Tuesday 31 January 2012 — This is over 11 years old. Be careful.
A short recap of my history with Tabblo, a photo-sharing, storytelling site: I joined the startup in January 2006, we were acquired by Hewlett-Packard in May 2007, and I left HP in December of 2010.
I mention this because another milestone in my relationship with Tabblo was reached this month: not only are all of the original startup employees gone from HP (I was the last), but now all of the employees I hired to work on the server code are also gone. Now I literally don’t know the people responsible for the site. In this case, “responsible” doesn’t mean, “updates the code for the site,” because nothing has been changed on the site in years. In this case, “responsible” means “will fix the servers if they fail.”
As I figure it, there’s only one milestone left to go: tabblo.com will eventually stop working, and no one will know how to fix it, and tabblo.com will be gone for good. Computers don’t run indefinitely. Left alone, servers will go for a long time, but eventually something will break. I don’t think anyone at Hewlett-Packard will miss tabblo.com, and I don’t think anyone there would know how to fix it if it broke.
I loved Tabblo, both as a job and as a product, and I have a message for the current Tabblo users: leave Tabblo. I know there aren’t similar alternatives, but Tabblo will not last forever. You should leave while it is still your choice.
If the past is any guide, some Tabblo users will want to do something to make HP care, to make them pay attention and take care of Tabblo. This is futile, HP won’t care, not because HP is bad, but because Tabblo is not a viable business. True, that’s partly due to HP’s neglect of it over the years, but even when we were acquired, the site was not an interesting business proposition for HP.
When HP bought us, they already had a photo site, Snapfish. It isn’t a community the way Tabblo is, and it doesn’t allow for the same range of self-expression as Tabblo does. But none of that mattered. Whatever you think of Tabblo vs Snapfish, the fact remains: HP was never interested in Tabblo as a web site. Snapfish already had millions of customers, and generated revenue for HP. HP wasn’t about to confuse people by running two photo sites, and there weren’t enough paying customers on Tabblo to make merging them a priority. Tabblo was never a money-maker at the scale a company like HP needs.
HP didn’t acquire Tabblo to get tabblo.com. They acquired Tabblo so that we could build other web sites that used Tabblo-like technology to make web content printable. Tabblo.com was left running because it was easier to let it run than to shut it down. As time went on, other web sites were run with the same code on the same servers, so shutting down Tabblo was tricky logistically. Now those other web sites are gone, and Tabblo just keeps on running. With the latest employee departures, no one at HP even knows how to shut it down, other than to simply pull the plug.
The Tabblo site is still running, but it won’t indefinitely. When it fails, it will be gone. I’m not putting any more pictures on it, and I don’t think anyone else should either.
The only reason I don’t feel bad about saying this is that Tabblo stopped being a viable site a long time ago, and we confronted the possibility of it disappearing a long time ago too. There were various rumblings over the years of someone at HP finally deciding to shut down the site, but it never happened. Ironically, the reason the site will be allowed to run until it simply dies is because HP knows they shouldn’t just shut off the servers. They know that the users deserve some advance notice, that a plan should be put in place for an orderly shut down. But that takes time and attention and focus, and Tabblo isn’t important enough to HP to get time or attention or focus. So it will simply run until it dies.
Keep in mind: I don’t work at HP, and I don’t have any direct knowledge about anything happening there. Maybe things are better than I imagine. But I saw these forces at work while I was there, and I’ve been in touch with the last ones out the door to know that nothing had gotten visibly better.
My last Tabblo work was writing Tabblo Lifeboat, a tool you can use to download all of your tabblos along with their photos. If you have stuff on Tabblo, give it a try.
To the current users of Tabblo: find something else. Goodbye Tabblo, I love you in lots of ways, I wish it had turned out differently. It was fun. I did the best I could.
I'm not questioning your professionalism, or anything else, and I'm certainly not in your shoes. I'm curious - I gotta ask.
Is nothing documented? A wiki, three-ring binder, sticky notes, something?
Or was there simply no one interested in receiving the docs you had?
In fact, it wouldn't be that hard to shut it down properly, even without documentation: 1) put a notice on every page saying the site will be gone on March 15th, 2) examine the db to find out which users can be emailed, 3) send them an email saying the site will be gone on March 15th, 4) wait until March 15th, 5) turn off the servers.
I don't document because I'm disciplined (smile) I document because my mind is like a sieve. It's self-defense!
If I didn't write stuff down half my day would be spent rediscovering how I did something last month or last year.
A wiki is a blessing in that regard: quick, easy, and free-form.
I park in the same place every day, top of the parking garage, same reason.
In fact, it wouldn't be that hard to shut it down properly,
I've worked for three companies that were acquired by much larger firms. Twice it ended badly: 'We bought you because we like what makes you special. Now let's change everything.'
Thanks for sharing.
You could always do a reverse acquisition. Offer to take the domain and servers off their hands for $1, and that way they spare themselves the dilemma of having people being angry with HP.
P.S. Thought you might like to know that I've become the proud pilot of my very own mini helicopter. I remember trying to fly yours around the HP conference room. :)
Currently there are only about 100 regular users on Tabblo, but keep in mind that NO resources have been allocated to Tabblo for at least 4 years now. I completely expect that, with the appropriate funding, Tabblo would attract more users but quite frankly it would take a complete and total revamp. We're talking about a 5 year old web experience that would have trouble succeeding in 2012.
It's my understanding that several attempts have been made to purchase the rights to Tabblo...including a serious (?) offer from a group of wealthy Tabblo users and so far HP won't budge. This morning I awoke to several emails from Tabblo members informing me that the images for Tabblo.com were no longer being served up, which has proven to be true...how permanent this is I have no idea. Until it IS permanent I'll continue to monitor and remove inappropriate content and maintain the Tabblo of the Day selection as well as the community facebook page.
Tabblo has such a great community of determined, talented folks and they deserve better from HP.
If I can be of any assistance please don't hesitate to contact me.
1) Do you think HP would respond positively to open sourcing the code and releasing the domain name, or at least redirecting it to another party/user group? They did this with WebOS code, maybe
2) I always wondered why HP bought Tabblo. You mentioned they bought it "to make web content printable". Did they ever have bigger plans for it that never materialized? What other sites had Tabblo embedded? Did they ever promote Tabblo by bundling access to Tabblo.com with purchase of HP printers or toner/ink? Seems like HP never followed through on their vision.
It's unfortunate that Tabblo.com ended up being the bait used to catch the big fish. Once the fish was caught Tabblo.com ceased to be important, which was demonstrated by the complete lack of funding for Tabblo.com.
Although I don't know specifics, there have been some attempts by people with money to acquire Tabblo.com from HP but were rebuffed.
I don't think HP would respond well to open sourcing. They would have to get their lawyers involved to figure out how to release Tabblo, especially if money is involved. And why would they do it if money wasn't involved?
We did make a few interesting web sites while we were there. All used code in the Tabblo code base to some extent. The latest, and least like Tabblo, is http://eprrintcenter.com, which manages HP's web-connected printers. Did they get their money's worth in buying Tabblo? Probably not.
And now I learn that Tabblo has died. It makes me unbelievably sad. No notification, no email. I seem to remember accessing it recently but it may have been a while. Time flies. And now I owe you more thanks: Thank you for creating the lifeboat, all my Tabblos are now stored safely on my computer (except the one I created of a friends wedding that was never published, just printed as a book).
But I feel there is a void. I want to share my pictures but I don't know where to go. New and brilliant things pop up on the internet everyday, something must come along.
I hope you are working on equally interesting and brilliant things!
Magga Dora (Tabblo user mdr)
It's disappearance, along with Picnik.com removed two powerful tools from the hands of us "common folk" - it was possible to create something of excellence with a short learning curve and no cost. It was an equalizer.
I too hope it can be retrieved and revived - or could you create something new but similar so you are unfettered by past agreements and copyright? It's a concept that many enjoyed, a unique community. I for one would help market it (^^) Mahalo for your work and the love you put into it.
The kind folks at archive.org may have zipfiles of your images available for you to download. I was able to recover all of mine.
Best wishes to you.
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