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:
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 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...
... 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:
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,
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:
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.
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:
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,
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.