Breakdown: When Good Intentions Don’t Scale
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A Little Over-Exposure works out well.... sometimes from last autumn's outing that produced “ Thatched Roofs and Colored Canopies at the Himukai Shrine, Kyoto Japan ” -- Copyright 2009 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 @ 14 mm — 1/1250 sec, f/5, ISO 200 — map & image datanearby photos
A Little Over-Exposure
works out well.... sometimes
from last autumn's outing that produced “Thatched Roofs and Colored Canopies at the Himukai Shrine, Kyoto Japan

This is a long post. The executive summary is:

Lightroom plugin development consumed me to the point of breakdown, and something needs to change: I'm going to revert back to treating it like the hobby it is, doing what I find pleasure in (developing my plugins), but avoiding what brings me stress (being subjugated to my mail and comment queues).

So, the end result is that my plugin development will continue, but if you send me a note about the plugins, I probably won't respond. Sorry.

The verb “to scale” in computer science refers to a solution's ability to handle dramatically increasing demands. Filtering spam by personally inspecting each message, for example, works fine if you get only a few each day, but reaches its limits when you get hundreds a day, and becomes totally unworkable if you got thousands. Personal inspection just doesn't scale to those kinds of numbers, which is why in real life we need a totally different approach, such as automatic filtering as a first line of defense.

When I first started writing my plugins for Adobe Lightroom and giving them away, I was thrilled to get a response back, whether a “thanks!” or a bug report or a feature request. Engineers like to build things that people use, and though it was just a hobby, the gratification I got from the response was real. But after several years and more than a dozen plugins, the constant flow of feedback from users became fairly overwhelming, and after some fretting about what to do, I decided to move to a “donationware” model that kept my plugins free for everyone to use if they wanted, but also allowed people to easily express “thanks” through gifts. The extra “thanks” would keep me encouraged though the more dreary aspects of this hobby.

Unfortunately, it didn't work because it didn't address the real problem.

As my plugins got more popular (and more plentiful; I'm up to 20+ plugins now), so did the feedback of all kinds. The problem is that my original idea — that I write and maintain these plugins, and handle all feedback — just doesn't scale to the number of folks using them. All the thanks and gratification in the world doesn't put more hours in the day, and I eventually found this summer that merely doing an initial triage on my daily plugin-related email — reading them and responding to the low-hanging fruit — consumed 100% of my hobby time.

Reed-Thatched Roofs Look Pretty From a Distance but show their rough nature when viewed up close -- Himukai Shrine -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2009 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 @ 24 mm — 1/100 sec, f/13, ISO 400 — map & image datanearby photos
Reed-Thatched Roofs Look Pretty From a Distance
but show their rough nature when viewed up close

The vast majority of messages I got were about problems at best tangential to me (e.g. people having general problems with their systems or Lightroom that happen to affect them while trying to use a plugin, or problems at a photo-hosting site that they run into while using a plugin), which repeated over and over and over all day, every day, and on the best day, my hobby time was completely saturated by email and blog comments that benefit only a relative few. Early in the summer I made a plugin FAQ and linked to it from everywhere, but it made no apparent dent in the flow of messages, and all summer, I got no new development done. I'm a geeky engineer and I like new development, and so the pleasure was now completely lost, replaced by an ever-increasing stress that grew with the number of messages awaiting my response.

( just a pretty picture from the same outing as the others ) -- Himukai Shrine -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2009 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/4000 sec, f/1.4, ISO 200 — map & image datanearby photos
( just a pretty picture from the same outing as the others )

The stress and pressure was taking a toll on my life that came to a head after the added strain of a 21-hour trip back to Kyoto and the ensuing jetlag. My body just gave out, and I got sudden intense pains in both arms that made it impossible to use a computer.

The prospect of never being able to use a computer again is a fairly big deal to someone like me, especially since the photography I enjoy so much is now all digital. I gave up the computer for a while and consulted a bunch of doctors, and it seems that it's just stress-induced muscle cramping that can be healed, and thankfully not something irreversible like carpel-tunnel. I've settled on a particular sports-massage therapist whose treatments are both expensive and painful, but he clearly knows what he's doing and the prognosis looks good.

But it was a real wake-up call... all this stress and pain for a hobby! Something's got to change.

(The photos on this page are from the same outing that also produced last year's “Gate of Disrepair” post, which somehow seems fitting.)

Looking For a New Path -- Himukai Shrine -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2009 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/3200 sec, f/1.4, ISO 200 — map & image datanearby photos
Looking For a New Path
Portrait-Mode Desktop-Background Versions
1050×1680  ·  1200×1920  ·  1600×2560     

For some, this would be the time to turn it into a business, moving to a sales model, hiring developers and customer-service reps, etc. But I never wanted to make this a business... I love Lightroom and photography and software development, and this is my hobby, which is why I've always been adamant about not selling anything, not having customers.

So my plan is this: once my arms are fully healed, I'm going to return to what I find pleasure in (blogging and plugin development) and more or less ignore what I don't find pleasure in (dealing with plugin feedback). This is either remarkably selfish or long overdue, depending on your point of view. I certainly don't want to leave people in a lurch, so I plan to be attentive to bugs, but I will no longer take the weight of the world on my shoulders and feel the need to respond to every request for assistance.

I'm going to flush the hundreds of pending blog comments and emails, and will feel free to repeat that process from time to time.

I'm going to return to the pleasurable roots of plugin development. Taking this approach benefits me, of course, but it should actually allow me to get more stuff done (fix more bugs, add more features, and release more plugins) thereby benefiting many. But if I don't respond to your message, this is why. Sorry.

Unexpected Beauty Autumn cherry blossoms, as seen in “ Cherry Blossoms Amid the Fall Foliage ” -- Himukai Shrine -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2009 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/1250 sec, f/1.4, ISO 200 — map & image datanearby photos
Unexpected Beauty
Autumn cherry blossoms, as seen in “Cherry Blossoms Amid the Fall Foliage
Portrait-Mode Desktop-Background Versions
1050×1680  ·  1200×1920  ·  1600×2560     

All 31 comments so far, oldest first...

Ha! “Jeffrey” is now “Happy”! 🙂

Presentation of photos unrelated to the text was interesting; the last image seemed very on topic some how. On a second look, captions made the links.

— comment by parv on September 18th, 2010 at 7:30pm JST (6 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

Get well soon!
Miss your photo very much!
Been following your blog about obe years already. This was like the longest pause from your blogging routine.
All the best!

— comment by Song Keat on September 18th, 2010 at 7:47pm JST (6 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

Good for you! About time.

— comment by Zachary Braverman on September 18th, 2010 at 7:54pm JST (6 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

Have you thought about going open source with your plugins? I’d still be happy to donate money to you, as I’m sure others would too.

Speaking of which, I think it’s time to upgrade my plugins since I just upgraded to LR3.

If I go open source, people would be able to see the source and realize that I don’t actually know how to program, so I’m not inclined to go that way yet. —Jeffrey

— comment by Rubin110 on September 18th, 2010 at 8:13pm JST (6 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

Perfectly understandable and reasonable. Be healthy and happy.

— comment by Beau Harbin on September 18th, 2010 at 8:57pm JST (6 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

Its an old truism that the better you are and the more committed you are the more people will impose upon you. I sympathize with your position and think you need to get back to doing this for fun. Deal with genuine issues and ignore the rest. Get well soon.

— comment by Andrew on September 18th, 2010 at 11:14pm JST (6 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

Reminds me of this quote:
By working faithfully eight hours a day, you may eventually get to be a boss and work twelve hours a day.
– Robert Frost

— comment by Tilly on September 19th, 2010 at 12:26am JST (6 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

I totally agree with your approach to taking your own time back. With all the people appreciating the things you have developed, inevitably come the ones that can never get anything working and need help lacing their shoes, however unrelated that may be from the programs you have provided for free. I am happy for you you got the “wakeup call” to take your time back, although the call itself was a bit harsh and stressful.
Do what you need to do and ignore the rest, the quality of your work will be even better. I don’t agree with your statement that you don’t know how to program; the stuff you have put out until now it pretty awesome. Good luck with your regained time, use it stresslessly 🙂

— comment by Henk on September 19th, 2010 at 4:28am JST (6 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

I see no reason to apologize for any of this, and, yes, — it’s about time!

You’ve made it very clear from the beginning (for those that bothered to follow along) that you do this because it’s fun and to offer helpful utilities that are useful to others. I’ve never seen any promise of support, nor do I see any reason why someone would expect it.

But, frankly, I hope your comment about not going open source was made in jest. That’s the only part of this post that I can’t understand. Firstly, I seriously doubt it’s true — you are most certainly your own worst critic as we engineers tend to be. Second, I would hope you could see any valid criticism as a constructive opportunity to improve and do things better. In all my years of engineering (microchip deign) the only colleagues I avoid working with suffer from NIH syndrome (not invented here). I just can’t fathom you being that type of person…

— comment by John on September 19th, 2010 at 4:37am JST (6 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

If you did go open source with your plugins, I’m sure a few people would jump in to help out. I’ve only made one plugin so far, for uploading to Tumblr, but I’d be pleased as punch to contribute.

— comment by Michael on September 19th, 2010 at 5:44am JST (6 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

Sounds like you have the right idea – life is short, and no one ever sat back on their deathbed and said “if only I spent more time doing things I really didn’t like to do.” When something I do as a hobby starts to feel more like a job than fun, that’s when I stop doing it. Glad to hear that it sounds like you’re feeling better, ganbatte!

— comment by Brian on September 19th, 2010 at 6:23am JST (6 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

Hi !

I wish you all the best !

FKL

— comment by Fred Klee on September 19th, 2010 at 6:38am JST (6 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

As a keen reader of your site, I wish you get well soon. Everything else but your health and family are far down the list of priorities.

If people have an issue with this, it’s certainly not worth worry over. The problem is clearly with them.

Best wishes,

Chris

— comment by Chris on September 19th, 2010 at 11:44am JST (6 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

Jeffrey: 16 degrees Celsius this Sunday September 19, 2010 morning (actually close to 01:00) in Burlington, Ontario Canada at the west end of Lake Ontario.
Was reading your recent Ohio notes and realized you were older than I had assumed.
And we both know what assume interprets as .
And even then thought, how much longer will he continue this pace?

The physical body is telling you to slow down. You have a wife, and a wonderful child and as the family’s
bread winner you need to continue to be happy for yourself in mind, body and yes, spirit too.

Went through similar circumstance at much the same age and discarded much of my past for a future as
a journalist and research assistant. Less pressure and better for me although my income dropped in half. Twenty four years am still here albeit a vastly different individual.

Life is too short , and you want to be around for many years yet.
Your son depends upon you as much as your wife. Your hobbies reflect your interests
beyond your employment, however they should not be burdens.

You’ve stopped some things, however the physical and yes mental healing takes time.
Do not rush yourself.
Continue the blog and your wonderful photographs, however at your pace, please.

— comment by Bryce Lee on September 19th, 2010 at 1:55pm JST (6 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

Hi Jeffrey,

I wish you all the best and hope you’ll recover soon.

Cheers,

Joop

— comment by Joop on September 19th, 2010 at 3:37pm JST (6 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

Hi Jeffrey!

What about moving the help desk to a web-based forum and let your users help each other? This may or may not work depending on their willingness to give back a little bit of their time, but if it does, then you have an effective help system while you only answer those posts that look like reports of genuine bugs.

And if the forum proves that a community builds around your software, then this may give you the motivation to go open source. 😉 After all, an open source project is as much about the community as it is about the code.

Anyway, do what you enjoy!

Edgar.

— comment by Edgar Bonet on September 19th, 2010 at 8:49pm JST (6 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

Jeffrey – Good decision. There’s no point tiring yourself out on correspondence if it distracts from what you enjoy the most. What’s more, all of your friends and users will appreciate you more if it means more development, more photo blogging, at the expense of replies to comments.

This is an issue which we all have to deal with every day: deciding whether to reply to comments and e-mails/deal with past issues or to make new posts/proceed forward. It comes up in our daily lives, as well as in the online world in blogs, Flickr, Facebook, and so on. As far as I’m concerned, the only practical solution is to keep ploughing forward and hope that people enjoy our new efforts even if it means we can’t keep talking about our past works.

I hope you feel better soon!

Thorf

— comment by Thorf on September 19th, 2010 at 8:55pm JST (6 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

Good for you! Thanks for everything. Get well soon.

— comment by Dan O'Leary on September 19th, 2010 at 10:11pm JST (6 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

Enjoy fall in Kyoto, take pictures !

— comment by luc on September 20th, 2010 at 1:50am JST (6 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

Jeffrey – the timing on this post could have not been better, I was just wondering how you can sustain all this work for a hobby. I would just like to say do not worry, do what you have to do to enjoy your hobby.

— comment by Henkka on September 20th, 2010 at 3:41am JST (6 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

Thank you for the great tools, photography and blog. Peace.

Do what’s good for you Or you’re not good for anybody – Billy Joel

— comment by Jim on September 20th, 2010 at 4:30am JST (6 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

Good on you. I appreciate your plugins and obviously will continue to appreciate new development you do on them, but it would be horrible to think that you had to ruin your health for us users.

— comment by Tim Johnson on September 20th, 2010 at 9:38pm JST (6 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

Good move – did this years go in my real business. Got rid of all the crap I didn’t like and just work with who and what I do like. Life is much ore fun and believe it or not profitable. Also, have time for me!!

Hope you keep feeling better.

Dan

— comment by Dan Kabat on September 21st, 2010 at 3:19am JST (6 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

Makes me sad to read that all the LR-related work made you feel bad and sick.

Your decision is perfectly understandable. Do get better. And stick to your plan of only doing stuff that is fun, when spending your hobby time (and this will not be too easy…).

Peter

— comment by Peter on September 22nd, 2010 at 7:10pm JST (6 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

I really appreciate all the hard work you put into creating your plug-ins, and I use them ALL the time.

How about setting up a message board or a forum for your plug-ins? That way, if anyone has any questions about how to do this or how to install that, then the community can help answer those questions.

— comment by Charlie on September 24th, 2010 at 10:30am JST (6 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

I’ll chime in with the others and vote for a forum.

I can understand your sentiment not wanting to go open source, but why not let others handle the mundane setup-type questions?

Moderators could apply a tag (or users could vote) to those rare posts that need your (the developer’s) attention.

— comment by Peter Davis on September 27th, 2010 at 2:40am JST (6 years, 4 months ago) comment permalink

A perfectly reasonable decision – I certainly would have called quits earlier than you… Thanks so much for all your hard work! Hopefully you’ve recovered already.

I second the other posters calling for a forum – I would be happy to moderate it for you if you prefer a moderated one. I could create it on one of the many free forum hosting websites, but you might prefer having it under your domain. Let me know if you’re interested.

Cheers,
Olivier (from London)

— comment by Olivier Pernet on October 9th, 2010 at 7:25am JST (6 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

Jeffrey:

I just today discovered you and your plug-ins. Using your Geoencode in LR3 with glee. Thank you for the plug-in and thank you for sharing your experience – not because you need to apologize, but rather, so I can share your story with my 9 year old son. Yours is an inspiring illustration that pleasure in creation can be found in computer science as well as more traditional arts (such as photography!). My best to you from Hong Kong.

Stacy

P.S., you live in a beautiful city, no place better to recover from an over-amped online engagement.

— comment by Stacy Baird on November 2nd, 2010 at 11:58am JST (6 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

I wanted to say “Thank you!” for Geocoding Support plugin! I just started using Lightroom this past week (coincident with my Canon 5D3 showing up) and your plugin has been incredibly handy for adding GPS locations to my photos. I then got pointed to this blog post by a Linux Open Source colleague of mine from Google+, so talk about serendipity!

Speaking as the maintainer of the ext4 file system for Linux, with literally millions of people using my code, I can definitely sympathize. I generally do not help people who ask me personally for assistance for storage-related issues, unless it’s a specific bug report and they’ve given me enough information (or are capable of giving me enough information) so I can track it down and fix it.

One thing that I’ve found that really helps is to direct people to a mailing list or web forum. That way you don’t just have to tell people, “sorry, I’m going to ignore pleas for assistance because it just doesn’t scale”, instead you tell people to ask their question on a mailing list or web bboard. In general there are plenty of users who like to “pay back” the value they’ve gotten from using open source / freeware / donationware code that they will help out other people who are just getting started. Perhaps that’s an idea that would work for your plugins, since apparently you’ve been incredibly successful at gathering a user community for your plugins.

Best of luck, and thanks again for your plugin development. And BTW, your pictures are incredibly beautiful!

— Ted

— comment by Theodore Ts'o on March 25th, 2012 at 9:09am JST (4 years, 10 months ago) comment permalink

Dude, you rock – releasing your work to the world is a gift to us, you could have just kept it all for yourself.

Keep it up 🙂 stay healthy!

— comment by adam on May 8th, 2012 at 2:20pm JST (4 years, 8 months ago) comment permalink

Please take care of yourself. I had the same thing in 2010 so I know exactly what this is like, especially for people like us that love working in photography and with computers. Health should always come first but sometimes you need a wake up call to realize it. I love your plugins and the FAQ works great for me. Wish you all the best!

— comment by Sigrun on January 3rd, 2013 at 9:38am JST (4 years ago) comment permalink
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