanding of the Word of Mouth concept?

The scary part here is that you seem to have gambled everything on something you don’t believe in. Either you don’t understand the impact your presentation has on the usage of your service or you don’t care. Either way, my stomach drops at the idea that you’re gambling your financial future in that way.

That’s none of my business, of course. If you want to sink money into Zooomr for the fun and  experiment of it all, more power to you. I just wish you could do it without trolling the flickr forums. Stewart’s recent comment clearly states the level of frustration the flickr staff has for your actions, and I know that personally I skip over most posts that I see from you or that you’re involved with. That’s sad too, considering the value I place in your thinking on the things you post about.

UPDATE: My new e-Friend, Jason Lefkowitz sums this issue up nicely in the comments:

Jean-Luc Godard famously observed of movie reviewers that the best way to criticize a movie is to make another movie. I would go a step further and say that, if you want to criticize, you have to choose one approach or the other: if Movie A prompts you to make Movie B, it’s disingenuous for you to also write reviews describing how Movie A sucks. In other words, you can either respond with words, or you can respond with actions.

With Zooomr you have decided to "make another movie". That’s fine – it’s actually laudable. But it also means that you have to let your work speak for itself. Zooomr as a service should stand as an articulate enough refutation of the things you dislike about Flickr. If it isn’t, nothing you can write will change that.

Wonderfully said!