In my first post on today’s Gmail outage, I noted that Google’s official Gmail blog was mum on what was going on. I’m pleased to report that after Google had found and fixed the glitch, it used the Gmail blog to report that fact and apologize for the inconvenience. Google didn’t explain what happened, but as my look back at a dozen years of Internet outages shows, the explanations behind unplanned downtime are usually boring, technical, and cryptic–not particularly exciting reading unless you’re a system administrator yourself.
But the one thing about Gmail product manager Todd Jackson’s post that kinda bothers me is this aside towards the end:
“We don’t usually post about problems like this on our blog, but we wanted to make an exception in this case since so many people were impacted.”
Jackson goes on to suggest that people who encounter Gmail problems check out Gmail’s online help and user group for the fastest updates; fair enough. But I hope that Google isn’t too cautious about using its many official blogs to discuss problems with its services and what it’s doing about them. A corporate blog that alerts users to cool new features can be useful; one that’s a comprehensive guide to the services it covers–warts and all–can be invaluable.
Thinking back to AOL’s famous string of humiliating outages in the mid-1990s, one of the things that got the company through them was CEO Steve Case’s letters to AOL users. They were proto-blog posts, prominently displayed on the AOL home page and pretty open about the service’s hiccups, of which there were many.
Today, even Apple is using blogs to deal with MobileMe’s ongoing issues–in a somewhat halting and stilted fashion, but at least it’s trying.
So please, Google (and every other Internet company I deal with): Err on the side of addressing the challenges you and your customers face on your blogs. Apologies are appreciated, but a generally up-front approach to explaining what happened, what you’re doing about it, and whether it might happen again is much more important than “I’m sorry.”