The photo sharing social network Radar.net is shutting down and, thankfully, they have all undertaken all the key steps to do that sensitively and graciously. Remember, customers believe that social media sites belong to “them” the customer and for a % of your online community your exit strategy is going to destroy their friendships and their content. More in Social Media is Not An Experiment. By the way, I joined Radar in November 2007 and was impressed with their signup/verification/welcome email (a much missed proposition). Their shutdown process is equally commendable

The steps to follow to shut down a social media site without losing all that brand love you have worked so hard to gain are these:

  1. A warm look at history of the online community
  2. An honest appraisal of “what went wrong” or “how things changed”.
  3. An exit event pre-shutdown
  4. Clear timetable of steps to shutdown
  5. Export facilities – content, friends’ lists
  6. Offer a contact
  7. Thank people and state why you are thanking them

And then observe the comments you receive back.

Notification email or blog post is sort of pre point 1 – how you open the issue and touching on the other 7 points:

Hello

It will soon be time for us to wind down Radar, as you may have read on the blog.

We plan to officially halt the service on Wednesday May 26th at noon Pacific Time, at which point you will no longer be able to access your account or your posts.

As we mentioned in the blog post, we’ve created a tool to help you transfer your photos over to a Shutterfly account if you’d like to preserve them. From there you’ll be able to create any photo products you like, or simply order a DVD for use elsewhere.

To get started, visit http://radar.net/shutterfly/create/

Thank you again for making this service what it was. It’s been an unforgettable experience for a great many people, and we’re glad you were there.

The Radar Team

But I want to focus on their final blog post One Final Yaw! For Radar:

A warm look at history of the online community

If “backstory” listing values and people in a live site is important, then the sub-backstory of how the site started, grew, changed and is now closing is also important. People connect with good times, stories and feelings. Think of a wake and you have some idea of the kind of conversations that occur. “Remember when the site went down for 3 days and the Dev told us…” Sad mixed with pleasurable remembrance.

A bit of history

Nearly five years ago–back when Flickr was still in its infancy, and Facebook was on just a few college campuses–we founded Tiny Pictures with a view to helping people share experiences as they happen.

Radar was born a short time later, and focused on delivering a real-time, mobile stream of pictures and conversation shared by you and your friends on any phone…long before the iPhone made this a far easier experience to develop.

From the beginning, the pictures shared on Radar weren’t necessarily “photographs” as such, especially when cameraphone quality was laughably poor. More often than not they were a way of sharing a status update with your friends, or ‘checking in’ somewhere, or somehow conveying more than just the content of the picture.

just part of their story, highlighting the highs and the lows. A shared narrative.

An honest appraisal of “what went wrong” or “how things changed”.

What went wrong is better because anything else looks like spin. If you’ve ever had a lover leave you with the words “at least we’ve had this time together” then you know shut-down spin when  you hear it.

This highly personal sharing model was precisely what made Radar tick, but ultimately proved to make the service difficult to grow fast enough. And while Radar survived–and often thrived–it’s not sufficiently large to be self-sustaining.

Today, this notion of real-time sharing is flourishing in services like Facebook and Twitter and newcomers like Foursquare, and while there’s nothing out there quite like Radar we’re gratified to have contributed what we have to the birth of mobile through these past few years.

Obvious stuff. The community members will even discuss amongst themselves how they now find it more convenient to upload to Facebook than a 3rd party site – without there being blame.  And yes I’ve seen social media site hosts send out “blame” emails “You guys didn’t help promote us enough so we are now shutting down”. *shudders*

An exit event pre-shutdown

Shutting down the sites with SilkCharm

In one virtual world we opened up the gates to all the “scarce” goodies. People who had no chance of playing with a level 80 uber warrior sword ran around finding them under bushes. Three days of this changed the game play completely and signalled a farewell to game. Oh and we let the monsters into the safe towns. Always leave on a high and with everyone screaming with adrenaline, I reckon. Here’s the farewell event at ABC Melbourne Laneways in Second Life post. If you don’t have a virtual world, open up your Premium/Freemium if possible. Or run a final competition. Or host a Question and Answer event with a notable person. Something like that.

Clear timetable of steps to shutdown

Don’t leave them hanging.  Be the doctor – clear cuts. No it’s not better if they don’t know or you do it quietly. If you’ve been running an online community for any time then you know that simply disabling new logins without a statement is going to create World War Three in the social discussions spaces.

Winding down Radar

We’re taking a few steps immediately to ensure a smooth wind-down of the service, but rest assured that we’ll give you time to transition. Here’s how things will play out:

Today we’re disabling account creation on the service and removing the iPhone app from the app store.

On April 14 we will disable posting to Radar, but you’ll still be able to browse and comment. At that time we will provide you the option to transfer all your Radar photos to a Shutterfly account. This will give you the opportunity to preserve your content however you choose: create a photobook, use Wink to create photostrips of your favorite moments, or order a DVD archive of all your photos.

On April 30 here we will officially shut down Radar, and do a slow clap for everything we’ve experienced with you along the way.

Disable account creation. Then disable uploading. Offer Transfer facilities (see next point) Then the final big finish date.

Export facilities to other social media sites

Backup friends lists, download photos, auto-move videos to another site, export bookmarks, export comments. Whatever you can give them. Notice that Radar.net give options to use their other service (Wink) and an external DVD service. Think for a moment if you wake up tomorrow morning and Facebook has been shutdown. Or Twitter. Or hell, even your email ( you don’t still use Hotmail do you?). Goodbye years worth of contacts and it’s only going to get trickier as the decades march on.

Offer a contact.

Often groups in the community will want to offer to buy the service they love it so much. Rarely can they raise the funds but a few emails of this nature is not going to kill you, and they feel better for having offered/tried. In one case, someone in the community actually DID have the money, and bought the product (along with the original developer) back from the hosts who were going to shut it down. It’s being run as a hobby site now, with many open source elements so win-win-win. Anyway it’s just polite. They’ve handed over their time, content, commitment, loyalty, and so on for 5 years, least they can do it send off an email if they so want.

If you have any questions or concerns about these details, please don’t hesitate to email us or call the office at 415-513-5998 and ask for me.

Anyway, if you hide the contact details it becomes a game to hunt them down and “send an email to xyz@thiscompany.com and petition/demand them to keep it open”. Obvious email addresses don’t tend to inspire such vigilante behaviour.

Thankyou

Not generic. Name people and why you are thanking them.

Thank you

There are a great many people who contributed to Radar over the years, and I’d like to take this opportunity to offer my deepest thanks:

Our investors–Reid Hoffman, Joi Ito, Mohr Davidow Ventures and Draper Fisher Jurvetson–who supported this endeavor with as much insight as capital.

Our Ambassadors, who in addition to their official efforts have been a source of inspiration and wisdom and friendship.

The Radar team past and present, who built a best of breed experience in a complex ecosystem, and who knew how to double down when we needed to and celebrate when we deserved to.

And indeed all our users: the ones we’ve known since the beginning, and the newest arrivals to the party; the whisperers; the storytellers; the punsters; the parents; and the many strangers that became friends along the way.

Thank you all

See? Don’t you feel like crying? *wipes a tear*

Comments back from the community

If you do it correctly, you’ll get comments like this one

Oliver (lockerhaxor) February 25, 2010Oh man… I’m really going to miss Radar. It’s by far my favorite picture network, and has the best community around.

But good luck on your new ventures, I’ll still be supporting you guys!

Companies that build online communities around their products or services are not providing products or services. They aren’t even providing aspirational lifestyles (marketing speak). They are actually providing connectedness, family, human interaction. Withdrawing from these kinds of ventures must be done sensitively or not only will you undo all the good will of the last few years but you won’t be invited back for Round Two. Or Three. Or Four. Don’t burn bridges when closing down a social media site.

How about you? Know of any good shutdowns? Any bad shutdowns? Should bloggers do a grand finale or simply fade away if they stop blogging? Is there an “8th” step to shutting down a social media site?