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Should Tumblr care? David Karp tells users who complain to "go away" (postdesk.com)
125 points by samengland on Jan 28, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 158 comments

One very important point that William fails to mention about his email to us - he spent the time to track down every Tumblr employees email and sent it to the entire team. It was way over-the-top, and yes, discouraging to the team.

The idea that David Karp, who I've work closely for eight years over two startups, is arrogant and doesn't care about the community, is completely off base. And anyone who knows David will agree. He's a exceptional guy and huge talent.

"Go away" was reactionary, and there was probably a better way to message, but David was defending our team who are working incredibly hard to rectify the performance issues/challenges.

And we as a company are taking extraordinary measures to rectify them. We care immensely.

Mr. England - calling out the age of an employee, help me understand why that was necessary and honorable? Seriously.

Lastly, our Creative Community team focusing on Fashion Week is clearly a very different group then our Engineering/Ops team focusing on performance and infrastructure.

"One very important point that William fails to mention about his email to us - he spent the time to track down every Tumblr employees email and sent it to the entire team. It was way over-the-top, and yes, discouraging to the team."

Assuming that is true, your comment deserves more attention. It changes the situation significantly.

Surely. After having read this response I pivoted (had to) my reaction. The original post clearly intends to have the reader believe "go away" is a poor off-the-cuff defense to "your site is down". Which especially given the down time is a bad defense. That said, at this point I'm much more likely to believe "go away" is a valid defense to harassment.

Please explain how emailing (some) of tumblr's staff to express my disappointment with the level of service can be classed as harassment?

It's not legally harassment, but it's definitely not calm, rational, productive communication either.

Go build something instead of complaining. Seriously.

(had to make a pivot joke, that is)

Yes it does - and William can confirm this was the case

Meh, it means that the guy sending the email is a bit loony. It doesn't excuse responding in kind. Karp and Tumblr are a big deal. They should set a higher standard for themselves.

I see, so the user is merely "loony," for mass-emailing the entire Tumblr headcount with his screed, but Karp is a mean and incompetent boob who should be replaced and [your favorite punishment here] for responding naturally to that situation? Karp's sentiment wasn't directed at all users, he was telling a loony to not be so loony, but loony man can't recognize the social cues involved and so generalizes Karp's response to the entire universe of Tumblr users. Loony.

Its not about standards. If this guy was at your doorstep whining like that, what would you do? I would get irritated and lash out also.

Its about implementing strategy for that.

"And this right here folks is why a startup is so extraordinarily stressful, why PR agencies exist, and why a squeaky wheel gets the grease." - Ramanujan http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2151989

His comment is not true. As I've already stated I emailed only those who I thought would respond to my concerns. I never expected to receive an email from David directly.

You bypassed their provided means for customer service and sent a presumptuous email. Sorry, that entitles you to nothing, even if you are a paying customer (unless direct developer support was part of anything you purchased). Don't crash the party expecting to be welcomed with open arms, or even gently escorted out. Karp could have used more tact, but as far as etiquette goes, he was totally in-line with responding to your message how he did.

And who exactly did you send the email to?

Then it seems that David had the morale of his team as a priority over some customer who described himself as "Yours Truly Disappointed". Not a bad choice in that context.

William's email was meant to make people feel bad. Look at the first sentence: "I am writing this email to you to express my recent disappointment with Tumblr". Instead of feeling bad, David got irritated. Thats the second best choice (don't let people make you feel bad for building gnarly web infrastructure, ya know?).

The best choice would be to ignore the email and let someone without emotional attachment handle it. Sometimes, though, you can't fight the urge to slap down the Wah-wahs.

The original article, by the way, is just trying to paint David Karp as an arrogant, unlikeable person. There are mounds of unreferenced personal attacks in there.

Im sorry but rather being respectful to the problems that hes having as a paid premium user all youre doing is being condescending and downright rude to the guy. Personally if i was the guy id stop using your company.

You know if you had treated him with respect and actually discussed the problems with him and apologized and just simply said youre working on it and sorry for the problems. Youd probably have a happy customer for life. Instead you have people that have nothing to do with the situation making it much much much worse then it could have been. Not a very good business move frankly. I mean they teach this stuff in entrepreneurship 101.

Have you ever worked for a business that has had site problems? Let me tell you, when you are trying to fix something that can't be fixed in two minutes, some guy emailing the entire company saying "i hate u and u have no export functionality," when Tumblr indeed has a lot of export functionality, then "go away" is perfectly appropriate.

If you guys cared immensely, you would respond to my support requests. If you wanted to monetize, maybe you would setup a premium offering. I know that I would gladly pay $50/month to ensure that my blog doesn't have the downtime that it's had in the last few months. I've stated this many times before.

I'll give you a blog for $50 a month if you want :) decalcms.com

I've been a Community Manager/Director for years, and have seen these scenarios a lot.

Honestly, there is no reason for David Karp to be frontline on these types of communications. If David has something to say about issues, or feedback the company is getting, y'all have a place to do it...Tumblr. Not a personal email.

That is why you have a Community staff. And that staff should feel the pain of the user...even if they're persistent or "annoying" to you. Remember, this guy would not be contacting you if he didn't care.

Getting people to care about your service should not be treated as an annoyance, it is a milestone, and a success.

With one remark, that was wiped away. I'm sure David has way more important things to focus on, like keeping Tumblr up and running.

John, first of all I didn't email your entire staff only the people who I thought would respond to my concerns. I never expected to receive an email from David directly. Secondly, It wasn't hard to 'track down every Tumblr employees email' your email addresses are quite easy to figure out, take yours for example 'john@tumblr.com' and your employees are featured on your about page.

I would also like to point out that after I sent the email I tried to have a discussion with David directly but unfortunately he ignored my emails.

John, I agree with you 100%. If a user somehow hunted down the emails of every developer on my team and sent off an email to them complaining and whining about stuff, I would be very put off by it and that would be WAY over the top. I think Mr. Karp however should not be the one responding to William and whoever should be responding should have some training on how to deal with really idiotic users in a calm and rational way.

Give David a break. First of all, he's a very nice guy. Secondly, he's not running a corner greengrocer, he's running a site that's growing supernaturally fast and which has completely, utterly displaced myspace as the place where high school kids share. Tumblr has five MILLION visitors every single day, almost none of whom pay a dime. You can't run a service like that the same way you run an enterprise software company. You can't have a PR team and a customer service department that makes sure everybody gets a nice reply. When they have outages caused by growing pains (something which nobody here begrudges them), they get metric TONS of angry email from thousands of narcissistic users who can't IMAGINE that ANYONE ELSE is suffering from the same outage. You know what? David Karp doesn't like Tumblr being down any more than you do. David Karp didn't bring Tumblr down to piss you off. Self righteous, whiny blog posts demanding that David Karp is not capable of running Tumblr because he responded to an email in a fashion that you don't find sufficiently grovelling are, frankly, ridiculous, and reflect more poorly on the whiners than on Tumblr or David.

I heard from an article that I read recently that he wasn't, in fact, a nice guy.

Maybe you had different experiences with him, but now most people who have read about him just think he's some 24-year-old punk trying to be Steve Jobs. That's just how this stuff works.

Startup, LLC and HugeCorp, Inc. alike can't afford bad PR like this. It was an incredibly stupid move on David's part and he should patch this up as quickly as possible.

I'm pretty sure that Tumblr can certainly afford bad PR like this. Show me an example of a company that was, actually, hurt by something like this. One example, please. Every high school kid in New York uses Tumblr every minute of every day. None of them even know who David is, and those that do, revere him.

And Steve Jobs could kick a puppy as his next "one more thing." It doesn't mean shareholders would be happy about it.

"We can afford it" is a terrible response to bad PR. He needs to act quickly and make this right. Apologize. Give the guy a free account or something. Everything is (mostly) better.

I'm convinced that half of a PR person's work is convincing others to get over themselves.

If someone -- or any company for the matter -- can afford or not bad PR is way beyond the point.

The thing is : you usersy might be wrong,or might be right ; but the point is more that users are your even more than your whole business, giving them a good experience is your ultimate goal ; not just selling them a microblogging app.

In my opinion, comparison to steve jobs / apple here are extremely irrelevant ; yes, steve jobs might have earned the right to be obnoxious to bad clients, but the point is that apple as a company doesn't.

For one thing, its because their marketing goes hand in hand with their excellent customer service that this company is successful. Not because one compensate for the other. Its really a shame that somebody can treat its user base like that.

> It doesn't mean shareholders would be happy about it.

Actually, shareholders would probably be ecstatic.

... And Apple forums would be rife with explanations about how kicking is a better way to interface with puppies than petting them.

Apple’s stocks haven’t grown very rapidly in the last months, at least compared to Apple’s earnings. Apple is making shitloads of money, giving shareholders every reason to be ecstatic but they don’t really seem to be. Apple’s stock is growing conservatively.

@spolsky Why are you so invested in this? If a CEO has nothing good to say, he needs to say nothing. That's his fiduciary responsibility and I'm sure the board has the same opinion.

USV is an investor in StackOverflow and Tumblr.

StackOverflow really doesn't benefit that much if Tumblr turns into a 1Bn company (which it probably will eventually)

If Tumblr makes USV huge returns, they can raise a new fund (not like they would struggle right now..) but most funds require "new investments" so why would Spolsky profit other than being a nice guy?

That explains a lot

@spolsky An example of a company that was hurt by the CEO being a dick? Um, I don't know, how about every single one? This is why most CEOs don't do customer service. Especially one that has eleventy billion users and a ton of money.

People often confuse being curt like this with being effective. Often it's just some guy who had a bad day, is an insufferable asshole or some combo of the above. Customer service and 1 on 1 s with users should never be handled by people like that, though.

Perhaps, but tech geeks and early adopters like us can have a big influence on the swing of the pendulum and whether something is cool and hip, or lame. If more Tumblr fans become ex-Tumblr fans, then your tune might change.

Early adopters influence initial take up. Tumblr is way beyond this now. Once it's reached the high school kids, then it can't really be called "early" any more.

They'll only move on once the service is no longer seen as cool, and the early adopters have - at a modest estimate - absolutely nothing at all to do with this.

Google Ratners jewellery

For the record, David and I have hung out a few times (not like we're BFFs or anything) but I think really highly of the guy and his character. I'd say he's a visionary and nice guy. I don't think he's trying to be Steve Jobs.

Do you think he's being a nice guy in that email?

It's not like people are either nice or mean. Everyone is a combination of both.

Hitler loved his dog yada yada

Reading an article does not confirm anything.

I've worked for David for two years. I can honestly say he is the nicest person I've ever met. Genuinely kind and thoughtful, and wants the best for the site and the people that use it.

There was nothing self-righteous or whiny about the blog post or the original email. Both contained substantive and completely reasonable criticisms to which you have responded with name-calling and CAPS LOCK.

I agree that the article was neither self-righteous nor whiny.

However, the quoted email definitely was.

(So I guess spolsky referred mostly to that one, not just the article around it.)

I thought the original email was a lot less deserving of a flippant response than the hatchet job blog post.

The guy sent an honest and respectful email asking for help...I don't think his email was unreasonable. What was unreasonable was the "go away" line in David's response. That is simply juvenile and more importantly, completely unnecessary.

Exactly. It's funny that some people are 'blaming the customer' for loving a service so much that he gets upset when the people who run it act like this.

Not only can they not be trusted to run the service, but they act unprofessional when you complain. Customers complain, get over it. Learn to deal with it constructively.

David's response is not constructive and William's feedback is very valuable. Period.

I don't think anyone is saying David chuckles in the sight of recent outages. The email which was sent does not seem to be a personal attack on David's character and - apart from some random comments - nobody seems to speak bad of David himself.

I'm a Tumblr user and will keep using it for the very reason that the service is simply growing too fast for them to keep up at the moment, but in the end I believe it will stabilize.

That being said, a response like that is just utter crap. (Sidenote: so far, I have seen a copy/paste of the entire message (?) that was supposably sent to Tumblr, but only excerpts of the reply that was received)

Replying in a normal manner to someone that sends a normal e-mail is not something that is left to be done for PR teams and customer service departments.

It really is not that hard. We all say stuff that comes out wrong and there is no need to blow it out of proportion. Seeing that is has already done that, it would probably be a good display of character to set things straight, even if there seems to be nothing to gain from it.

As far as the article is concerned: I believe it could have been written a lot better. Catchphrases like "Could David Karp be the downfall of Tumblr?" are inappropriate and belong in gossip-magazines. The number of claims and experiences on which this article is based (or at least, references) is too low to make it believable and the tone of the article ("Tumblr has been ignoring complaints routinely for the past year whilst Karp apparently indulges in the money he gains from funding") does not really stand out as objective to me.

Why give him a break? He is a public CEO. If he does well the internet will talk about it. If he does otherwise, well, he can expect the internet to talk about it too.

Nobody gives a care if David is the coolest thing on his/your block. There is not one valid reason to tell a customer to "Please go away". You should just take the bullet, apologize for not meeting their expectation and maybe offer your point of view. If the customer is being rude, you have the right to not answer.

Yes, there is. You should tell customers to go away when they cost you more than they earn you. Costs come in many forms, both monetary and emotional. If dealing with specific complaining users damages team morale, then perhaps the company should consider whether those few users are worth it.

Further, I doubt very much that bad PR like this affects Tumblr. 1) The vast majority of Tumblr users will never hear about this, 2) The ones that do will probably decide whether to continue using the service based on whether or not Tumblr actually solves their downtime problems on an ongoing basis.

There is a difference between "We will understand it if you choose to go with a different company. However you should know and we are working hard at resolving these issues." and "... Please go Away."

Seriously, it is not as if the guy insulted them.

He did insult them (or at least paint himself into a luser corner) by saying they had no export functionality.

How exactly did I insult them? And please point to anywhere on tumblr's website where I can export my content? Even Facebook, one of the most closed eco-systems on the web lets users download their own content.

I'm no Tumblr expert, but in five minutes of searching I see Tumblr -> Wordpress utils, RSS, and the Tumblr API. That's three methods.

Yes, for a Unix sysadmin I'm sure exporting your content via Tumblr's API, RSS feed or for that matter a Wordpress utility is a breeze but I'm not sure the same is true for your average tumblr user. Having said all that I think you're ignoring what I said for the sake of an argument.

Well I guess that delegitimizes any response I could conceivably make.

There are definitely times when you should tell a customer to go away. Any time a customer is seriously diverting you from where you need to be as a business, you have a potential time to say "find somebody else."

However, this customer was complaining about the core business, not some diversion. Even if he was diverting, there are far more appropriate ways to say good-bye.

It sounds to me like David heard once "don't keep customers who aren't profitable" but never internalized what that really means.

Joel: At the risk of sounding trollish, you read like that Chris Crocker guy of "Leave Brittney Alone" YouTube fame. 1) He's a CEO. He'd better have thick skin to be one. 2) Most of your points are dead on correct. HOWEVER, I've repeatedly begged for a premium offering. I realize that that doesn't seem to be their monetization strategy, so maybe I should look elsewhere if I value my blog so much.

Regardless, the guy is a CEO. He better be able to deal with it. I sincerely hope that this comment doesn't make me sound too insensitive, just a little bit. But his problem is a good one to have, and I would love to have it.

Joel, David has a great problem: he's extremely successful and facing the scrutiny of people who think he should be more perfect than he is.

The answer to this problem is never to tell people to "go away." The job is challenging, as you know. You work your ass off, for years. Finally you get something out there, and if you're lucky, people love it.

That's where the modesty has to kick in. Big time.

When you're even a little bit successful, you learn that customers are not bar chums who you punch in the shoulder and laugh when they say something that offends you. You adopt an unusually elevated posture. "Yes, I see what you mean. I probably could have handled that better."

I know you're good at this Joel, so don't hold your friend to a lower standard.

> You can't have a PR team and a customer service department that makes sure everybody gets a nice reply.

Do you really need a PR/CS team to ensure people get a nice reply? Shouldn't that just be something that a /very nice guy/ would accomplish naturally?

MySpace didn't have these issues though - nor did Twitter (to this extent). It's also a relatively straight forward blogging platform though - it's not particularly hard to figure out how to allocate resources despite exponential growth. The fact is - responding to issues in such a manner might not affect the outlook of Tumblr immediately - but the fact that he does respond to emails like this might be a representation of his overall attitude towards running the site - one which might contribute to the ultimate downfall of the service.

What do yo mean Myspace and Twitter didnt have these issues? One of the reasons Facebook gained prominents is that in 2005 or so Myspace was down CONSTANTLY. I mean it was never up. They blamed it on coldfusion at the time and eventually moved the site over to Asp.net. Twitter also barely worked because the whole web services architecture was only taking shape so it was designed like an old cms.

Putting that aside this persons response was unprofessional to say the least. He needs to publicly apologize to all of his users and start hiring people who can fix the site. To tell people to fuck off is immature and absolutely ridiculous. Especially when you have so much VC money at your disposal. When Twitter first got funding they spend alot of it on engineering. They went from being on just a few servers which was one of the reasons it was down all of the time. To hundreds of servers to deal with the load. It seems like this guy now thinks he can keep the money to himself and not spend anything expect on pr. Reminds of Friendster actually.

Does nobody remember LiveJournal? The site with the community that was willing to look past growing pains and security exploits to communicate on their own terms? The "straight forward blogging platform" that created a need for memcached amongst other scaling tools? Read the history of LJ's architecture from 1 server to hundreds: http://www.danga.com/words/2007_06_usenix/usenix.pdf

> it's not particularly hard to figure out how to allocate resources despite exponential growth.


There's a big difference between "sufficiently grovelling" and "go away".

so what if Karp is a nice guy? it is not about whether he is nice guy or not,but how customers (free & paying) are treated.

Are you saying that since millions of customers are getting a free service ("five MILLION visitors every single day, almost none of whom pay a dime.") and so should expect a lower level of service ?

it clearly shows the frustration on Karp's part and that he is not able to handle the pressures.

And this right here folks is why a startup is so extraordinarily stressful, why PR agencies exist, and why a squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Think about it: that post (and the comments by robyn_b below, an account which was registered 20 minutes ago) goes out of its way to SEO-ify for keywords related to the founder, his company's name, and related variables.

This is the risk you run with every single customer service interaction -- that the guy on the other side won't just be content to take his ball and go home if you can't meet his demands, but will try to foment a mass movement against you to put you out of business.

Good service is unfortunately not a panacea for this problem. Suppose that 99.9% of your customers are satisfied, but you have millions. Then you've got thousands of disgruntled people out there, and bad news travels fastest.

The lesson, ultimately, is that you simply can't respond in a human way to someone attacking your baby. You need call centers and roboscripts and a first layer of customer service, such that if a customer decides to attack you on the internet, a manager can jump in, offer concessions, and make it all better.

Doing it any other way means that you run the risk of a candid response becoming a capital crime.

I'm the author of the article and I can honestly say that "SEO for keywords related to the founder, his company's name, and related variables" is not what we're trying to do. The article is simply speculation about what having a founder with this kind of attitude might mean - and it's also speculation as to the direction Tumblr is heading in under the leadership of David Karp. I just found it quite interesting. On a personal level I also found it disgusting how they treated William, a dedicated user of Tumblr who has never had a bad thing to say about the service until now - so I thought I'd speak out about it.

Mr. England, your post went on for thousands of words psychoanalyzing the guy and his motives ("abruptly...knee-jerk response...defensive...something to hide....care-free and cavalier...", and so on ad nauseum).

Something about the tone set off my metal detectors, as did the comments by robyn_b here, which reminded me of the way people on 4chan work someone's name into a sentence to make sure that it's the number one hit on Google.

Sure enough, looking into this a little more, it actually isn't as surprising. From your site:


  PostDesk is looking for fresh new talent in the UK,
  Europe, the USA and Canada. We require web developers who
  are proficient in PHP and MySQL - and ideally those who
  have worked with CMS systems, bulletin board style 
  software or social networking software....In short, the
  start-up will be based around news, discussion and 
Ok, so you run a competing startup in the same space and saw an opportunity to poke a finger in the eye of a rival. Don't you think that merits an up front disclosure in bold font?

We're not in the same space. PostDesk, as you should be able to see is a site where editorial/opinion pieces such as the one you've just read are posted. Unfortunately you're trying to uncover a conspiracy which isn't there - though I'll gladly answer any further questions you might have...

You should, amongst other things, definitely write a disclaimer that describes your friendship with William, as he reveals[1].

It might as well be a hit piece as plain sloppy, speculative writing - if Karp had a nickel for every (unanswered) question mark in that article, he'd secure himself another $40 million.

[1]: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2152210:

    > prestia:
    > If this is William, what relationship do you have with PostDesk? It seems peculiar to take an exchange like this and forward it to a total unknown rather than one of the larger sites. I'm not saying I don't believe this happened, but I'm rather skeptical by nature.
    > wtildesley:
    > I'm a friend of the owner.

The fact that William knows the owner of PostDesk makes no difference to the speculations made in the article about the future of Tumblr under Karp's leadership. Disclosure isn't really needed when the only difference is that he came to us to break the story as opposed to any other news outlet who would have said the same, or similar.

William is friends with the owner of PostDesk according to his description - knowing the owner is very different, and I think it's important to hold on to that distinction. You may, of course, be of a different opinion about the relationship - and know better about it than I do - but I think it's relevant that William himself describes the relationship as a friendship.

If there is a conflict of interest that should stop you from writing a story in the first place, you don't write the story.

If you are affiliated in some way with one side in a story, you write a disclaimer, so people don't jump to conclusions when they discover the relationship after reading the piece. Case in point.

Disclaimers/disclosures are as much about journalistic objectivity as PR on the writer's/s' behalf.

Sorry but are joking? I read the piece and everything the author said is spot on. It sounds exactly like the ceo has a great deal of insecurities and frankly shouldnt be in the ceo position. Why? Because im sorry but you cant treat users like that. You just cant. Its simply unprofessional. Especially when its not isolated. Tumblr has been having problems for months and they seem to simply not have any interest in fixing it but seem to be more interest in how rich they are.

They need to get off their high horses and fix the problems NOW! If they dont people will simply stop using their service. Especially if that service develops a reputation as having an asshole for a ceo. Especially at the startup stage.

Sadly it seems in this country that arrogance and egomania are being mistaken for talent. When tech founders are assholes people laud them instead of putting them in their place. Its really annoying and i see it here all of the time on HN.

They need to get off their high horses and fix the problems NOW! If they dont people will simply stop using their service.

Is that so? How many people will stop using Tumblr based on the outcome of this controversy? How many permanently stopped using Twitter during (what I call) The Blaine Transition?

Especially if that service develops a reputation as having an asshole for a ceo.

Oh, this is good. Name one time this has happened in the entire history of business. I have a feeling you're indulging in pointed opinions to make the case that site quality affects retention and conversion. OK, but that's not a newsflash. What makes Tumblr different, such that they need to "fix the problems NOW!"? I'm sure they're not just sitting back drinking lattes while they watch the support queue grow.

Taking your tone, one might read between the lines to interpret your attitude as just competitive sour grapes between Clojure and Scala. How fair is that?

You should consider switching to decaf.

such that if a customer decides to attack you on the internet, a manager can jump in, offer concessions, and make it all better.

You can still 'jump in' and try to 'make it all better' as a solo founder or a larger startup without call centers and 'roboscripts.' The updates to the linked article show that this didn't occur in the short-term here, despite the publicity.

Without the original e-mail sent to Tumblr, it's hard to judge the appropriateness of Karp's response. Under most circumstances, it's rude to tell your customers to go away. But if a rare customer behaves abusively—particularly towards your employees or other customers—it may be the correct decision to politely decline their business.

Of course, if lots of your customers are behaving abusively, you've got bigger problems, either with the service you provide, or with the customers you've chosen to serve.

Just got in touch with William to ask if I could post up the original e-mail in its entirety - and he said that was fine. I've added the original email to the bottom of the article. http://postdesk.com/debates/should-tumblr-care/

[Edit: Substantially rewritten in light of #2, below.]

Thank you. It looks like Postdesk started a public controversy while leaving out two critical pieces of information:

1) William's actual e-mail, which expresses his disappointment in a reasonably polite fashion. Normally, this sort of e-mail should merit a polite response and a refund.

2) The allegation that William send the email to the entire engineering team (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2152203). This changes the context of Karp's remarks significantly, because it means that Karp had to weigh two things: The feelings of a disappointed customer, and the morale of his already-stressed engineers.

In this case, I actually sympathize a bit with Karp. He needs to take care of his customers, but he also needs to take care of his people. That puts his remark "...we have no interest in customers that will go out of their way to discourage our entire team..." in a rather different light. That's not an easy situation to resolve well.

I wish that Postdesk had provided more facts (and less editorial comment) in the original article.

Im sorry but this doesnt hold water when tumblr has 40 million in vc funding. If they were bootstrapped then yes maybe. But if his team is stressed out maybe they could start hiring people. Instead they are causing situations like this to happen.

Also im sorry but i dont care how stressed out you are. As a ceo you have a responsibility to treat your customers with respect. Especially since what the customer was asking was so simply and basic and straightforward. Its not like the emailer sent a nasty mean email calling everybody names and asking them why the service isnt working in harsh ways and being disrespectful.

He sent a very polite email to the people working there. Theres absolutely nothing wrong with that at all. Its part of doing business and doing customer service.

The response frankly was absolutely ridiculous. At the very least the response could have been more polite and simply said we apologize and are working on it.

Given Tumblr's explosive popularity, there's no way that they aren't a giant ball of stress right now. It's certainly nice to have $40 million, but that's of little use in the short term: As Fred Brooks famously pointed out, adding more programmers to a late project makes it later.

So the people who understand Tumblr's systems are almost certainly working nights and weekends and going slowly insane. And there's no relief for them: If Tumblr hires more staff, their current engineers will still have to deal with all the crises and train the new people.

It's the CEO's job to deal with disappointed and angry customers. But it's also the CEO's job to deal with programmers who are working 70 hour weeks and who are just about ready to snap and move to a commune. Startups can be full of bad craziness.

In a perfect world, customers would talk to the CEO and the customer support team, and not try to directly contact the engineering team. That's not to say that Tumblr handled this especially well. But again, it's not an easy situation.

In the original email, William clearly says he wants to leave and that the lack of an export feature is the only thing stopping him.

That part makes a HUGE difference in the framing of David Karp's.

...and the friendships he had created

My comment appeared to have been temporarily removed from the postdesk.com blog entry, after I tried to share John Maloney's statement that the email had been sent to every employee at Tumblr: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2152203

Edit: I spoke too soon; either I missed it as I read the comments or my comment was re-enabled.

“…we have no interest in customers that will go out of their way to discourage our entire team”

Something about that response tells me this wasn't the first email sent by this user.

Surprisingly - it wasn't, and we're still not sure how William was in fact discouraging their entire team...

I'm getting cross-eyed from the double negatives, so just to clarify, William hadn't sent any mail prior to the one quoted?

In my experience as someone who has paid to appear in Tumblr's Directory a half-dozen times, all downtime has been pro-rated/refunded. Customer support has always been prompt and kind.

Remember though that his query wasn't just about the downtime per se, it was about the overall level of service. Intermittent technical issues with features like backup and queuing but to name a few. Anyway - David's response might have been prompt but it certainly wasn't kind was it...

David's response might have been prompt but it certainly wasn't kind was it...

I know I probably feel differently when I'm on the other side of this fence, but as the saying goes, you have to earn respect.

It appears that the original e-mail has just been posted

I know that Steve Jobs has sent some very short responses before, however this from Karp shows immaturity more than anything. There are times when most of us will receive an email from a client and want to immediately tell them where to go, but the old saying to "sleep on it" really is good advice. I have sometimes waited a day before properly responding to some people and it was the best thing to do in every case. I hope that Karp realises his mistake and makes a public apology. At least this way he would look mature enough to admit his mistakes

Edit: I was about to start a personal blog on Tumblr, and I will not be now due to this article.

Oh please, get over yourself. David started a company when he was 20.... obvious proof that he's extremely mature for his age, not immature. Let me know when you're running a successful website that zoomed to the top 50 in a couple of years and which serves 5 million people every single day before your 24th birthday. Picking on him for one email instead of his very impressive life's work, and self-righteously proclaiming that you will be boycotting Tumblr because he sent one curt email, is, I'm sorry to say, kinda pathetic.

Thanks for the response, although I think that it was disproportionate response to what I was saying. Basically I believe he made a mistake and it is a measure of someone in terms of how you deal with that. I respect someone much more when they apologize for making a mistake - we're all human after all. Also, I believe my advice was sound. Sometimes you do need to think before acting. Thats the basis of what I was trying to say. I appreciate, from viewing the other responses that you have made on here, that you know David quite well and its obvious you have a strong opinion, but I can only base mine on what I have seen.

He didn't say he was immature, but that the response is. Big difference there. One's a judgement of a person, the other of an action that person took and likely regrets by now. Saying so would show maturity.

Surely you've said or done things in your adult life that were sort of juvenile. You've surely regretted some of them afterwards.

I know I'd have chose to not use your products if you'd told someone to go away when I was making a platform decision to use them or not. (Your writings positively influenced buying decisions for city desk, when it was set up against competing products at the time that were functionally quite similar).

Especially for someone at 24, expending effort to exude maturity opens doors for your company, and helps to defuse criticism of youthful inability (as has plagued Mark Zuckerberg over and over).

It's nice that you're defending your crony.

But that's all it comes across as.

All the reasons you give for excusing Karp could also be used to excuse the "whiner" who sent the email. Does he not have his business to run? Is he not under pressure?

Couldnt agree more. I find it embarrassing for tumblr that all of the people involved with the company seem more interested in covering their own asses then dealing with the problems. Not a company personally i would ever want to be associated with.

I couldn't agree more - but Karp is just turning out to be really arrogant. It's a great shame as Tumblr has potential to be an amazing service if only those behind it admitted it's flaws and tried to work on them instead of denying they exist.

Bubbie, you don't know what you're talking about. Do you really think that Tumblr isn't aware of it's flaws? Are you seriously claiming that David is denying that they had a few outages? Very, very few mass services grew as quickly as Tumblr without a lot of outages. Ebay had them, Yahoo had them, Twitter had them. The idea that David is sitting in a room like Mubarak, denying the flaws and refusing to work on them, is so utterly preposterous that I don't even know where to begin, but I'll say this: I know David, and it's not true, and he's working on the flaws, and he's working on them night and day, and he's utterly the least arrogant person I've ever met, and genuinely nice, too.

As someone who uses stackoverflow almost daily im absolutely astonished at how disrespectful and frankly clueless your response is. Ive been following architecture for a long time and remember when the companies you mention had scaling issues. I dont remember them lashing out at their customers and telling them to fuck off assholes! Also when ebay and yahoo started having scaling issues THERE WERE NO CASE STUDIES IN SCALING. They had to figure it out all on their own so people gave them slack.

Now there are upteen startups that have dealt with 100 times the traffic that tumblr is dealing with. And many of them without 40 million dollars in fudning. Plus theres something called the cloud.

Its becoming obvious that egomania is becoming epidemic int eh world of tech startups. Which is just sad.

Also while the emailer was asking about scaling problems which have been going on for far too long at tumblr from what ive read, the issue here isnt with that its with the ridiculous response that the ceo sent.

Everything you said, plus scaling can sometimes be "cheap, and fun": http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1853196

This is one of the problems with cloud platforms. You know how people proudly announce on twitter that they "fired" a customer? What happens if a cloud platform you are using and depends on decide to "fire" you because you're a complainer or a heavy user?

If you're a cloud app user, you can't even complain loudly. If you are enemies with your host, they can just decide to kick you off. Even if they resolve it, you'll always have a bad feeling knowing that the person running your infrastructure doesn't "like you".

Software you could buy, once you have it, you own it. Nobody can kick you off.

Right but this is always a problem running on someone else's platform. To fix it you have to host everything yourself all the way down to the utilities level, where regulations don't really allow them to play favorites.

It'd be better to just send a canned response. This is going to get picked up here and there and not only highlight that they aren't very nice, but also that they are having stability problems.

People are comparing this to a Jobs response? No way, this is a Tony Hayward territory (and by that, I'm not comparing the oil spill to tumblr's downtime!!)

"He's young". "He's actually a nice guy".

These are the kinds of statements that should only carry weight when you have a personal relationship. A relationship with a company/website/app is no more or less than the sum of your interactions with them. I have a "good" relationship with Apple and Amex. A "bad" one with AT&T etc., based on transactions, not personal relations.

The unusual aspect is that the CEO was involved in customer service. It looks like a case of kicking the dog. That happens when people (nice or not) are under extreme pressure. What's up?

How do you write 1800 words about this, wow.

CEO's should all have 2 hour holds on their email that leaves the office. Whe actively fighting fires, it's easy to say something stupid.

CEO's who aren't responsible enough to use email and represent their team appropriately are easily replaced with a board vote.

Completely agree. This type of stuff happens ALL OF THE TIME in business. Sure sometimes you want to react like this but you realize its not in the best interest of your customer or the company. Even if the customer is wrong or right all of it gets lost in noise. He should have taken a time out chilled out and then responded. Instead it was reactionary and ridiculous. Regardless of whether he was right or wrong in this situation.

Self-entitlement is at an all-time high on the Internet.

Inferring that tumble must have something to hide, assuming bad faith on karp's part because of this email? You might consider how a post like this reflects on the author, especially in the context of a young man struggling to provide a global service which appears to be consuming all facets of his life.

I hope you don't judge yourself so harshly, blog author. And put your byline on the site more prominently.

"A knee-jerk response like this which is immediately defensive clearly shows that Karp has something to hide. Perhaps from this we can ascertain that there is some sort of internal friction with his team – perhaps some dislocation, maybe they’re overworked"

Or maybe it just shows that he's 24 years old and isn't communicating with the benefit of a public relations team watching his every move.

As a Tumblr lover (and user #752 on the service), this article is petty, poorly argued and the resultant fanfare unmerited.

I have engaged in many email interactions with the Tumblr staff and outside of a few questionable missives, encountered nothing but gracious and welcoming responses. Unlike other cloud services like Google, which is merely interfacing with a Python script HTTP request.

That said, Tumblr is straining to keep pace with growth, and the service is sporting cracks and leaks that it do not appear to be getting resolved…

* …the well known cited issues about availability, service outages are still experienced on a daily basis, even if it is just for a few moments. Confounding that the Dashboard might be available but accessing your site page via browser URL generates an error. Or when publishing from the queue, an error is generated even though the article is published -- it just is not removed from the queue, so you have manually delete it from the queue after publishing (reckon there is no DB transaction on the set of CRUD operations).

* …regarding the queue, it is a great feature if it is functional, but since last fall, it is not really functional. It sort of works now, mostly as a holding bucket for me -- I realize in the eyes of Tumblr Support, it works, outside of some outages (which have been measured in days length, not hours), but it is just not reliable enough to depend on. Also, in the wake of the refresh, the UI was badly butchered -- relying on AJAX drag and drop that makes it impossible to move items to the top or bottom of queue, plus some other befuddling choices that make me question whether the developers making the modifications ever actually use this feature.

* …the rich text editor continues to deteriorate (you have the option of editing in rich text, raw html or markdown), there is a glitch now that if you click on the "Edit HTML source" button, it just "hangs" on a blank window. But even when working, it inserts all sorts of extraneous HTML entities and spans. Have switched back to the Markdown editor, but it's an incomplete implementation.

* …the schizophrenic UI nature of accessing Tumblrs via the dashboard or the site pages -- there are sets of operations that you can do on the dashboard (reply) that cannot be performed from the site page.

* …the API access (for creating/updating/dashboard requests) is insecure and really has not been enhanced or upgraded in years.

* …there is a Mac app (no Windows or Linux) to export your Tumblr, but it has failed to export every time I've attempted.

Going to stop there, as I don't wish to bang on Tumblr -- I know they're working hard to address the performance issues. I just hope that it is not a rabbit v. tortoise race.

All of these are (as far as I can tell) easy to solve and I ponder almost every day why they are not.


Looks like the downtime isn't slowing them down much.

Whilst it might not slow them down much at the moment due to the viral nature of the site, nor did the lack of innovation and arguably bad leadership at MySpace. I think what the article is trying to say that under the leadership of David Karp it will probably end up going that way - and I agree. In fact although it's different in many ways, look at Chatroulette even - perfect example of what happens when you do nothing with the traffic and don't care about the users who visit the site.

We host our company blog on tumblr via a subdomain. So far the experience has been "ok", and considering we haven't paid a cent, I can't really complain about value for money.

My biggest problems with Tumblr's outage is this: It would be nice if their "sorry, we're down" page gave some indication that it is Tumblr that is having trouble with their service.

At the moment, if Tumblr goes down, visitors would have no idea that the "we" in "we're having issues" is not us, but in fact Tumblr.

And what really bites about it is that people understand if you have an outage when trying to serve up millions of pages. But when you have a company blog that has only small traffic, people don't have the same understanding. If your company blog is down, you just look an incompetent who has configured his server badly. And that irks me to no end.

> "one would have to ask why the team behind a company which has received in excess of $40 million venture capital funding is required to spend 'their nights and weekends working feverishly'."

Really? I'm sure if any of us received $40 million in VC funding for our startup, we'd work our butts off too.

What people don't understand is that Tumblr technologically is pretty simple; sure they'll have the requisite growing pains, but it's more important that they maintain a high-quality culture. That's why I don't question Tumblr paying twenty fashion bloggers to go to New York fashion week. Technical issues wouldn't exist without Tumblr's vibrant, active community. They'd just be another blogging site.

From what I understand, Tumblr is an extremely small company. Your local Denny's has more people on payroll. NYC is running out of top-notch developers (thus why Bloomberg goes out of his way to tell people from other cities to move to his). Finding and hiring people who fit your company and managing them is a time-consuming process if you want to do it right. Nothing about what they're doing or will have to do is easy. Ultimately, they need to find people who have experience with scaling massive apps, which means headhunting at Google and Facebook. Not saying they shouldn't fix the problem, but I can understand the frustration their team is experiencing.

William checking in here - the recipient of the e-mail from Mr Karp. So I'm sitting here just waiting for my blog to be deleted...

If this is William, what relationship do you have with PostDesk? It seems peculiar to take an exchange like this and forward it to a total unknown rather than one of the larger sites. I'm not saying I don't believe this happened, but I'm rather skeptical by nature.

I'm a friend of the owner.

So what you're saying is that this entire article is a hit piece that has nothing that remotely resembles objectivity or that has made any effort to actually tell both sides of the story. Fascinating.

Don't you love it when bloggers use their magic publish button to settle petty personal issues? Awesome. Thanks for wasting 15 minutes of my day.

Im sorry but ive read a couple of youre comments and you say the same thing over and over again. Not dealing with the problems he mentions but simply attacking him personally. Which just makes his case look stronger and tumblr look more like a bunch of immature idiots.

They're not a "bunch," they're like, a dozen. A dozen people trying to make a site work for several millions of people at once. That's no short order for such a small team.

Running the company on VC cash? Sounds unsustainable. Also isn't Tumbler just like Twitter?

1. Partially, they sell premium themes and some small virtual goods, I don't imagine they pull in much from those sales, though.

2. No.

Your blog isn't going to be deleted, dude. This isn't martyrdom, this is a customer service complaint.

Seriously? You took the time to dig up emails for a bunch of employees to whine at all of them, and you couldn't do this? http://lmgtfy.com/?q=tumblr+exporter

You then had your friend PR whore on the internet, without mentioning at first that you wrote, "I would move to a different service, but with no export feature [...]".

If a customer is that unhappy, you should leave. And tell your friends that run crap startups to see if the shoe fits a little differently when one of their customers digs up the email addresses of all their engineers to whinge at.

No exporting feature? Every single page can be slurped as JSON by appending /api/read/json to the end of the URL.

And as the response says, there are plenty of other sites that will import Tumblr blogs without a hitch.

Please go away so Tumblr can spend more time/resources fixing problems for the rest of us.

Does it work on a Tumblr with more than a few dozen pages?

No, even writing my own, have encountered errors on selected pages where the service simply "errored out" once it reached a certain page.

What other sites?

I have tried Posterous and it failed to import.

Sorry, there needs to be a one-click solution where you request an export (and even if you have to be emailed when it is completed) and a file is generated with your content to download to your computer, be it XML, JSON, or in static HTML.

Well. Guess what? I heard the Tumblr staff is very helpful. Drop them a mail and make sure to include a reference to this thread. Also, specify you want a dump of your data.

I'm sure you'll receive a database dump shortly.

I totally second the founder's missive and this is mine.

Seriously, you probably know how Twitter helps saving lives and is so much better than traditional news and whatnot. Well, during the riots in Thailand last year it was down a good 20% for reading and a good 50% for posting. Do you think anybody cares in Twitter? Ever tried to mail them?

As the old saying goes, you get what you pay for.

Which reminds me of a customer who's asked us to scrap real-time stock data from a free source using demo accounts and then complained because there were downtimes. My answer? Call Reuters and get a quotation.

EDIT: I'd like to state that I always encouraged that customer to get an appropriate account with an appropriate license. This was a 'do it or drop the project' matter (and I wish we had firmer positions in such cases).

I can't understand why there aren't more complaints that "tumblr"="spam". Whenever I see a page on tumblr, it's always one sentence and a link to something else. Maybe I'm looking in the wrong places, but I never see any content of value on tumblr.

I have never met David, nor do I know anyone from Tumblr. I've just been a fan. Some people may remember me defending Tumblr when it came up versus the Posterous importing saga.

I've used Tumblr for years. I remember when they launched. I remember when they raised their first round of funding.

I honestly believe that Tumblr has simply grown too fast to scale their operations in a manner that Tumblr is happy with. I think that Tumblr is similar to MySpace in that they constantly think about scaling their service, rather than customer acquisition (ala Posterous.)

These guys are good guys, and are simply caught off guard. Lets not pick on them for making mistakes.

They run a web company - like many of us - hell, if I had 1% of Tumblrs success I'd be arrogant as hell and Tumblr are not.

They are human. David Karp is probably one of the most underrated web entrepreneurs around right now, picking his brains is equal to picking Facebook or Etsy in terms of consumer entrepreneurial advice, IMHO.

Coincidence or not? This has just been posted on TC 50 minutes ago. http://techcrunch.com/2011/01/28/karp-tumblr-quarter-billion...

Coincidence, sorry author of the article hating on Tumblr.

I have been building a site similar to tumblr and posterous. It's called http://www.wijoda.com - anyone unhappy with tumblr might want to give it a try. I'd love some feedback!

Build a fool-proof import from Tumblr and you might be able to get some users.

that's a great idea.

Clearly, we can extrapolate this one e-mail to show a startup in tatters and a founder in steep mental decline.

Or maybe the guy was having a bad day, having to deal with an absurd surge in traffic for months that they have yet to deal with.


This is one of those defining moments for a startup, where they turn the corner and come out on the other side stronger, or collapse based on a lack of user trust and system problems. Time will tell.

Just saw the full email from Williams. Looks like he was threatening to leave Tumblr if issues aren't addressed in near future.

Have things really been that bad to leave their platform?

Does PostDesk Debates only host one "debate" at a time? I find it odd that an article with such a pejorative tone is the only content on their site.

This looks like the first article. Go figure. :)

Gee people - this is so petty and doesn't do anyone any favours. Surely there are more important things for us to discuss?

Sounds like he's (Carp) a young kid who is in over his head now with the growth that they have experienced.

now that the original email has been posted, clearly a defensive response from an overstressed individual, which I can totally identify with; it's easy to get snippy when things are going wrong faster than you can keep up and all you hear is more complaints. but a bad PR move for sure

If you think Tumblr's competitors are Posterous and Wordpress, you're missing the point.

Companies reserve the right to fire customers. I respect this attitude.

Companies do reserve the right to provide poor customer service. That may not be in their best interest though.

Sounds like Google's customer service approach.

Not really - Williams actually received a response!

Sometimes no response is better then this kind of repsponse which was completely unprofessional as well as disrespectful.

With the difference that they are not yet big enough to not care about their customers.

Remember: Tumblr may not have an export feature, but Posterous has a great import feature.


Posterous has choked every time I've attempted a Tumblr to Posterous import. From outright failure (which could be simply that Tumblr API was inaccessible) to even upon "success" notification, seeing that it only brought in ~300 posts from a total of 20K posts. Perhaps 20K posts is too burdensome a task, but ~300 is a paltry amount.

Its called RSS.

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