Six Apart: Perceptions and the Role of Communication

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This is clearly not a good time for some companies offering blogosphere services.

Last week it was Six Apart’s nightmare with the TypePad service outage for almost a full day. Now it’s the turn of del.icio.us which is still suffering in the aftermath of a power failure at their datacenter last week.

If you try and access the popular social bookmarking service now, you’ll get an error message. The del.icio.us blog has a couple of posts explaining the problem and what they’re doing to fix it.

In both cases, are these simply the kinds of technical problems you can’t really foresee no matter how good your forward planning is? Or are they the result of poor forecasting and business planning? And what about communication?

On the face of it, the issue facing del.icio.us does look as though it’s just an IT disaster. Their blog posts make that quite clear (and take a look at the comments to those posts – overwhelmingly supportive).

In Six Apart’s case, some people are arguing that their service problems are the result of pretty poor business and IT management and should have been anticipated and, therefore, prevented. Others are saying it’s the type of technical disaster no one could have foreseen and criticisms are unfair.

Whatever the reason, many TypePad users will be taking stock of what happened last week and making some decisions on what they want to do – stick with the service or find an alternative which, for some, will be a move away from hosting. For others, it will be to a different hosted service (prediction: the new WordPress.com hosted blog service will be a particular gainer here).

For businesses, though, the picture’s not so clear cut. Perhaps, as some are saying, TypePad just doesn’t cut it for business no matter what Six Apart is planning for the future.

I’m in the process of moving from TypePad to a new blog running on a server that I manage. I planned this move back in July so it’s certainly not a decision I’ve taken because of the TypePad issues last week and in October (although last week’s outage has most definitely influenced my planning to complete the move more quickly).

I’d originally intended to go with Movable Type but decided instead on WordPress for my primary new blog. (And, by the way, I’m not deserting TypePad after my move – I’m fully paid up through next August so I plan to keep my new moblog going on TypePad.)

Which brings me to communication.

It seems to me that Six Apart’s communication during and after last Friday’s service disruption left a lot to be desired. I’m speaking now as a TypePad customer and user. So communication as in what you saw on your screen when you tried to access a TypePad blog during the outage or log in to your TypePad account (you couldn’t do either for much of Friday).

Neither comforting nor helpful for many customers, provoking concern, worry and anger.

More importantly, though, what should and could Six Apart have done better or more effectively to let the world know what was going on in a rapidly-evolving situation? Anil Dash made some observations on this during a podcast interview (MP3, 11Mb) with Technorati’s Niall Kennedy (transcript here).

Was this enough? Will it make a difference to anyone’s perception today on the reliability of TypePad? Mixed views in the blogosphere, it seems. And what should Six Apart be doing now?

Shel and I will be discussing this and related points in today’s edition of For Immediate Release: The Hobson & Holtz Report podcast which we’ll be recording early evening Amsterdam time.

Tune in and then tell us what you think.

Neville Hobson is the author of the popular NevilleHobson.com blog which focuses on business communication and technology.

Neville is currentlly the VP of New Marketing at Crayon. Visit Neville Hobson’s blog: NevilleHobson.com.

Six Apart: Perceptions and the Role of Communication
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