Want to know how to wreck a pioneering web service in three easy steps? Kodak knows, and they’ve executed the plan perfectly with what was once the premier internet photo sharing and printing service, formerly known as Ofoto.
Back in 1999 Ofoto appeared as one of the first photo sharing and printing services. Snappy name, simple business model, and simple to use thanks to upload tools which avoided the problems of trying to upload multiple files through a web browser.
In June 2001, Kodak bought Ofoto. At first not much changed. A small icon appeared on the site denoting that it was a Kodak company, but nothing else changed. Then, in 2005, they started to destroy the service:
Take that catchy, easy to remember, and easy to type name and change it to something more in keeping with a stodgy 1800’s company: Kodak EasyShare Gallery. Admittedly, the URL they chose is a little shorter (kodakgallery.com), but still much longer, and less catchy than ofoto.com.
While the original service was great for sharing photos with people outside the US, it did not having printing services outside the US. Kodak decided to fix this and add printing services in other countries. Sounds like a great idea. Problem is that when you are an 1800’s corporation, you don’t think about international use of your service (after all, who travelled much back then, letalone shared photos).
So, people who use the UK site (kodakgallery.co.uk) are separated from those using the US service. If I want to share photos with my family in the UK and friends in the US, and let all of them print the photos, or store my album in their account, I need to upload them to both the US service and the UK service. This is plainly stupid in the internet world. There is no good reason to place real-world borders on a service like this. If Kodak had even half a clue, the photos would be stored in one system, and just the printing would be tied to a country.
Last week came the big announcement that they are offering a paid-for premium service (which basically makes your
OfotoKodakGallery area work like Flickr). Again, that doesn’t sound so bad, and they kept the free service intact. But, it seems that in the process of this upgrade they have also broken the Mac OS OfotoExpress upload tool. Since the upgrade, I am unable to sign in from OfotoExpress, so I cannot upload photos (other than using the we interface, which would be painful for the 112 images from our weekend gathering that I wanted to share).
This tool was never great, but at least it worked. If Kodak wants some hints about how to do this properly, I would suggest they take a look at the the FlickrExport plugin. They might also want to consider opening up their upload API so that people who do know how to do these things properly can provide the tools that they seem unable to provide.
As if that wasn’t enough to prove that Kodak knows close to nothing about running a web services site, the response I got when I asked whether the login failures were a temporary problem with the site, or if OfotoExpress was no longer supported, says it all:
Response (Jessica T.) 05/28/2006 07:18 AM
Thank you for contacting the KODAK EASYSHARE Gallery Customer Service Team.
Please call our toll-free customer service line during business hours (6am PST – 6pm PST) and speak to a live representative.
Toll-free Order Number: (800) 360-9098
Calling from outside the United States: (510) 985-9798
If you have any further questions or concerns regarding your account or the KODAK EASYSHARE Gallery service, please let us know.
KODAK EASYSHARE Gallery Customer Service Team
So, firstly, I have to call them (and no doubt wait on hold for the next available agent) to ask the question again? Why can they not answer that simple question in email? Second, the response is logged as coming from Jessica T., but is signed Heather B. – if you can’t even change the signature in the canned response, I have to wonder whether you even read the question.
The Kodak-Ofoto story seems to me to be the perfect example of what happens when an old-world company, run by old-world people, acquires and attempts to run a new world service. Once upon a time, Kodak was the new company with the innovative products (indeed, some divisions of the company still produce innovative products, like the Wi-Fi connected EasyShare One camera). But it seems to have dropped the ball with Ofoto, and shows no signs of picking it up again…