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Saga of Frustration: Developing (and Abandoning) a Lightroom Plugin for 500px
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This is a long post explaining — venting — why I have not released a Lightroom plugin for 500px.com. This post will not be interesting if you don't care about 500px.com.

I've worked with a lot of companies during my life developing plugins for Adobe Lightroom. I've got 32 different plugins at the moment. With some companies like Flickr and Google and Facebook, my interaction is as an anonymous faceless third-party developer, but with most I have an ongoing personal interaction... for example, I work with Alex at Zenfolio, and with Dave and Andy at SmugMug. There's a long list.

For the most part, I feel a strong partnership with the companies that I have a personal relationship with, and that really helps when technical or logistic issues cause friction in the development/support process, as one might expect happens from time to time over the years. The relationship is built on respect, which helps it withstand minor bumps along the way.

On the flip side, an active lack of respect drives me away from a company. For example, I spent many hours helping DeviantArt develop their third-party API, but walked away from them and from an essentially-completed plugin when it became clear to me that the folks there were a bunch of dirtbags. But this type of thing doesn't happen often because most people are not dirtbags, and frankly, it doesn't take much intelligence to realize that it's a good thing if you can get someone like me to develop, for free, something that helps your customers. Most business folks I deal with care about their customers.

I tend to keep it to myself when things do go bumpy, but the demand for a Lightroom plugin for 500px is so high that I feel compelled to speak out to explain why a plugin for their service will not be coming from me any time soon.....

I started getting a lot of requests for a plugin for 500px.com this spring, and after enough requests I finally sent 500px a note asking about an API with which I could write a plugin. I got no response.

I still got a lot of requests, so a month or so later I sent another note. I got no response, but eventually saw messages on Twitter saying that a Lightroom plugin would be coming by summer. Ah, well, if they're working on it themselves, or perhaps with another developer, they don't need me, which explains the lack of a reply.

But I continued to see 500px's tweets promising a plugin, but no plugin, so I continued to get requests from their customers.

Their occasional tweets had made it clear that a plugin was forthcoming soon, so I was surprised on July 11th to get a note from Evgeny at 500px asking how we can work together to make a 500px plugin a reality. Cool. Point me at an API and I'll make it....

Evgeny Tchebotarev wrote:
|> How can we work together with you to make it happen?

Let me know how to use the API (and respond to questions faster than a month ;-), and I'll build a plugin. All the better if the API is still in development so that I can suggest improvements that better mesh with a Lightroom workflow.

This started a long, slow, painful series of emails with folks at 500px that has been the very definition of frustration.... mind-blowing hair-ripping-out does-anyone-there-talk-to-each-other-or-have-a-clue? frustration.

Notice how I jokingly refer to the response time in the first sentence of my first reply? (I've highlighted it and other things in the emails as presented here, but the actual messages were all plain text.)

That apparently wasn't enough of a hint because a few days later I felt compelled to spell it out for them:

Hi Guys,
I'd like to build the plugin (many Lightroom users have been asking me for one, and I want to support Lightroom), but only if 500px is willing to make it a sufficient priority that we can have a fluid back-and-forth dialog. Having to wait half a week for a reply each time would just be a waste of everyone's time.

I understand folks in your position must be busy and are continuously being pulled from every direction, so I'd understand if you don't choose to make a Lr plugin a priority yet. I'm just asking that it be enough of a priority before you decide to give me the go-ahead.

If your API and its documentation is reasonably flushed out, I could have a rough plugin going in a day, but history has shown that for a new API there will likely be many back-and-forths before we get to that stage, and the end result will be a better API for all your developers.

       Jeffrey
——————————————————————————————
Jeffrey Friedl Kyoto, Japan http://regex.info/blog/

I don't really think I could have been more clear: do what you think is best for your business, but if you want to involve me, don't do so until you can treat me with respect.

I eventually got a note from their developer, Arseniy, asking for my input on how to design an API. I'm a good person to ask about this kind of thing, considering the deep experience I have in working with the API for Flickr, Zenfolio, SmugMug, Expono, PicasaWeb, Facebook, ExposureManager, DeviantArt, Photobucket, Twitter, Kodak, and LifePics. So, I took the time to write a detailed reply, and promptly heard nothing back from them.

More than a month later, they released an API. As one might expect from an initial release, it was poorly documented, buggy, and underpowered — exactly the kind of things they would have avoided had they worked with a plugin developer in tandem with the development of their API. But hey, it's their business. I just wish they wouldn't have wasted my time if they weren't interested in a plugin from me. I sent a note to Evgeny and Arseniy lamenting on the opportunity lost, and wishing them the best with their API.

The response from Evgeny was bizarre, indicating that he thought I'd been working with Arseniy the whole time. The ensuing messages made it clear that folks at 500px were not in touch with what other folks at their small firm were doing, and that no one seemed particularly competent in their respective fields, least of all the developer. Responses from him took days, didn't address the issues raised in the messages, and were exactly the kind of response I'd write if I didn't care and just wanted to get the message out of my inbox.

I made some further attempts to pry some clue from them, and at some point got so frustrated that I actually aired this frustration in public on the limited exposure I have on Google+. It's really rare for me to complain in public, about anything, so this indicates just how frustrating it was.

Alas, after many tries it became clear that it was not going to be possible to get a timely, competent interaction going, and I finally had to cut the cord, venting to them directly and explicitly with:

...

You guys really need to get a grip on what you want and your priorities. YOU asked for MY HELP, and then leave me hanging, then put up missing/incomplete documents, and take a very long time to reply for clarification.

It would be much more professional to say “sorry, we don't have time for you, go away” if that's how you felt. If that's how you feel now, please tell me and I'll walk away. But if you want a Lightroom plugin from me, then answer every question quickly and correctly as if you give a shit, to finally get the project (and people's bitching about a lack of a plugin) off of your todo list.

Decide between these two options based on what is best for your company, then let me know how you would like to proceed.

That was three weeks ago. I got no direct reply, but a few days ago I got another bizarre message, this time from Oleg, the CTO (and apparently a co-founder), referring to some “Diana” that I've never heard of...

I just got a message from Diana, our customer relations manager, saying you are having problems with API support. Let me know if this is true and if I can help you with anything. I know we had a few bugs with the API, but they should have been fixed.

... and the message goes on to bottom-quote my prior “it would be much more professional...” note. I just don't see how an understanding of the situation could result in such a generic, blasé message 2½ weeks late.

I replied to Oleg:

Hi Oleg,
My past history with folks at @500px.com is such that I won't take any steps to proceed until I get a clear answer on the question I posed in the message you quoted:

It would be much more professional to say “sorry, we don't have time for you, go away” if that's how you felt. If that's how you feel now, please tell me and I'll walk away. But if you want a Lightroom plugin from me, then answer every question quickly and correctly as if you give a shit, to finally get the project (and people's bitching about a lack of a plugin) off of your toto list.

Decide between these two options based on what is best for your company, then let me now how you would like to proceed.

I don't care one way or the other, but I won't spend my energy on a project for you if you don't care about it. 500px pretty much burnt the bridge with me, but I'll give you one more chance to act like you care.

Let me know,
         Jeffrey

It's not exactly true that I don't care one way or the other; a lot of Lightroom users have been clamoring for a plugin, and I want to support Lightroom, so given my druthers I'd prefer to fill that need, but not at the expense of my sanity and self respect, especially considering the troubles plugin development can bring.

For the umpteenth time, someone at 500px.com had the opportunity to be clear, to be respectful, and to look out for the best interests of their company. The reply from Oleg, several days later (today), took the cake:

Jeffrey,

From the conversation history you sent me it looks like you were under the impression that we commissioned the 500px Lightroom plugin to you. I can assure you that there has not been any such arrangement.

We provide API access “as is”, and the first rollout had some bugs that were fixed over the course of the last month or so. It is purely the developers' initiative to write any apps using 500px API, and we do our best to support the developers who decide to work with the API.

If you feel that the level of support in inadequate, I am sorry about this, we are doing our best to improve it. Although, if the problems with the API prevent you from going forward and you feel you want to abandon the project, this is entirely your decision and I am fine with it.

Best regards,
Oleg.

Arrrgh! I can assure you that there was no arrangement, too, Oleg, because I have never accepted commissions for plugin work (though I'm approached for it often).

I sent Oleg a short note, and in what is perhaps a first, I got a reply from someone at 500px the same day:

Jeffrey,

I am sorry about the confusion, I was not aware that Evgeny reached out to you and asked you to develop a plugin. We currently do not have the capacity to support Lightroom plugin development properly, I hope you understand.

All the best,
Oleg.

And so there we are. The CTO of 500px simply doesn't care about a Lightroom plugin. This is the same guy that promised his users a plugin by the summer three months ago. Well, he's still got time: the autumnal equinox isn't for a few more days.

Abandoning Lightroom users may well be a smart business decision —I'm not privy to their demographics and business plans — but it's something that, if true, their Lightroom-using customers should be aware of.

More likely though, he just wanted to get rid of me, and was embarrassed by his first message. Their API, if it were to actually work as they document, would indeed allow for a basic upload plugin that would satisfy the initial needs of most users. As far as I know, they have fixed the bugs I wrestled with, but I won't bother finding out until I know they can be both respectful and clueful. This is my hobby, and if they don't want to lift a finger to work with me for their own benefit, I certainly won't.

Until then, perhaps another developer with a lower threshold of self respect will provide a Lightroom plugin. I've heard of at least one other developer working on a 500px plugin (here). I wish him, and all Lightroom users, the best of luck.

Continued here...


Comments so far....

Damn. I was really hoping this would happen but I can completely understand why you’ve given up hope at this point. What a frustrating situation.

— comment by Aaron on September 20th, 2011 at 1:10pm JST (3 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink

Thanks for trying, Jeffrey!
I like 500px (cleaner and simpler than Flickr) but their support is pretty bad (I asked a simple question once and they completely missed the point).
I was thinking of extending my plugin (NextGen/Wordpress) when I saw that they finally released an API, but the doc was indeed pretty slim.
I might still try when I get a few hours in a week end.

Luc

— comment by Luc on September 20th, 2011 at 1:54pm JST (3 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink

Hi Jeffery
Thanks for your lengthy document. Like you I will now be ceasing any involvement with 500PX.

As a user of several of your plugins for some years, let me take this opportunity to thank you again for your work. Our Volunteer Photography Lightroom/Zenfolio workflow is in constant use and with your expertise, works every time.
Regards
Michael Mannington
Volunteer Photography
Sydney, Australia

— comment by Michael Mannington on September 20th, 2011 at 2:04pm JST (3 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink

Sad to hear this mate! I know I was one of those who dropped you an email asking if you would be working on it. I also tweeted 500px and asked them to check you out and they favourited the tweet. Sorry if I’ve contributed to the mess!

I suspect (hope) its just a case that 500px have just been taken unawares by the sudden popularity of their offering. I know it was a case of one day no one was using it, the next everyone was and it was *the* photo sharing site to use. I think the fact they’ve had some larger than average outages backs up the idea they’re just swamped. However it doesn’t excuse how they’ve messed you around.

— comment by Nick P on September 20th, 2011 at 3:06pm JST (3 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink

Jeffrey, could you please think of changing the colors of “quoted” text? Black-on-dark-grey and lighter-grey-on-dark-grey is rather hard to read. The borders are spiffy though.

I’ve flipped the colors… hopefully this’ll work for everyone. —Jeffrey

— comment by parv on September 20th, 2011 at 6:00pm JST (3 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink

The quoted interview from a few months ago suggests that 500px seems to be a tiny venture that consists of a handful of people. It’s remarkable that a company this small is showing the same inability to communicate coherently as we would expect from a large bureaucracy.

If a half dozen or so developers can’t get their shit together and get on the same page, 500px is going to have problems when (if) they expand.

I’m sorry you had to go through this, Jeffrey. But 500px’s loss is someone else’s gain, because you can spend your time developing for people who care, instead of wasting your talents on a plugin for people who piss away a golden opportunity staring them in the face or who don’t at least have enough of a clue to say “No thanks”.

— comment by Jon R on September 20th, 2011 at 7:41pm JST (3 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink

I also contacted them referring you if they wanted a quality Lightroom Plugin, I never received a response. Sorry you had to deal with all this. I’m a paying customer with two “awesome” accounts on their site and am considering closing both due to their shoddy customer service and several other issues with the site that are seemingly never addressed. Their treatment of developers just helps tilt my decision even further away from their favor.

Diana is their new customer support rep. I’ve interacted with her on three occasions and usually get canned responses seldom addressing what I was actually talking about. I know they’re busy and experiencing sudden growth since given the Kelby stamp of approval and an invite to Photoshop World but they just don’t seem to have their priorities in order and I’m not impressed with them as a whole at all. Hopefully they’ll get it together and soon.

— comment by Drew on September 21st, 2011 at 8:54pm JST (3 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink

Thanks Jeffrey; text is much easier to read now.

— comment by parv on September 21st, 2011 at 10:45pm JST (3 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink

Hey Jeffrey,

I’m sorry to hear about your experience – that sucks. I’ve been following your plugins and Lightroom/Lua development for a few months now, mainly out of wanting to learn Lua and write the 500px plugin you linked to. I’ve mainly been working on the plugin as a side project, when I have a few hours here and there (usually weekends).

It’s unfortunate that you were treated the way you were – your plugins are first-rate. I really only began development on my 500px plugin because I hadn’t seen anything from you about your own and figured I’d give it a shot. I’ve been enjoying the benefits of your expertise with your Lua/Lightroom modules and really appreciate them. Thanks for that.

I’ve still got a lot of work left to do on my plugin, however. I’d appreciate any tips you have, especially in regards to OAuth/XAuth – it’s my first project working with OAuth/XAuth, as well as my first foray into Lua and Lightroom development. Thanks again for your amazing resources and helpful Lua OAuth/SHA modules.

I wish you the best of luck.

The problem I had was with their OAuth2 support… after spending days trying to figure it out, it turns out that they had not even tested it before documenting that it was supported. Doh! I couldn’t get OAuth1 to work either, but I didn’t try as exhaustively, so that could have been my fault. —Jeffrey

— comment by Sawyer on September 23rd, 2011 at 2:20am JST (3 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink

Sorry for your experience. Apparently these guys are only worried with how many page views they get. http://500px.com/blog/14386

— comment by Dirk on October 6th, 2011 at 3:17pm JST (3 years ago) comment permalink

I’m just getting serious with Lightroom now and while I’ll be uploading to Facebook primarily using the built in plugin (with 2048px long edge/15MB caps), and backing up RAWs to CrashPlan, I’d like to have a middle ground for my many amateur photographer friends (and the odd pro).

I had thought 500px would be that service, but apparently not. I might have used Picasa were it not just dropped from the menu bar in favour of Google+ Photos (?!) and I’m unconvinced by Flickr so I guess it’ll be SmugMug for me.

Google+ Photos are the public subset of your PicasaWeb photos. It’s been reported that Google will rebrand PicasaWeb “Google Photos”. —Jeffrey

— comment by Sam Johnston on October 12th, 2011 at 7:54am JST (3 years ago) comment permalink

Jeffrey: Thanks for the update. Sorry to hear about your frustration, but keeping your integrity is more important. I have some images on 500px; I have MANY more on Flickr (primarily using your Lightroom plugin) and am seriously considering getting the Picasa plugin for my Google+ account. Just wanted to let you know I appreciate your work and I recommend your plugins to anyone who asks.

Mike.

— comment by Mike Nelson Pedde on October 12th, 2011 at 8:40am JST (3 years ago) comment permalink

I just wanted to say a quick thank you for the awesome work you do, it really has added alot of functionality to Lightroom for me and made it a better product!

— comment by Phillip L Guyton Jr. on October 14th, 2011 at 2:26am JST (3 years ago) comment permalink

Jeffrey, I feel your pain. I submitted an application for a 500px API application the same day they announced the API was available and to this day, it’s still not been approved after multiple emails w/o a response or canned responses telling me how to submit an application for a new API key, I finally just gave up.

500px has some amazing photographs from some amazing photographers, but they clearly don’t have a clue how to provide a stable and highly available website given the frequency and duration of the outages I’ve experienced since I joined.

You know it’s not ready for prime time when they refer you to “their developer”. What, one developer? Has that guy even used an API before? Did he even bother to look at the expansive API flickr offers and the clean and powerful interface flickr provides? No way…

Still hoping by some miracle that someone can develop a 500px lightroom plugin, but God knows if you can’t do it, nobody can!

Regards

— comment by jthomps on October 16th, 2011 at 10:58am JST (3 years ago) comment permalink

Looks like you are not the only one having problems with this disorganised company. See this email chain that I received:

September 2011

Dear friends,

First of all, let me say a huge thanks to all of you — without you none of this would have been possible. This year 500px has seen tremendous growth and development, and although the ride was bumpy at times, our dedicated team members always stood behind the platform, solved the most challenging problems and did their best to offer our users the best experience possible.

There are many exciting things planned, you will see them live on the site in the nearest future.

One of the most requested changes is coming very soon — we are completely redesigning and redeveloping the photo store experience on 500px. The current 500px photo stores, provided by our partner Fotomoto, are not ideal. Its platform, although powerful and feature rich, does not quite satisfy our high demands for quality of the user experience. So, we will not extend our contact with Fotomoto, and they will end supporting stores on 500px on September 27, 2011.

We are working hard to make the transition as seamless and transparent as possible. Most of the features you are used to will be preserved in the new 500px stores. And the look and feel will be completely new and improved.

As always — great user experience is our top priority, this will never change. If you would like further information on our roadmap and future development, follow us on Twitter: twitter.com/500px

Oleg Gutsol,
President and Technical Director, 500px

Dear Fotomoto / 500px members,

As you may already know, Fotomoto is going to stop providing service to 500px platform at the end of today. Unfortunately 500px didn’t meet their business and technical commitments. After several unsuccessful attempts and unanswered emails to solve their issues, we had to send them a notice last week informing them that we are terminating our contract with 500px (which is a slightly different from what they mentioned in their email).

If you have sold any photo(s) using Fotomoto, your Fotomoto balance is available to you at your Fotomoto dashboard. And of course, Fotomoto will still be available on your other websites and platforms.

We apologize for any inconvenience that this may have caused. As always, we are committed to our members and to our product experience. In the next few weeks you will start seeing more print products and more features from Fotomoto, stay tuned.

Best regards

Ahmad Kiarostami
Co-founder and CEO
Fotomoto

On September 26, 2011, we issued a statement concerning our partnership with Fotomoto that may have been misinterpreted. The fact that we are not extending our partnership with them was a mutual decision and was not related to the quality of Fotomoto’s advanced and feature-rich offerings, which are excellent.

Oleg Gutsol,
President and Technical Director, 500px

— comment by Andrew on November 12th, 2011 at 6:14am JST (3 years ago) comment permalink

Thanks for the update on the LR plug-in. I too was hoping for this sometime soon. I suffered similar frustration with them and their API. I use the Photonic plugin in my WordPress blog. It took days for them to do their bit on authorising the API at their end before Photonic could start pulling photos to my WP site. I only finally got my API instance authorised after I posted adverse tweets and comments on Facebook. Oleg finally answered and I was authorised. Then about 2 weeks later suddenly no photos on my blog. They had changed the API without any notification on their site blog support forum or anywhere.

A frustrating company to deal with BUT there are some superb photos on their site though.

— comment by Colin in Spain on November 17th, 2011 at 12:26am JST (2 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

G’day Jeffrey,

sorry to hear of all the dramas with a company that clearly is too stupid to get out of its own way. I know a lot of people using 500px, but it’s hardly so compelling that it’s worth using if I can’t publish directly to it. I’m not in it to be a hipster, cool sorta person, so 500px isn’t that important to me.

Thanks again for all your other work, it rocks, and I’ve been a user for years. Hopefully Google+ will finally get their act together and provide a usable API – they’ve got no excuse in terms of resources…

— comment by juice on November 20th, 2011 at 6:05am JST (2 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

In case you haven’t noticed yet, 500px have released a Lightroom export plug-in (beta).
Of course this could have happened two months ago if they’d bothered to listen to you…..

I had noticed and was in the process of writing this post when your comment came in. They used my code in their plugin, which is amusingly ironic. Glad Lr users who are also their customer now have a solution for easy export. —Jeffrey

— comment by Gary Sutherland on December 2nd, 2011 at 7:56am JST (2 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

Hi Jeffrey,

You are not alone in your “friction” with 500px ;)
I’ve been considering to become so called “Awesome” on 500px. I liked this site in general and only two main concerns prevented me:
1. Lack of Lr plugin (more than a year of periodical monitoring, but nobody has created it for 500px)
2. Inability to re-upload photos after modifictions. Damn … this kills immidiately an idea of Lr publish plugin :) Doesn’t it ?

As a software developer, I decided to help myself and maybe entire 500px+lightroom audience. Thus, I expected to fix those issues:
1. Develop 500px plugin by myself at least :) Once has been said, once has been made … Almost :) I’ve requested API key on the site via simple web-form on it. The key and secret has been issued automatically, but not aprroved (of course 500px is a serious site so some seriouse fellows should have approved it manually investigating before my DNA :) ) Few days of silence and finally I’ve decided to write my first e-mail to their support. Dianna, kindly forwarded my e-mail to Arseniy. The answer was funny: “I thought, I had approved it” Well, this could happen with anybody, not a big problem. This particular issue has been solved quickly so I got a new hope to be supported by someone from API dev. team. I’ve strictly specified the matter of my interest in API key as “Lightroom plugin for 500px”. This should has been enough at that momment to make them interested :) And try to imagine my frustration when I’ve seen official 500px plugin annoncement on the site in two weeks :)
2. I had a hope, it will be possible to re-upload photo making use of their API (even though it is still impossible on web-site). I’m poor dreamer … and their official plugin with the same limitations is a proof :(

Unfortunately, I’ve seen your blog-post only today. But, now I’m completely convinced – it was right decision to stop development and forget about some reasonable support on 500px side. Thanks for notice ;)

— comment by Alexey Osetyanov on January 6th, 2012 at 6:38am JST (2 years, 10 months ago) comment permalink

The funny thing is their plug-in is still absolute crap.

— comment by Rich on July 19th, 2012 at 2:07pm JST (2 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

Yah, their plug in is crap. I am looking for somewhere to move instead of SmugMug. Giving 500px a hard look, but their plug is really is completel crap. It can’t upload a simple gallery without throwing multiple and various errors. They have posted a message saying they are working on a better plug in, but, wow, you claim to be a serious photo sharing site and you don’t have a working LR plugin? Just deleted my trial account.

— comment by SR on September 4th, 2012 at 1:14pm JST (2 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink
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