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.