The following is a copy of a message I sent to Darren Rowse, founder of the Digital Photography School, concerning a longstanding DPS bug.  I've reprinted this letter here to preserve my thoughts, and to capture some of the community dynamics at work in online communities.  I believe there are some thoughts about the way these communities work that are worth sharing here.

Darren -

I hope you've seen some of the forum messages referencing people's struggles to get attachments to work on the DPS forums. I know this has been something of an issue for a while, now, and I can only imagine that it's been a headache for you to resolve.

I'm also aware that there's a pretty common refrain of "it's not that big a deal -- just use Flickr" whenever anyone notes that they've had a problem. I'd like to offer some additional thoughts on this:

Since the option to create an attachment remains available on the site, people who don't know better are going to continue to use it. In my experience, attachments sometimes work and sometimes don't, so it's pretty difficult to tell if you've fallen victim to the attachment bug unless you test your attachments -- ideally, from multiple browsers.

In the weeks since I've first noticed this problem, I can't tell you how many other people I've seen fall victim to bad attachments. I've pulled up dozens of posts to view photos, and I can't see anything at all. My guess is that some of those users have found out that their photos aren't visible, but I'm sure that some haven't. They don't have a clue that nobody can see the photo(s) they posted, and they probably think that the rest of the DPS users are a worthless bunch of stuck-up snobs who can't be bothered to comment on their photos. Personally, I think that's pretty unfortunate and sad.

I know that you can always link to files hosted elsewhere, but I really think this is a pretty iffy business strategy for DPS. The first problem with this strategy is that not everyone knows that it's a strategy. Unless the option to attach a photo is replaced with a message saying, "go host your file somewhere else", people will continue to think that this functionality is working, when, in fact, it's not.

The second, and maybe more strategic problem with the "host somewhere else" strategy is this: if I'm hosting my files elsewhere, that means that *every single time* I want to post something here -- even if it's not "gallery quality" -- I've got to first go visit another site. This creates a big problem for DPS, because not only am I leaving DPS to go do that, but every single one of those other sites also has a bunch of forums, and every user who leave DPS to go use those other sites has a chance to like those other forums better -- again, *every single time* they want to post a photo.

I'll also single out Flickr and pick on them, because they're the #1 alternative mentioned for storing photos. Flickr's been receiving some pretty dismal PR lately, as they've closed some accounts of users either inadvertently or unjustly. Any photographer who's paying attention to this is pretty nervous, indeed, about relying on Flickr for anything important at all. Personally, I've got a handful of photos there, but I'm currently working on migrating my remaining photos away from Flickr on principle alone -- I don't really want to give them the benefit of being able to show my photos when they treat users the way they've been treating them.

I'm not sure where you are on the attachment problem. For all I know, you're working 24x7 to get this fixed. I also know you've got other projects going on, and it's possible that DPS just isn't a priority for you any more. If that's the case, then I think the DPS community has a right to hear that from you.

Darren, I hope you'll accept this message in the spirit in which it's intended. I like the DPS community a lot, and I'd like to see it succeed. For me, this is a show-stopper issue, though, and I think there's got to be some action one way or another to have this problem addressed.

At a minimum, if you can't get attachments to work, or if you don't really want to support attachments, remove the option so people won't be fooled into thinking that it's working. If, on the other hand, you want to get this problem fixed, then let's get some movement in that direction. If you've got the resources to debug and fix this problem yourself, then go for it. If you need help from the community, then ask for it. The problem isn't going to go away by itself, unless you consider an exodus of users to be a solution.


cc: Private message to Darren on DPS