Services Need to Stop With the Twitter Kool-Aid

Kool-Aid ManTonight for about a full hour many Rackspace sites, including their own Slicehost service, inquisitr.com, Laughing Squid-hosted sites, Posterous, Tr.im, and even my own SocialToo.com.  Ben Parr of Mashable even noticed, asking if a bunch of websites has all just crashed.  I was reminded to check the status of my own site by a few posts by Duncan Riley on FriendFeed.com/Twitter, followed by a blog post of his own.  That prompted me to realize my entire site had been down for over an hour, which prompted me to check their Twitter account, which prompted me to check their status blog that gave a few more details.

This got me thinking – why are services so reliant on Twitter to get the word out to their customers?  Have we gotten that lazy? In the past a service with “Fanatical Support” would have sent out a brief e-mail to their customers notifying them of the update.  Do they just expect all their customers to be checking every single one of their Twitter updates?  I have to admit as a customer I’m a bit disappointed.

I don’t mean to pick on just Rackspace though.  Rackspace aren’t the only ones doing this.  It has come to be common practice amongst companies to just post status updates on their own Twitter account and (occasionally) blog without using the oldest means of notification, a push means for that matter out to their users – e-mail.  I admit even my own service SocialToo has been guilty of this occasionally and I have vowed for more mission-critical issues facing my customers that we will try to be more diligent in letting them know, via e-mail of the issues facing them, as soon as possible.  That said, I’m one of two employees/contractors working for the company right now, as compared to Rackspace’s and other companies’ hundreds.

I think it’s time companies that provide mission-critical services start laying off the Twitter Kool-Aid, and focusing on more serious means such as e-mail so their customers can become aware, as the issues are happening to the accounts they pay for.  It’s time we get back to using e-mail as a communications medium.  Now that I’m aware of the issue, I’m checking their blog frequently for updates, but a simple e-mail would have made huge strides in making the $600 I pay monthly to the service more worth it.

As of the end of this writing it appears the problems are mostly resolved.  I am anxiously awaiting an e-mail explaining the problem, but hope in the future they can get infrastructure in place to quickly notify us via e-mail as fast as they were able to do on Twitter.  I hope other services can also learn from this and prepare for similar circumstances.  While I’ll continue to enjoy the service I’ve had from Slicehost, I would have liked to see more than just a Twitter update surrounding this.

UPDATE: Ironically, Ed Millard on FriendFeed pointed out that the support address for Rackspace is twitter@rackspace.com. sigh

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20 thoughts on “Services Need to Stop With the Twitter Kool-Aid

  1. Email is fine, but lots of them get sent to junk mail folders and will be missed. Why is Twitter so paid attention to? Because it's public. Answer a question once and it is answered for everyone. Most people who don't like Twitter know to use our blog or our chat support or, even, gasp to use the old-school telephone (a real human will answer your call 24 hours a day at Rackspace).

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  2. Paying customers know how to get support via more traditional channels. But, remember, most of our customers are hard-core geeks and Twitter is the fastest way to interact with a large group of geeks.

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  3. Robert, how was I even supposed to know that there was an issue? You guys
    need to notify your customers when things like this happen, and Twitter is
    an ineffective means of push notification in situations like this. A mass
    e-mail would have been sufficient, and not very difficult. I didn't even
    know there was a “scheduled maintenance”. I was never notified to be
    prepared of such.

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  4. That's my point though Robert – customers shouldn't have to come to you to
    know their service is down. You should be notifying customers when stuff
    like this happens. Twitter, a blog, etc. have their place but they can't
    push to me to let me know when my service is down due to a Rackspace
    mistake.

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  5. I appreciated reading your post. I couldn't agree with you more. It seems like companies expect their customers to go find the information today (i.e. check Twitter), as opposed to sending an email, text, etc. I hope that companies will reengage the customer as opposed to just “joining the conversation.”

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  6. Robert, that was my point, Twitter is great to get the word out, but I'm a paying customer and like Jesse was unaware of the issue until Jesse raised it in the blog post.

    Now, mind you my blog isn't “mission critical” by any stretch of the imagination, but a personal touch would be nice. Of course, I don't think I'm paying for that level of service, so I'll have to check the SLA again. I will monitor Twitter more closely and should probably have Rackspace tweets hit my mobile.

    That said, I couldn't be happier with Rackspace overall. Great products and great service.

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  7. I think that any form of communication regarding services being down should be expected. Most people will have their email services on the affected hosting and wouldn't get the message. In addition, I expect my host to be focusing on correcting the issue and not spending time trying to compose an email, then consolidating the affected users, then sending out mail notifications. It just seems like a waste of resources. If I know where I can go to see that they are aware of the problem and are working to fix it, I am satisfied. In reality all I care about is if my data is still there and when will my service be restored.

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  8. Jesse: Although you prefer email, I'm sure there are many others out there who would prefer another method. Also, it seems like posting to a status blog or updating Twitter requires less overhead than putting together an email message to who knows how many recipients. Plus, as Robert mentioned, then you are dealing with potential for spam filtering, etc.

    What about offering up an option as an opt-in service where you can indicate that you want to receive service interruption notices via email? If Rackspace built a permissions-based list and found a way to convert a status blog post into an email, then you could be notified as soon as something was published.

    I do think you are on to something when talking about the push-versus-pull scenario for service outage updates (they should be telling us it is down, not expecting customers to come to them), but I can also understand the complexity of building such a notification service.

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  9. Jesse: Although you prefer email, I'm sure there are many others out there who would prefer another method. Also, it seems like posting to a status blog or updating Twitter requires less overhead than putting together an email message to who knows how many recipients. Plus, as Robert mentioned, then you are dealing with potential for spam filtering, etc.

    What about offering up an option as an opt-in service where you can indicate that you want to receive service interruption notices via email? If Rackspace built a permissions-based list and found a way to convert a status blog post into an email, then you could be notified as soon as something was published.

    I do think you are on to something when talking about the push-versus-pull scenario for service outage updates (they should be telling us it is down, not expecting customers to come to them), but I can also understand the complexity of building such a notification service.

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  10. Sending massive alerts is actually a harder challenge than it sounds. My university has been testing an alert system that notifies us via email, text message, phone call, and IM about emergencies and it fails for me rather often.

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  11. I think that any form of communication regarding services being down should be expected. Most people will have their email services on the affected hosting and wouldn't get the message. In addition, I expect my host to be focusing on correcting the issue and not spending time trying to compose an email, then consolidating the affected users, then sending out mail notifications. It just seems like a waste of resources. If I know where I can go to see that they are aware of the problem and are working to fix it, I am satisfied. In reality all I care about is if my data is still there and when will my service be restored.

    Like

  12. Email is fine, but lots of them get sent to junk mail folders and will be missed. Why is Twitter so paid attention to? Because it's public. Answer a question once and it is answered for everyone. Most people who don't like Twitter know to use our blog or our chat support or, even, gasp to use the old-school telephone (a real human will answer your call 24 hours a day at Rackspace).

    Like

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