georges' blog

June 9, 2011

Phanfare Update: Sucking Less, Again

Filed under: Technology — kendall @ 1:07 pm

This is an update to post Newsflash: Phanfare Sucks Again. On Monday, June 13, Andrew Erlichson posted a FAQ article regarding the acquisition. Check it out for the official low down.

Today I received an update from Andrew Erlichson, Phanfare founder and CEO. I get the impression that we had the same conversation by phone that he had with several other lifetime subscribers. In short, Phanfare needed to sell. They needed to partner with a larger company with the finance, marketing, and strategy resources to take an excellent product and make it profitable. If Phanfare had not arranged the buy out by Carbonite it is likely that they would have shuttered. That would have left all their customers without service, their data, or a refund. So selling to Carbonite was not an easy decision, and it was not a good solution, but it was the best Mr. Erlichson could do for all of Phanfare’s customers. Standard annual subscribers should see no change in service or pricing . And although lifetime subscribers are not getting a good deal, they can get three more years at no additional charge and most importantly this is a plan that will keep their data secure for the foreseeable future. For those not satisfied with this arrangement, Mr. Erlichson is now being totally clear that customers who so desire can get a full refund of their $299.95, original purchase price per the 2006 Terms of Service:

Phanfare may terminate a lifetime subscription at any time by returning the photos and videos to you and returning your original purchase price, currently $299.95.

Some people will quibble that the 2006 TOS also include a provision “to receive your photos and video back on DVD once at no cost”. Mr. Erlichson has been clear that they will not be burning and mailing DVDs. Users will be able to receive their data “via electronic download with a new program we are writing”. I would argue that it is better to download your files yourself, to a PC or attached harddrive anyhow. You will get your files sooner–it would take weeks to burn and mail all the requested DVDs. Also downloading to a PC or attached HD will allow you to have all your files in one place. The average Phanfare user would require at least two or three DVDs. Then you get in the business of searching through multiple DVDs looking for a particular photo. Better to download them yourself and have them all in one place. Personally, I would not wait for this downloader program to arrive and you don’t have to. If you are Windows user you can download your files today using Mirgatr.

One final thought: Mr. Erlichson requests that we not be too hard on Carbonite. And I don’t really intend to be hard on them here, more than to say that it really would not have been that difficult for Carbonite to have maintained the lifetime subscriber program and associate the program to “annual revenue” which is their practice. All they would have had to do as part of the buy out is place a certain sum of money in an annuity that would pay out according to their revenue requirement. The annuity would not have to be perpetual, as lifetime subscribers will ultimately die and the membership is not transferable. Would this quantity equal the $250,000 dollars we all paid to Phanfare five or more years ago? I don’t know. Because I don’t know what their revenue requirement is nor can I assume how long this annuity should last. But clearly there is a sum of money that could be annuitized and reasonably be expected to meet their revenue requirement. They opted to not do this. Why? Because it was an additional expense and it was slightly more complicated. Now is the convenient time to make a clean break from the lifetime program. I am wondering if it was worth it. Carbonite is in the process of issuing an initial public offering aimed at raising $100 million. Negative press could impact their final valuation. Making good by lifetime subscribers would surely have cost less than $500,000. Could this ill will affect their final IPO take by half a percentage point? I doubt it. Because, under the terms of the buy out, this presents absolutely no legal or financial liability for Carbonite. However, could negative press raise questions about the character of Carbonite’s leadership which would affect the final valuation of the IPO? Perhaps. So, why take the risk? Certainly they don’t want this story to go far. And I get the impression that Andrew Erlichson’s first official duty at Carbonite is to quiet the chatter about this lifetime program snafu and fast. And I hope he does, otherwise they could be in for a rough transition with Carbonite asking why they bought this thing in the first place.

At this point Mr. Erlichson is clearly left holding the bag as the only one responsible for satisfying the legitimate expectations of lifetime subscribers. I think that is exactly what he is now doing. As in 2008, it would have been better if they could have more accurately predicted lifetime subscriber reaction to the change. But also as in 2008, they are now listening to their customers and making their best effort to right the situation.

As for me, I am taking Mr. Erlichson up on his offer to refund my $299. In this way, my “credit” won’t be married to Phanfare, I won’t get locked into three years of service, and I can take my photos elsewhere when and if I please. In that vein, I am seriously checking out SmugMug right now, as it appears to offer near feature-for-feature parity with Phanfare at a $40 per year discount. SmugMug offers competitive upgrades for Flickr users and the rumor is they do the same for Phanfare users with discount code “PHANFARE”. I’m not sure if this is 20 or 50%, but either way not bad since the service is already 40% cheaper. UPDATE: The “PHANFARE” code does not work, but I contacted SmugMug support and they gave me a current coupon code for 50% off my first year. I cannot share the code here, but I imagine if you contact SmugMug directly they would offer you the same discount. For a bit more detail about moving to SmugMug, expect another post to that effect soon. In the mean time, this comment at the “Phanfare Suck Again” post does have a bit more information.

Ultimately, I have to say that I’ve loved being a Phanfare customer. I love the product, particularly the web, desktop, and iphone clients. I also think Carbonite is a fantastic company with a solid product. I think that this partnership will be good for Phanfare. These guys are just people and I suspect they’ve learned something from this mess. I wish Phanfare and Carbonite the best going forward.

Here is the complete “Additional Explanation” message from Phanfare founder and CEO Andrew Erlichson:

Dear Customers,

I have received a tremendous amount of feedback about our ending the Lifetime Program in the past few days and I want to share some additional thoughts of explanation with you all.

There are about 850 Lifetime customers. Phanfare was a small company and never grew to very large size. This transaction was modest in size, although the details remain confidential.

It became clear that we needed a larger partner to survive long term and that is why we began the process of selling the business.

Although we did try to negotiate to have Carbonite take on the Lifetime Program intact, the final agreement was that Lifetime customers would be offered a credit of their original purchase price of $299.95 by Carbonite and offered annual memberships.

Had we not needed to sell the company, we would have certainly continued the Lifetime Program indefinitely.

I wrote the Lifetime Program terms myself and I specifically created a way for us to end the Lifetime Program if we needed to in a scenario such as this. My goal was to protect Lifetime customers in a transaction from arbitrary action by a successor while bounding the liability of ending the program so as not to create a poison pill.

The agreement was that if we wanted to end the Lifetime Program at the time of an acquisition, we would return photos and videos and purchase price, which we proposed doing in terms of a credit. This agreement can be found in the Internet Archives.

The result will be that Lifetime customers will have received about seven years of service for their original fee and get continuity of service.

I am very sorry that we could not do better than this for the Lifetime customers. Many of you are personal friends and and I have come to know many more.

The Phanfare service is continuing unchanged under Carbonite and I will be running the Phanfare division as VP, Phanfare, reporting to Carbonite’s CEO, David Friend.

If you are certain that you do not want to continue at all with us, please write me and we will refund your original purchase price. This refund will come not from Carbonite, but from what remains of Phanfare, Inc. It will essentially be paid for by me, my employees and my shareholders. In that case, we will also return your photos and videos to you via electronic download with a new program we are writing.

Again my sincere apologies that we did not manage to create a better outcome for Lifetime subscribers.

A final thought. Don’t be too hard on Carbonite in this. The Lifetime Program is not profitable and while we feel a strong commitment to doing right by all of you, Carbonite is fairly looking after their own customers and shareholders and not taking on something that they don’t feel makes any business sense. I respect that decision and hold no ill will about it.

Sincerely,


Andrew Erlichson
aje@phanfare.com
Founder & CEO
Phanfare, Inc.

June 6, 2011

Newsflash: Phanfare Sucks Again

Filed under: Technology — kendall @ 8:41 pm

This post, Phanfare Update: Sucking Less, Again, contains new developments related to this story.

Phanfare is doing it again, sucking that is.  Three years ago, Phanfare abandoned their lifetime members by moving to a free model like Flickr, Shutterfly, Picassa, and others. They also put the whole thing behind a login, meaning no public galleries.  After several weeks of hearing from outraged users, Phanfare reversed its decision and welcomed back their subscription members including their lifetime members.  When we started using Phanfare, you could purchase an annual subscription for $59 or a lifetime subscription for $299.  $299 was a pretty good chunk of money to throw down on an Internet service, but it was supposed to be for a lifetime.  And it was a pretty good investment, because their annual subscription price has been going up steadily and is now $99 for the premium account.

Well, in 2008, when they moved to the free model they refunded our lifetime subscription in full.  And when they took me back as a lifetime member, they took me back for $299 less the $59 I had paid to SmugMug for an annual subscription. See, I had cancelled my account and moved my galleries to SmugMug. You can read about that whole thing at this other post. So, now they are up to it again. Phanfare has been bought by Carbonite. And Carbonite is not honoring lifetime subscriptions. They also are not refunding our annual subscription. They have converted it to Phanfare credit. So, they have effectively turned my lifetime subscription into a six year subscription that I’ve paid in advance, and I have but three years remaining on it. No offer to refund my subscription so I can take my business elsewhere.

I’m pretty agitated, but I tried to remain civil in my letter to Phanfare’s founder and CEO, Andrew Erlichson. I also avoided making lame threats about unliking them on Facebook, blasting them on Twitter, and emailing and phoning the major tech podcasts and blogs. Here is the letter I just sent to Mr. Erlichson:

Dear Mr. Erlichson,

I have been a Phanfare member for a longtime. I find the service elegant, the desktop client and the iPhone client too. I simply love it. There are few Internet services I like as much as Phanfare. That being the case it was very difficult when in 2008 you changed your business model and dispensed with public galleries, lifetime subscriptions, and as I recall custom domain names. It was painful, frustrating, and fundamentally a breech of trust. Reluctantly, I cancelled my account and went through the less than painless steps to migrate to smugmug. However, you ultimately listened to your users, reinstated public galleries and lifetime memberships, and I gladly came back. Now it seems you are doing it again, only worse.

I have a couple of questions for you:

  1. Will you back-peddle on this decision like in 2008? Because I certainly would prefer you did, and before I go through the work of moving my galleries to another service.
  2. Will you refund my lifetime membership? Three more years does not in any way equate to a lifetime. Also how is it fair that I should pay three years in advance? Let the money sit in my bank account rather than yours. That is, should I even decide to stay with Phanfare for three more years. Phanfare is a considerably different value proposition than it was when I started with it back when an annual subscription was $59.

I have been an evangelist for Phanfare and Carbonite, both at my work as a systems engineer at a major research university, but also among my social network. I really like both brands. However, I find this kind of behavior, this mistreatment of your most loyal customers, intolerable. And its not merely abandoning the lifetime program, but also the ungenerous terms by which you are doing it. I hope you are willing to listen and use your position to fight for your most loyal members with your new Carbonite management. Please, honor what I see as a reciprocal agreement, the lifetime membership program, that is, and you will keep this happy Phanfare and Carbonite customer and advocate and likely many others.

Sincerely,

Kendall George

http://gallery.georges.nu/

What follows is Mr. Erlichsons letter, just for the record. This is not his response to my letter, but the letter he sent to notify lifetime members of the purchase by Carbonite and what is going to happen to our memberships. I’ll post any response I get from him in another post.

Dear Customers,

I am writing to inform you that the Phanfare business has been acquired by Carbonite, the online backup company. When we started Phanfare in 2004, our goal was to create a beautiful, permanent online archive for our photos and videos. Carbonite shares our values, our commitment to data integrity and our attention to customer support. They are also a significantly larger and better-capitalized company. The entire Phanfare team is joining Carbonite including myself.

But there is a wrinkle. Carbonite is not acquiring our lifetime subscriber program, as it does not fit with Carbonite’s disciplined approach to ensuring that all customer storage accounts are associated with annual revenue. We are therefore discontinuing the lifetime program.

Your account has been converted to an annual Premium account and Carbonite has deposited $299.95, your original purchase price, in Phanfare credit into your account.  This credit is good for Phanfare merchandise and annual subscription renewals and will expire if not fully used after three years. You will need to accept Carbonite’s terms of service when you next login to your account.

I am sorry that we have to discontinue the lifetime program, and I am sure you are disappointed, but I am certain that in nearly every way, the sale of the Phanfare business to Carbonite will help us deliver on our commitment to store your photos and videos for life. We sincerely hope that you stay with the Phanfare service as an annual customer so we can continue to serve you.

I want to tell you a bit about Carbonite. Carbonite is a leading provider of online backup solutions for consumers and small and medium sized business.  Our vision and their vision are very much aligned. Carbonite was founded by David Friend, who serves as their CEO. Like me, David loves to communicate and interact directly with customers. I think we have found a great home for Phanfare and I believe that your personal investment in organizing and uploading your photos and videos is even better protected under Carbonite.

You have been with us a long time and we appreciate your ongoing support. We have exciting plans as a combined company as we embark on this new adventure.

As always, don’t hesitate to contact me personally if you have any questions or concerns.

Sincerely,

Andrew Erlichson

aje@phanfare.com

Founder & CEO

Phanfare, Inc.

How To Automatically Turn Off Airport When Ethernet is Plugged In

Filed under: Technology — kendall @ 7:24 pm

When I’m at work, I plug in my Ethernet cable and turn off my AirPort wireless network adapter.  This is partly because the wifi in my office is a bit unreliable but also because the wired network is a lot faster.  It’s not a major hassle to do this manually–it’s only two clicks to turn it off or on. Sure, over time that has added up to over a thousand clicks, still no biggie.  But also, sometimes I forget to turn my wireless back on and those few seconds it takes to realize that my wireless is off and turn it on is a mild irritation. It also seems to cause Google Chrome to crash, often. So, cumulatively it adds up to a minor headache. So, I thought I’d automate this.  I am indebted to this post: Auto-disable AirPort when ethernet is active. Most of what you need to make this work you can find in this post, though you might need to drill down into some of the comments. Here I’ve tried to document what I did to get it to work.

First you will need to copy this script into a text document and save it as /Library/Scripts/toggleAirport.sh.

#!/bin/bash

function set_airport {

    new_status=$1

    if [ $new_status = "On" ]; then
	/usr/sbin/networksetup -setairportpower en0 on
	touch /var/tmp/prev_air_on
    else
	/usr/sbin/networksetup -setairportpower en0 off
	if [ -f "/var/tmp/prev_air_on" ]; then
	    rm /var/tmp/prev_air_on
	fi
    fi

}

function growl {

    # Checks whether Growl is installed
    if [ -f "/usr/local/bin/growlnotify" ]; then
	/usr/local/bin/growlnotify -m "$1" -a "AirPort Utility.app"
    fi

}

# Set default values
prev_eth_status="Off"
prev_air_status="Off"

eth_status="Off"

# Determine previous ethernet status
# If file prev_eth_on exists, ethernet was active last time we checked
if [ -f "/var/tmp/prev_eth_on" ]; then
    prev_eth_status="On"
fi

# Determine same for AirPort status
# File is prev_air_on
if [ -f "/var/tmp/prev_air_on" ]; then
    prev_air_status="On"
fi

# Check actual current ethernet status
if [ "`ifconfig en1 | grep \"status: active\"`" != "" ]; then
    eth_status="On"
fi

# Check actual current ethernet status for Display Ethernet
if [ "`ifconfig en3 | grep \"status: active\"`" != "" ]; then
    eth_status="On"
fi

# Check actual current ethernet status for Thunderbolt Ethernet adapter
if [ "`ifconfig en6 | grep \"status: active\"`" != "" ]; then
    eth_status="On"
fi

# And actual current AirPort status
air_status=`/usr/sbin/networksetup -getairportpower en0 | awk '{ print $4 }'`

# If any change has occured. Run external script (if it exists)
if [ "$prev_air_status" != "$air_status" ] || [ "$prev_eth_status" != "$eth_status" ]; then
    if [ -f "./statusChanged.sh" ]; then
	"./statusChanged.sh" "$eth_status" "$air_status" &
    fi
fi

# Determine whether ethernet status changed
if [ "$prev_eth_status" != "$eth_status" ]; then

    if [ "$eth_status" = "On" ]; then
	set_airport "Off"
	growl "Wired network detected. Turning AirPort off."
    else
	set_airport "On"
	growl "No wired network detected. Turning AirPort on."
    fi

# If ethernet did not change
else

    # Check whether AirPort status changed
    # If so it was done manually by user
    if [ "$prev_air_status" != "$air_status" ]; then
	set_airport $air_status

	if [ "$air_status" = "On" ]; then
	    growl "AirPort manually turned on."
	else
	    growl "AirPort manually turned off."
	fi

    fi

fi

# Update ethernet status
if [ "$eth_status" == "On" ]; then
    touch /var/tmp/prev_eth_on
else
    if [ -f "/var/tmp/prev_eth_on" ]; then
	rm /var/tmp/prev_eth_on
    fi
fi

exit 0

You will need to make the script executable.  Open Terminal and change the permissions on the script by executing the following command:

chmod 755 /Library/Scripts/toggleAirport.sh

Copy the following xml code into a text document and save as /System/Library/LaunchAgents/com.mine.toggleairport.plist

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "http://www.apple.com/DTDs/PropertyList-1.0.dtd">
<plist version="1.0">
<dict>
  <key>Label</key>
  <string>com.asb.toggleairport</string>
  <key>OnDemand</key>
  <true/>
  <key>ProgramArguments</key>
  <array>
    <string>/Library/Scripts/toggleAirport.sh</string>
  </array>
  <key>WatchPaths</key>
  <array>
    <string>/Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration</string>
  </array>
</dict>
</plist>

You will need to load the plist into your launchctl daemon.  You can do this by opening Terminal and executing the following command:

sudo launchctl load /System/Library/LaunchAgents/com.mine.toggleairport.plist

When I first tried this, I would get the error “Dubious ownership on file (skipping)”.  I changed the ownership on the plist to match other launch agents with the following command and the plist loaded properly into launchctl:

sudo chown root:wheel  /System/Library/LaunchAgents/com.mine.toggleairport.plist

Now when I unplug my Ethernet cable my AirPort turns on and connects to known networks automatically, and when I plug in an Ethernet cable my AirPort turns off. Magic.

UPDATE: I just upgraded my MacBook Pro and monitor. I now have one of the new thunderbolt displays. These displays have an internal PCI Express network interface, so this script will not work properly when using the display’s network interface.  This interface is ‘en3’ so an additional check for this interface is required.  Simply add the following lines of code:

# Check actual current ethernet status for the Display Adapter
if [ "`ifconfig en3 | grep \"status: active\"`" != "" ]; then
    eth_status="On"
fi

I added these lines after the identical lines of code for ‘en0’.

ANOTHER UPDATE:  The new MacBook Pro’s with retina display do not have a built-in Ethernet port. So, the Airport is en0.  If you are using a Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet dongle it appears that the Ethernet port is assigned en1.  You will need to replace en0 with en1 and vice versa in the “toggleAirport.sh” script for this to work, per Daniel’s comment below.  I’m not sure if the Thunderbolt display adapter is universally designated en3, I will update this post when I find out.

ANOTHER UPDATE, 14 September 2012: I just got a new 15″ MBP with retina display and consequently no built in Ethernet. I confirm that the Airport is en0 and the thunderbolt display Ethernet is en1. So, simply swapping the one instance of en0 to en1 and the three instances of en1 to en0 in “toggleAirport.sh” will fix this problem. Make sure the script is executable per above and it will start working as expected, no reboot necessary. I don’t yet have a USB-Ethernet adapter or Thunderbolt-Ethernet adapter, so I don’t know what interface number is assigned for those yet, I’ll report on that when I get my hands on them.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE, 15 April 2015: I’ve had a Thunderbolt Ethernet adapter for a few months now, and like the display adapter it creates another Ethernet interface, in this case en6. I’ve updated the script above and it should work for most people with relatively new MBPs. I still don’t know what interface a USB-Ethernet adapter creates, but the same principle applies, create an if statement to check for that interface. Also, I can’t guarantee that every Mac assigns the Ethernet interfaces in the same order, so you need to check your own work using ifconfig.

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