Wednesday, April 23, 2008

There's support, and then there' support

As I've previously noted, Twitter had a grand total of two communications to its users during its weekend-long #twittout - an April 19 tweet, and an April 21 blog post. That's it.

Compare that to the reaction of two other companies that had their own performance issues.

The first story emerged in a TechCrunch post, which originally reported the following:

Twitter user Orli Yakuel, with 650 followers, had a nasty surprise this morning - her direct messages (private messages between two Twitter users) showed up in her normal Twitter stream (and were subsequently published to her FriendFeed account).

A little while later, Michael Arrington updated his TechCrunch post when the cause of the problem was discovered:

It looks like this is a problem caused by GroupTweet, a newish third party Twitter application that allows users to direct message a lot of people at once. Orli says that she tested the application earlier today, and a number of commenters are pointing out that it may be the problem. GroupTweet requires you to create a new Twitter account to use with the service, and tell it the credentials for the account. But if you accidentally enter your primary account credentials instead, it will expose your direct messages to the public. This is not a Twitter API issue as far as I can tell, it’s a problem with the fact that GroupTweet is confusing and if you make a mistake, your direct messages are made public. This is particularly an issue for non-native English users when using it. I could have very easily made this mistake when testing the application.

To tell you the truth, I hadn't even heard of GroupTweet. There are so many new things emerging daily that I must have missed this one. I was wondering how the GroupTweet creator(s) would be reacting to this problem, so I went to GroupTweet's web site. Throughout the morning, this is the message that has been displaying:

As a lot of you visting may have already seen, a bit of a scandal has broken regarding GroupTweet. Michael Arrington of TechCrunch posted Privacy Disaster At Twitter: Direct Messages Exposed (Update: GroupTweet Is Likely Culprit). Ok, an unordered list should make this easier to explain:

This is NOT a privacy bug with Twitter. I apoligize for any negative voodoo I've pulled down on them. Their service works great and there are no privacy issues (that I know of). Please direct your hatred at me!

There are no known bugs or privacy issues with GroupTweet as long as you create a separate Twitter account for your group.

The reason that a particular GroupTweet users' direct messages were exposed is because she registered her PERSONAL Twitter account at GroupTweet. The site was doing exactly what it was supposed to: taking direct messages sent to the GROUP account and re-publishing them as tweets. When the personal account was registered here, direct messages sent to the account were republished. Unfortunately, these were not meant to be republished.

I am 100% at fault for this fiasco because I did a poor job of explaining the steps one needs to take to use GroupTweet. I sincerely apologize

I WILL BE DISABLING ALL GROUPTWEET ACCOUNTS. The only way I can ensure that this doesn't happen to anyone else is to disable all accounts. If you are sure that you are using GroupTweet correctly and would like your group re-activated, simply email me or re-register (once I turn the form back on)

Now there are several reactions that one can take after this whole episode:

  • Aaron Forgue is a complete and total idiot who couldn't code his way out of a paper bag, and his violation of privacy should sentence him to a lifetime of working at McDonald's for mininmum wage.

  • Orli Yakuel is a complete and total idiot who couldn't read a manual if her life depended upon it, and her utter stupidity should sentence her to a lifetime of working at McDonald's for minimum wage.
Needless to say, I don't advocate either of these positions, but we do have to remember (as Forgue implied) that the customer is always right. If an application's instructions are confusing (and I haven't read the instructions myself, so I can't judge), then the fault lies with the writer and not the reader. However, I have already let Forgue know that I was very impressed with his prompt response and the actions that he has taken. Let's hope that GroupTweet 2.0 is insanely great.

OK, let's move to the second story, which I just heard about a few minutes ago, after I read a post in Steven Hodson's WinExtra blog. He shows a picture of a comment from Andy C regarding a brief Disqus outage (a #disqout?):

A popular, growing Web 2.0 service has a 30 minute outage but says 'Sorry'. Those guys from Twitter (3 days outage) should take note.

Now I'll be the first to grant that a 30 minute outage on a commenting service does not have the same impact as a privacy violation (even if self-inflicted). But look at how Daniel Ha reacted to said problem:

We had some downtime this morning, starting at 7am PST, for a little under 30 minutes.
We are sorry. I am personally sorry. Being a popular service is not a valid excuse for being unavailable when other websites depend on you.

So, what are we doing about it? Lots. We have spent a lot of time recently optimizing and tweaking. Disqus is in transition-mode to upgrading our web and database servers (plus a few other misc. infrastructure points).

Bonus apology: This week, email us with the subject “Downtime makes me sad” and we’ll send over some cool Disqus swag. Be sure to indicate your blog/website and share a sentence or two about your experiences with Disqus.

Thanks all — it’s not a good problem to have and we’ll do our best to make sure it doesn’t become a problem you have to deal with.

And no, I'm not going to send away for some cool Disqus swag - since I wasn't personally inconvenienced by the #disqout, it wouldn't be appropriate. But again, I appreciate the gesture.

Meanwhile, things are happening at Twitter, but they're happening behind the scenes. Perhaps you saw this blog post at the Twitter blog:

We're excited to announce two recent hires. John Kalucki is an experienced distributed systems architect well versed in relational messaging as the former co-founder of San Francisco based SQLstream. Steve Jenson is a familiar face for a few of us here at Twitter HQ because he's a former Google software engineer known for his work scaling Blogger and Blogspot—a service which tens of millions of people use on a regular basis.

And perhaps you saw this blog post (again from Michael Arrington) at TechCrunch:

It doesn’t really matter if Twitter’s Chief Architect Blaine Cook was fired or resigned. The important thing is that he’s gone now....

Cook was directly responsible for scaling Twitter, and he very much failed in his job. A year ago he spoke at the Silicon Valley Ruby Conference about scaling Rails applications. His presentation suggested Twitter’s problems were behind them, but in fact some of their biggest stumbles hadn’t occurred yet. Note in particular slide 9 of that presentation, where Cook says about scaling Rails apps like Twitter: “It’s Easy. Really.” Whether Twitter’s woes were all on Cook’s shoulders or not, he should not have been boasting about solving the problem last year.

So stuff is happening on the technical end, but is anything happening on the business end? While the tech-weenies of the world concentrate on the technical issues, there is a business issue that has yet to be addressed. In the very same post where Twitter talked about its two new hires, Bob K. Mertz (bblboy54) offered this comment:

I'm really happy to see new people coming on board to make things better but I would really like to see you bring on people that keep the community updated. The entire Twitter community has supported Twitter for a long time despite many different issues but recently I think the community is feeling really left out and it's just creating more frustration. There was once a time that those who ran Twitter were actually part of the community but recently it seems like that has changed and many of us are feeling alienated by the people we defended when various bloggers attacked Twitter's reliability.

Aaron Forgue and Daniel Ha immediately communicated to their customers regarding some technical issues gone awry. Apparently not all companies have this same belief in immediate communication.

P.S. Yes, I ripped off my own title idea.

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