It’s sad I have to say this, but…
When you’re the CEO and/or Lead Developer & co-owner of Company A, it’s usually counterproductive to your business efforts to hang out on Company B’s user forums bashing them and belting out drunken, late-night, expletive -laced rants about Company B.
Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened recently on the Flickr forums when Zooomr CEO Thomas Hawk started dropping the F-bomb like it was nothing. Here’s an example:
This is not even slightly unprecedented. In fact, Thomas Hawk has been openly railing on Flickr for a very, very long time. (I’m not the first one to bring this up) I even debated the relative merits of this unsavory way of doing business with Thomas. He made the case that, as a flickr user, he has full right to rail on his competition, despite his connection to Zooomr. My response:
Your point about using multiple photo site is completely valid, at least to some extent. You’re right, many people have accounts all over the place. Personally, I’m on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and others. I regularly comment on the activities of those sites. I’ve railed on MySpace many times on my blog and other places.
But I’m also not the CEO of any of those sites. Can you imagine (Facebook CEO) Mark Zuckerberg creating a MySpace account and then take every opportunity to bash MySpace, no matter how politely? (I’m actually trying to think of examples of CEOs who use competitors services rather than putting their efforts into their own site…having a hard time of it)
You ask if some random Yahoo employee, as a Google user, has a right to complain about Google services. Sure they do, but with a significant caveat: Assuming they are able to dissociate their job from their private activities. A random programmer is certainly able to be "just a user" online, separate from his job (although this doesn’t apply in all cases), whereas Yahoo VP Bradley Logan is not at all able to separate his job from his private, hobby activities.
But I’ll give you an even more simple answer to your other question: Yes, working for a company is and should be a (type of) gag order on what you can do and say about your competition. That’s the professional and courteous thing to do.
Life is all about choices, and choosing to work for (or in your case, lead) company A absolutely restricts (if not outright prohibits) your ability to talk about company B. If you wanted the utter freedom to rail on company B, you should have become something other than the CEO of company B! If you were any other user, I’d have zero problem with you getting upset with Flickr’s policies and actions. But quite simply, you’re not just "any user", at least not any more.
The only bright spot of Thomas’ drunken rant, and the thread that surrounded it was the response from Stewart Butterfield (Original co-founder of Flickr, and now Yahoo’ Director of Product Management). Thomas could learn a lesson from Stewart about how to best respond to issues publicly.
And even that wouldn’t bother me so much if it didn’t seem like you think that’s a path to success. It’s not. You can’t win that way. You have to deliver: there are all kinds of variables and randomness and happenstance that goes into success, but you also have to offer a great product.
Despite my incredible respect for Thomas as a photographer, I’ve utterly lost respect for him as a business person. In fact, I find myself defending Flickr and rejecting everything that is Zooomr. If Thomas’ plan is to rail on Flickr in order to turn some users to Zooomr, it’s seems a highly ineffective strategy. Heck, the fact that I have to say "don’t drop F-bombs when you represent your company" is more than a little scary.
UPDATE: Thomas replies (he asked me to repost since he was having problems with my comments)