It would be an understatement to say that it’s been a while since I’ve posted to Mena’s Corner. Personally, I’ve needed to take an extended break from corporate blogging and luckily this break was enabled by the great work our teams have done on the various product blogs.
However, it just wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t take the time to wake up the corner and personally write a post about some Six Apart related news that we’re announcing today. In brief, Chris Alden (who has served as EVP and GM of our professional division – basically, the Movable Type and TypePad businesses) is going to be the new Chairman and CEO of Six Apart, having been handed the reins by Barak Berkowitz.
When Barak officially joined Six Apart as our CEO in July of 2004 (he’d been acting CEO since January), I wrote in great length (my God, it’s five printed pages!) about the reasons we wanted him to be a part of the company and what it meant to Ben and I on professional and personal levels.
Naming Barak as CEO brought on a new phase for the company and for Ben and me personally. While it was a really tough decision for both of us when I handed over my CEO reins to Barak, we knew that it was a necessary step to take the company to the next level. Barak helped Ben and me to expand our own ambitions for the company and to really see how Six Apart could grow the blogging industry as a whole, and since he joined the company as CEO, that’s what he and Six Apart have continued to do. And for that, we’re incredibly appreciative.
In the post I wrote three years ago about Barak, one of the stories I told about him was when he did the wiring in our old San Mateo office:
At our office, we had phone cables running up and down walls and doorframes and across the floor. This mess was around for months until one day Barak came to work with a T-shirt, some tool-belt type thing and some device to do phone wiring. During the course of the afternoon, Barak installed our phone lines and cleaned up the office. … The fact that Barak will do this sort of grunt work is why he fits in at Six Apart.
What’s worth noting is that when I talk to people who have read my post, the above anecdote always sticks in their mind most clearly: that Barak is a guy who’s willing to be hands-on at any job at the company, and whatever he does, he’s going to dive in and do a good job at it. For people who know Barak, I think that’s something that really rings true about his character and personality, and it’s certainly one of the things we’ve appreciated most over the years.
And now, today.
We’re incredibly excited about what Chris will be bringing to his new role at Six Apart. As GM of our Professional Division, he’s led, inspired and motivated an amazing team that has injected a new passion and life into Movable Type 4.
While Chris will be the first to admit that reinvigorating and building Movable Type 4 was a group effort that involved his entire team at Six Apart as well as the outside community, I couldn’t help but be blown away by how Chris made us all feel the energy around the product.
While Ben and I were lucky to be able to contribute in small ways to the development of Movable Type 4, it wasn’t until we saw Chris present a preview of the product at our internal weekly company meeting that we understood just how exciting the launch was going to be (and frankly how much the product had grown). Over the past couple of years, it’s no secret that Movable Type hasn’t had the attention it deserves; that was just the reality of having such ambitious (and good) goals and a relatively small team to accomplish them.
To see the glow of Movable Type come back not just as a glimmer, but as a full-on spotlight, literally gave me goose-bumps, and the result—Movable Type 4—is the best version of Movable Type we’ve ever created at Six Apart.
It’s a really exciting time for Six Apart and I continue to have great faith in what we’re accomplishing. As I realized myself, being a CEO is a big job, and Barak has filled it for four years of hard work as we all built this amazing company. He moves on, but will continue to be a valuable advisor to us all. The Six Apart that’s empowering millions of people to express themselves wouldn’t be what it is without Barak, and for that I’m incredibly grateful.
Here is Chris's post on the transition.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted on Mena’s Corner. Funnily enough, it’s not that I haven’t had time to blog, it’s because I’ve been doing a whole lot of personal blogging over on Vox, some product blogging over at Team Vox and been totally heads-down in product development. Even with the Mena’s Corner absence, Six Apart is still well-represented with blogging, between Pronet Weblog, Everything TypePad and another blog you may have never seen before: TypePad Feature Weblogs (these are but a few). There are so many amazing blogs being featured each and every day — it’s quite remarkable to see the talent we have on the service.
I did want to write and check in and say that more of my blogging can be found at Team Vox and blogging almost daily (mostly privately) at mena.vox.com. If you’re unfamiliar with Vox, I wrote a post about it in early June. If you’d like an invite, simply request one.
A lot of what I wrote about in that introductory post about Vox, I also shared in my Ted talk in February. This summer, and for the first time, the Ted Blog has been putting up past talks online as a way to share the event with those who can’t attend. (See all the TedTalks online)
Yesterday my talk was added — and If you can bear to watch 18 minutes of me, I think it’s a good way to get an idea of the motivations behind Vox. I don’t talk about the product at all. Instead, it’s about how powerful personal blogging can be, as a way to stay connected and, fundamentally, record one’s life.
Tonight we launched TypePad Widgets, or as they are known on the street, TypePad Bling. From the very early days of TypePad, we imagined this sort of widget functionality -- the roots are evident in the way modules are handled in TypePad's design managment -- built into the service. It's exciting to see that the integration is finally here and that we've already got over thirty partners providing and enabling their unique services to our users. There's a lot more to come and we want to hear from others with widgets to integrate. (See the FAQ if you're interested in creating a TypePad Widget.)
As much as the term Web 2.0 is loosely thrown around, I believe strongly that the most significant characteristic of this era of development is the openess that is enabled by APIs. It's about sharing information and data and having services work well together.
Thanks go out to the TypePad team for making this happen as well as all our partners who made their widgets available for release. Our thanks, as always, to our customers for their continued suggestions and inspiration.
As part of our recent launch of our Blogging Solutions for Business, we're holding a series of Blogging for Business Seminars in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles. In addition to speaking about the tools that we've developed that help businesses get blogging, we will be "hosting a number of speakers to talk about business blogging, present use cases from local industries, demonstrate blogging technologies and give attendees to engage us in a question and answer session." If you're interested in attending, simply fill out the short inquiry form.
Since I haven't posted in quite a while, I figured I should open with a little joke. Sure, I could have started with a lofty introduction about writer's block and the overwhelming expectation to deliver interesting content after such a lapse, but the Yahoo/Cruise joke works too. Life has been busy at Six Apart since my last post (in December!). I've been on the road a lot, speaking about blogs and Six Apart. Additionally, I've had the opportunity to do a lot more design work than I usually do, which is a nice change.
The company continues to grow, as the press we've received indicates. This month we closed a $12 million dollar financing round from Focus Ventures, Intel Capital and August Capital, which we believe will allow us to do a lot of the stuff that we've talked about in the past -- namely creating the sort of service that the proverbial mother will actually want to use. It's probably not a surprise that we've worked really hard to stay independent and grow. We've entered another new stage of the company and it feels good.
Another exciting development is Six Apart's acquisition of SplashBlog. Mobile blogging has always been incredibly important to us -- that's one of the reasons we took our initial funding out of Japan and we've worked closely with partners such as Nokia. With SplashBlog, we got a great team and great line of products. The strength of SplashBlog was further illustrated by the great feedback from webloggers. Look for better integration of mobile applications and our products in the near future.
So what have I've been personally been up to? I had the pleasure to participate and speak at TED 2006 which was really quite the best conference I have attended. Partly because I was able to speak about something I'm so passionate about: the personal side of blogging and why it will change the way we record our lives. I had people such as Al Gore and Tony Robbins tell me that they enjoyed my talk (and of course I documented meeting them)!
Equally exciting were the non-celebrities who came up to me after my talk and told me that they never considered starting a blog before hearing my talk. Or even better, a blogger who writes about politics and who never liked reading personal blogs before. He told me he actually changed his mind because of the examples I presented and the stories that they told.
Out of all the people at TED, the person that was most memorable was Julia Sweeney. She was just so nice in person and awesome onstage as she performed an excerpt from her one-woman show. I embarrassingly told her that I wanted to be her best friend -- she made that much of an impression on me. And, she has a great blog that she's maintained for years!
Speaking aside, I mentioned I've been doing some more design work -- specifically for Comet. Comet entered Alpha testing last month and we've been doing quick iterations based on our testers' experiences. I don't want to talk too much about it until we have something substantial to show the general public, but we've been very happy with the results so far. I've been posting a lot there, so one day you'll be able to see that I really do maintain a frequently updated blog. I said I'm all about personal blogging.
I fear that this post is becoming an epic, so on that note, I will save the rest of my updates for subsequent posts.
We've been proud to support Creative Commons for years here at Six Apart, and we wanted to help our community do the same. If you're not familiar with it, Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that makes it possible to share and relicense your creative works without having to be a lawyer. Using the suite of licenses CC provides, you can make it easy for other people to build on top of the works you create.
So, to show our support, we're matching donations made to Creative Commons up to $5,000. If you make a contribution to Creative Commons before the end of the year, we'll double it -- it's a great way to get the most out of your donation.
If you just want to find out more about the organization, you can learn more right on their website. And then you can license your works using one of the CC licenses. Movable Type was one of the first publishing tools in the world to support CC licenses, and it's still easy to publish your blog with a Creative Commons license in just a few clicks. And today you can do the same in many other tools, such as Flickr, as well.
Finally, if you'd like to build on the works that have already been released under Creative Commons licenses, it's simple to search for CC-licensed content using either Google or Yahoo search.
We've become aware that it's pretty difficult for our customers to find service-related news throughout our various weblogs and new sources -- this is something that needs consolidation onto one easy-to-find page or feed. We're also planning on integrating these sites more fully into the TypePad application. In the meantime, for everyone who's been following the TypePad issues last Friday, you can keep up to date with what's going on by reading Everything TypePad and the Six Apart Status Page, which is real-time update of the current status of the TypePad and TypeKey service. Additionally, Anil Dash, our VP of Professional Products answered a few questions about the service outage during this podcast.
Here's some quick links to the various Everything TypePad! posts about the outage:
Recap of Friday's TypePad Outage 12/19 at 04:38 PM
TypePad Update: Data Restored 12/18 at 11:01 PM
TypePad is Back Up 12/16 at 03:38 PM
Update on TypePad Issues 12/16 at 02:16 PM
Current Issues with TypePad 12/16 at 09:40 AM
While we can't make promises about perfect performance, we are constantly striving to improve our infrastructure and create the best possible environment for webloggers -- which includes helpful and attentive support and responsiveness from Six Apart. As noted in these posts, the proactive fixing of problems can often create other ones during the process. We apologize for these problems occurring and also hope to keep our customers more informed in the future.
After reading the posts and comments about my speech and the controversial Q&A; that followed, I've questioned whether it was worth writing a post defending my onstage actions. After much thought, I realized that it's not about the personalities involved (neither Ben Metcalfe or I are completely right or wrong) but rather the next steps in making blogging better.
There are really two points I want to emphasize.
- It's not about being nice—it's about accountability.
- Ultimately, we need to get more people blogging.
The point I was trying to make in my speech is that it's about taking as much responsibility for what we write online -- whether that's on a blog, in an email message, or on IRC -- as we would in a face-to-face, private conversation. What we say might not always be nice and that's okay. Certainly neither Ben M. saying "this is bullshit" or my calling him an "asshole" would qualify as "nice" -- the important point is taking accountability for what we say.
I think accountability and responsibility is about holding off seemingly anonymous attacks, giving people the benefit of the doubt and understanding that what you say online not only affects others but is part of a permanent record -- a record that, right now, is scary to some watching from afar.
The majority of people in the world aren't blogging yet, and a lot of them could truly benefit from this form of communication. We want them to be a part of our world, not only because we make blogging tools, but because every day we're reminded of people whose lives blogging has enriched or just made more enjoyable.
That's absolutely something we want to share with a wider audience.
And in fact, Ben M. and I had a private dialog later in the day, where we were able to spend time talking through these issues in a really productive conversation -- including us both apologizing for using such strong words. At the end of our talk, we both agreed to disagree about the types of discussion and tones appropriate for online conversation. My goal wasn't to change his mind but for him to realize the motivations that brought me to that place onstage.
We both came to a good question that could, in theory, sum up my entire speech:
Is it possible to have the sort of productive face-to-face connection or conversation that Ben M. and I had offline in an online world? And what can we, as bloggers, do to facilitate that?
I believe in blogging and I am willing to personally make mistakes in order to advance it to a new level. I was wrong for using the words I did onstage, but I do believe I was right for posing these questions. I wonder if these are questions that bloggers can ultimately answer?
I've just returned from Paris after attending Les Blogs, a weblogging conference organized by our European office. I'm still a bit jet-lagged and, at this moment, I haven't the energy to write up a long post about the morning talk I gave (plus the heated Q&A;). However, I'd like to post the bulk of the speech I gave.
I was fairly hesitant to give this talk since I knew that it would stir up some heated discussions and I tend to prefer avoiding controversy -- especially considering my role at Six Apart. I ultimately decided to speak about civility because I, personally, haven't really seen anyone raise this topic from inside the industry and I do believe that, in order for weblogging to reach a new level and a new audience, our behavior online needs to be addressed. So it was just too important to me to not discuss.
Since I've arrived back home, I've read some of the responses from bloggers who attended the conference or watched the video. Mixed reactions were to be expected and I haven't been disappointed. Regardless of what people think of me or my demeanor, I'm glad that we're having the discussion.
A more thoughtful post to come after I get some sleep.
The speech itself:
Good morning. Before I begin, I'd just like to thank you all for attending Les Blogs. It's a nice change for me to see different faces every now and then and it's great to be able to speak to a number of people who I've only been able to read from afar.
The focus of today is the tools we use with two sessions: the "RSS panel" and "Tracking and Listening to the Online World" being about how we keep up with what bloggers are saying and writing.
Here on stage today, I may be accused of a blogging sacrilege of sorts -- criticizing something that is so important in all of our lives. And in some circumstances the following speech might be considered harmful when talking about blogging. However, I'm confident that this audience, with all of your experience and knowledge, today can be part of the solution rather than compounding the problem.
As someone who has been part of blogging for a while, I know first hand that bloggers have a lot to say and that there is a great deal of information to be tracked -- as the afternoon panel will point out. With a lot of people saying a lot of different things, the best way to be a successful blogger is about building a personal voice and being able to convey a strong personality online.
This, of course, has its ups and downs.
A strong voice is a crucial part of a successful blog. But sometimes sensationalism can be confused with a strong voice. The saying "if it bleeds, it leads" isn't just limited to the nightly news or cable news anymore. Bloggers have become very aware that "if it bleeds, it leads" can work wonders for their Google Juice.
When I started to think about what I wanted to speak about today, the phrase "civility in blogging" kept on popping into my head. When I say "civility in blogging," I'm basically referring to the demeanor or the desired demeanor that we conduct ourselves when we're blogging. Civility is a difficult concept to speak about without sounding preachy or condemning. I don't want to give a lecture today on civility -- God only knows that my coworkers would laugh to hear me talk about politeness. Instead of lecturing, I really just have a simple question: Can we as bloggers be more civil?
I love blogging and I want it to be more welcoming. That's why I want to raise the topic amongst other bloggers.
So... as I sat in the sessions yesterday, I started to get incredibly nervous about appearing on stage today. The obvious reason is that I'm speaking in front of 300 bloggers and I'm pretty sure that someone will criticize my speech and delivery on their own weblogs.
Luckily I've been doing this for four years and I've gotten a pretty thick skin. I'm pretty used to reading criticisms about me and Six Apart on blogs.
But that's not the reason why I'm scared. It's that IRC back channel. In theory, it seems like a good idea, giving the audience a chance to share relevant links, ask questions, discuss the panels and topics at hand. In reality, the IRC channel is filled with jokes about the panels and participants and is often off-topic and sometimes mean in tone. On this channel and channels from other conferences I've attended, I've seen people make disparaging comments about other people -- comments that they would never say to their faces.
In blogging, this is very much a reality as well and it is much more permanent.
For this reason, many people are afraid of bloggers.
Frankly, I'm a blogger and I'm afraid of bloggers.
The inspiration for "civility in blogging" came from a post a couple weeks ago: Jeremy Zawodny, a blogger and an employee of Yahoo received an email directed to the address of the Yahoo search blog, a blog in which he's a contributor. The email had been sent by a PR agency and Zawodny felt the mail wasn't relevant to the topics they cover in the blog. So Jeremy wrote a post entitled "Krause Taylor Associates Spams Bloggers" and detailed his experiences. If you were to read this post, you would have read about how Zawodny felt the email was spam and how KTA, the PR firm, should know better.
Why should KTA know better, according to Zawodny? Here's why: Krause Taylor is Six Apart's PR firm. Zawodny blogged that we should teach them about why they should not spam. This post made me fairly upset, not because any actions of KTA but because, based on my experiences with the firm, I was fairly confident that this was a misrepresentation of the facts. I have done business with KTA for three years and have known them to be a professional firm that would never spam or advocate spamming.
So I did something I usually don't do and defended them in Zawodny's comments. Prior to my comment, another client of theirs defended them as well. And throughout the thread, people questioned whether what they did was spam or just a badly targeted email. Even Barbara Krause, the principal of KTA, commented apologizing for the email and explaining why he received the email. It turns out that Yahoo search blog was listed in Media Map, a completely legitimate, opt-in contact service that PR professionals use to contact interested parties about products and news.
While the reason why Zawodny received the mail and everything else was more or less amicably sorted out, the original post is now the number 2 result in Google for "Krause Taylor." And throughout a number of weblogs, the post was linked to by its original title "Krause Taylor spams weblogs."
A firm like KTA, which has been around for years, can luckily rely on its positive reputation to lessen the blow of an inflammatory weblog post. But regardless of the circumstances or reality of the situation, they still have to deal with this post being a part of the permanent Google record.
It's no surprise then that a story like Forbes' "Attack of the Blogs" -- a cover story story no less -- can be written. If you're not familiar with the Forbes cover story, basically they presented weblogs as something fairly dangerous.
I quote the article "Weblogs are the prized platform of an online lynch mob spouting liberty but spewing lies, libel and invective. Their potent allies in this pursuit include Google and Yahoo [and other weblog hosts]!" It continues: "Thus they [weblog services] serve up vitriolic 'content' without bearing any legal responsibility for ensuring it is fair or accurate; at times they even sell ads alongside the diatribes."
Okay, this is incredibly extreme and reads, in part, like a rabid editorial.
Still, there must be some truth in the article? Right?
Or maybe, it's just a tiny slice of the blogging world.
Actually, there's a sentence at the bottom -- sort of like the fine print read at the end of a car commercial -- that sort of sets the record straight: "Attack blogs are but a sliver of the rapidly expanding blogosphere."
While I think it's fairly difficult for a single blogger to hurt a company beyond repair by posting inaccurate information, I do believe a single blogger can cause an organization to waste time and energy cycles defending and preventing the spread of inaccuracies. We don't have unlimited time to manage these cycles, so wouldn't it be great if we could be simply more civil?
Civility is defined as a courteous act or courteous acts that contribute to smoothness and ease in dealings and social relationships.
Smoothness and ease in dealings of social relationships? Is this possible with what we're doing with weblogs? When we preview our own posts what if we read for more than just proper grammar or valid HTML? What if we read it for accuracy, appropriateness, good nature. Read it for civility.
Fundamentally, our biggest goal should be bringing a new generation to weblogging.
If we want to bring a new generation to weblogging -- a goal that I've seen attendees here expressing -- we need to create an environment where people feel welcomed.
This morning I appeared briefly on The Early Show on CBS speaking about teenagers and LiveJournal. Considering that it was 4:15 AM, I'm pretty happy not to have stumbled on my words. In retrospect, I do wish I had challenged my co-guest about his statement that sometimes "teenagers are dumber than mud." Thankfully, I believe I presented LiveJournal and teens being online as something quite normal and not intrinsically dangerous.
In preparing for the show, I realized that I've been online since I was about thirteen -- around 1990 -- and I turned out just fine. I participated in BBS message boards, chat and early Internet services and there were the usual bad things out there, but I was focussed in researching and talking about my interests. Kids and teenagers need guidance and encouragement and not just a dose of "Vitamin N" (see the clip to understand).
For example, when I was a teenager I was really interested in drawing programs like Fractal Design's Painter and Deluxe Paint and creating pictures pixel by pixel. My dad was aware of this and since he worked at a software company, had someone from work -- a graphic artist -- come to my house and give me lessons. This was a huge part of directing me to graphic design for the web.
Encouraging kids to communicate is a good thing and saying that they can't talk online can seem as arbitrary to them as saying they can't talk to friends on the telephone. It's good to be aware of what your kids are doing, but don't expect a stern "no" without explanations to amount to anything other than making your kids more determined to what they want to do.
For a parent, I'm sure this is obvious advice. And as someone without kids, I'm writing about my own experiences being a teenager rather than parenting one. My hope is that LiveJournal can encourage kids and teens to write, express themselves and make a really difficult life transition period a little easier.
During the last month, we’ve been very open about TypePad’s performance problems and the solutions we're implementing to bring the service up to a high standard. We’re happy to say that, since things have stabilized, we’ve been able to offer compensation to our customers for the inconvenience caused by slow service and downtime.
As Barak said in his email and post, we offer our sincere apologies for any inconvenience and hope that customers of TypePad view the compensation as fair.
Not only did the people here at Six Apart feel the pain of poor performance (as employees and users), but we also spent a great deal of time reading customer emails, comments and posts which helped us understand that every customer is different. Some customers didn’t want any compensation, they just wanted us to spend resources fixing the problems; others felt that the performance of TypePad hindered their businesses and personal communications; and some didn’t notice any service degradation at all.
So, what are the lessons?
- Read what your customers have to say
This is the most obvious piece of advice, but the most important. Customers who are invested in a service usually want the company that's supporting them to succeed. The best advice comes from your customers, and they aren't afraid to tell it like it is. That said...
- Ignore the tone of nasty complaints, but pay attention to the underlying messages
When people are disappointed, their frustrations are often expressed in the form of anger. But at the same time, the fact that they took the time to write what they feel rather than shrugging it off indicates a deep desire for a solution, not just blame. We're all human and the nasty stuff hurts, but we love passionate users, so that involves taking the good and the bad comments in stride.
- Understand that the people giving feedback represent many who remain silent
For every person who complains, realize that there are probably ten people conscious of the problem but not interested in speaking out publicly. Problems viewed through customer email are often larger than they may appear.
- Don’t spend too much energy on distractions
The noisiest people during our problems are often not TypePad or Six Apart customers. And while we are trying to make good to our own customers, it's difficult to focus when we know that competitors are actively marketing toward our base of users (and with pretty negative tactics). That's the way some companies operate, and it's a fact of life. Just don't let it take cycles out of real problem solving.
- Don't be afraid to communicate
We decided to err on the side of offering a lot of information. Take the post about the technical solutions we were putting in place. I read on a few weblogs people questioning whether it was good for our company to reveal so much about our architecture (for proprietary reasons). We felt the good outweighed the bad since it helped our community feel fully informed.
- Trust your customers
I take back what I said about reading what your customers have to say being the most important piece advice. Trusting your customers is key to keeping them happy, and from our experiences, is always the right decision. Our customers are amazing and have responded in a way that keeps us motivated to provide the best experiences possible.
Based on the feedback sent along in the survey and from customer weblogs, we feel incredibly rewarded to have people in the community recognize our attempts to make things right. While we’d rather avoid incidents like poor service, downtime, and customer compensation, we are constantly trying to learn how to be the best company possible. Believe us, when we read negative posts, they hurt, but every positive post goes a long way to lessening the sting.
In our previous post, Ben pointed out some of the issues that led to TypePad's poor performance in October. As he mentioned, a large portion of the Six Apart staff was working day and night to solve those issues and deliver our customers the performance they're paying for. Barak's post detailed a number of the specific tactics we were taking.
And so, over the past week, we've made a very significant number of changes: we've upgraded database hardware; we've optimized the application in a number of different places, including stats, publishing, and general database access; we've upgraded our network; we've added more application hardware; etc.
And over the past three days, we—and a lot of you—have noticed the improvements. We feel confident enough to say (and, being superstitious, knocking on wood every time we say it) that we've made a huge amount of progress in the performance of both the application and the
published blogs. TypePad's performance is better than it's been in months—in fact, it's quite a bit better than it was even in the months prior to October.
We're not sitting back and resting, though. We have a number of performance enhancements and upgrades still planned, as well as finishing the last few steps of our data center move. Some of the new hardware we'll be adding may require some scheduled maintenance, but we'll be sure to give you advance notice. Being pessimistic in general—or, at least, acknowledging the number of unexpected issues we've had in the past couple of weeks—we're also wary about declaring victory too early, so we're not promising to be out of the proverbial woods yet.
But we're very happy with the progress we've made so far. Thanks to everyone who has written in appreciation of the improved performance, and thanks to all of you for your patience.
As many of you have noticed, during the last couple of weeks TypePad performance has not been what we aspire to and you pay for. While I am as displeased as you, at the current time I can do nothing more than apologize -- a weak sentiment without action to back it up. Ben has been in the midst of understanding and fixing the problems so I have asked him to write an update on the situation and tell you what we are doing to get back to the great service you have come to expect.
This has been a bad month for TypePad's performance and general availability, and I'd like to talk about a number of the issues we've faced, how frustrated they make us, and what we're doing about them.
For some background: TypePad-hosted blogs are, to say the least, incredibly popular, and growing at an incredible rate. We're currently pushing about 250mbps of traffic through our multiple network pipes, and that's growing by 10-20% each month. (If you're more familiar with bandwidth stated in terms of transfer allowances, that's a transfer rate of almost 3TB (terabytes!) per day.) And because TypePad customers are so invested in their blogs, we see activity on the service-both reading & writing-that equals services with 100 times the number of users on TypePad.
Because of the growth of the service, we've been increasing our capacity steadily, but a few months ago the data center we are in ran out of space and power, limiting the amount of equipment we could add. After some shopping, we found a great new data center and have been building it out for over a month. We're currently in the middle of that move, and that's when the trouble started.
While a data center move generally tends to add some risk to running a service day-to-day, we could never have anticipated anything like the last couple of weeks. We've seen failures in our storage servers, failures that we had never seen before. We've seen a failure in a piece of networking equipment that had never failed before, and so on, ranging from hardware failures to software failures. After some analysis we believe that all of these failures are related to the fast growth of our service resulting in heavy load on each box—and until the completion of the move, we didn't have the capacity to add more boxes.
These failures and other issues have caused outages both in the reading and publishing of blogs on TypePad. We've also seen some sporadic application performance issues related to statistics, which we're working on solving this week.
Our operations team—and the rest of the company—have been working day and night to understand and overcome these issues. And yet, as a user of the service myself, I can fully understand why that might not sound good enough. But we're committed to providing an amazing service for our customers, and we have been really, really striving to deliver that over the past month. We're working very hard to make November and beyond a better experience, and to get back to the quality of service that you've always received from TypePad.
Over the next week you should see significant improvement in performance as we get extra equipment on line and finish moving data off of heavily loaded servers. By the end of the move we will have five times the bandwidth we had before, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars of new equipment, and room and power to add more equipment as needed.
We apologize for the poor service you've experienced over the past couple of weeks, and also for the lack of official communication on Mena's Corner or Everything TypePad. At the same time, I know that an apology sounds hollow until we've fixed these issues and the service is stable once again.
We're going to do a better job of giving you updates on our status as we work to improve the service. Thank you for your loyalty, and we're working very hard to earn back your trust.
For the first four years of Ben's life, Ben would just point and grunt as his preferred method of communication. As a result, Ben's parents worried that he was developmentally challenged in some way and that he'd never learn to talk.
Then, one day he suddenly started speaking in complete sentences and all was well.
This story sums Ben's personality up perfectly. Unless he can form a perfect thought or statement, he won't usually talk. And, unless he feels like he has something worthwhile to say, he's fine just listening.
Then, there's me. I often find myself blurting out whatever comes into my mind, be it relevant or a complete non sequitur.
While Ben and I are extremely different in our conversational behaviors, we do share two major traits: (1) We're both horrible at making small talk with acquaintances or strangers (2) We're sometimes painfully shy to the point that we can't approach anyone -- no matter if we really want to speak with them.
During the last four years, we've had to learn to get over these shortcomings and it's been fairly difficult. I think it's only been in the last year that I've gained enough confidence to be able to approach someone at a conference or event and not feel paralyzed with the fear that the person has no desire to talk or interact with me.
The reason I write about this is because of an observation I made during Web 2.0. In reflecting on why more people seemed to speak me, I realized that it was directly related to the amount of effort I made in reaching out to other people. It's a "no d'uh" sort of discovery, but one that has taken a long time to reach.
From my experiences attending marketing conferences and executive conferences, I can say that when I attend technology conferences, the attendees are a very unique beast. You've got brilliant people mixed with brilliant, wealthy people mixed in with brilliant people who have an ample sprinkling of socially dysfunctional traits. I won't claim that I'm brilliant or wealthy, but I've got my good share of social dysfunction. The bad part is that this dysfunction can come across as standoffishness.
I've been trying to figure out what exactly made Web 2.0 different enough that I was more comfortable approaching people. Funnily enough, it wasn't the attendees or the schedule or anything about Six Apart -- it was something quite accidental, I think. The conference was incredibly crowded and the space didn't accommodate the numbers of attendees well. It was almost impossible not to bump into someone. Stressful at times, if you're a tad bit claustrophobic, the confined space forced people to mingle more. I'm not sure I'd recommend small spaces, large groups as a recipe for interaction but I think that for this conference (going for the vibe that there is a lot of buzz and activity right now), it worked.
As promised, I offer some brief impressions of the Web 2.0 conference that O'Reilly held last week in San Francisco. A very worthwhile conference with a buzz I've never quite experienced before. There's definitely a lot of life right now in our space and O'Reilly and Battelle were able to capture it well.
That Stepford Feeling
Picture a combination of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Stepford Wives. But instead of aliens or robots, they were Yahoo! and Google employees. Where did all my friends go and who are these people now wearing purple and yellow?
On my panel I made a comment about how after this last week at the conference, I think Web 2.0 is about consolidation. Believe me, I'm happy for those who have made the decision to exit through acquisition or to join these companies -- I certainly understand the attraction of selling and being able to have more resources, larger teams and large-company advantages. That said, it wasn't until this conference last week that I, personally, realized how Six Apart is not a small company nor a big company. I haven't felt so much like an in-betweener since I was eleven.
The buzz word of Web 2.0 was openness. If there is truth in this, then the big players and small players and medium players should all be able to work together. Hopefully, this is the case.
Oh my God! A real, live teenager!
The most enjoyable panel, by far, was the teenager consumption panel moderated by Safa Rashtchy, of Piper Jaffray. In watching these kids talk, I realized how infrequently we come in contact with teenagers -- at least this breed of social, functional teenager. They were candid and honest with their answers because they weren't on message or thought that there might be a "right" answer. Many of them expressed their distrust of media (particularly Fox News) in the same breath that they talked about their usage of MySpace. During the panel, the "did-you-know-that-there-is-no-Santa-Claus" person in me wanted to ask them if they knew who owned MySpace. I held back, thankfully.
After the panel I cornered one of the teenagers and enlightened him about the existence of Skype. He seemed genuinely excited. To his parents: I'm sorry.
My takeaway from this panel is that we need to see more people from the non-technical world talk about what they do with the Internet. Someone suggested that a panel just like this one, but with mothers and fathers, would be incredibly insightful.
Web 2.0 is People!
An oft-repeated phrase, Web 2.0 is people. Or rather, software, services and platforms that are enabling communications. On our panel, I was asked what type of company should Six Apart be considered as: a software company, media company or communications company? To a certain extent, I think we can be considered to be all three, though communications is by far our largest focus. I hope this is evident by what we're doing with Comet.
My takeaway from the conference?
A teenager working on web services at Yahoo! would be ultimate Web 2.0.
I've got a lot to say about the Web 2.0 conference that I've been attending this week in San Francisco. But before I take time to write a longer post, I've just got to clarify one thing I said in my panel today.
During the course of talking about weblogging and how communication has evolved, I made a comment that (as usual) didn't come out as I planned. Instead, I sounded like I said using LiveJournal is like smoking pot. What I meant to say was a summary of what Andre Torrez said on his weblog the other day:
Webloggers of 1999 don't equal bloggers in 2005. I really need to accept it and move on. I recently found out that a few people had migrated to LiveJournal (yes, LiveJournal. Really!) because they could set controls on who could read and have more freedom to write about things they didn't want etched in Google for eternity.
I was kind of shocked when saw the names of people who were on it. It's like when you're wandering around the party thinking people had gone home and then you find them all in the back-room smoking pot and giggling at a television that isn't even on.
The way we blog and communicate is changing and our own online practices are changing. The idea that there is still a conversation going on -- it's just morphing into something different -- is something worth talking about.
Anyway, just a clarification. More to come later.
It's October, which means it's officially be-retrospective-about-the-company month at Six Apart. We've got a lot of big milestones to celebrate in October, including the release of Movable Type in 2001, the release of TypePad in 2003 and the August Capital funding in 2004.
It's quite unbelievable that we've been doing this for four years.
In the last four years, I've told the story of Six Apart a lot. To keep the story somewhat fresh, I often try to recount a different anecdote each time I tell it. Often this causes me to go off the rails and start talking about the actual food I ate when we first met with Joi and Barak or the price of the first mini-refrigerator we bought when we moved into the first office.
One question I haven't been asked in long time was asked yesterday: At any point, did I ever want to just walk away from the company?
Until now, I don't think I have publicly written about many of the details of my life within Six Apart during the early years -- namely the four months prior to and after the initial TypePad launch. During this time, the stress that Ben and I experienced caused me to fall into a major depression in 2003 and I often did want to walk away from it all.
I often joke that entrepreneurs must have the same sort of hormone that tricks women into forgetting just how painful childbirth can be. If you can't remember the pain, then you'll reproduce again and again. The fact that I could even imagine starting another company leads me to think my brain has secreted enough chemicals to block out the fact that running a start-up or web service can really suck sometimes.
But it's amazing as well -- that's why we've been doing it for four years.
When I started my first blog, dollarshort.org, in April of 2001 I was twenty-three and in a nice little rut. Writing dollarshort.org was probably one of my biggest life-changing events -- not only did my blog allow me to make some of my closest friends but I was finally given that creative outlet I so needed. I think the same thing can be said about Six Apart.
Now that we're in October, I'd like to write a series of posts about the past the four years -- posts about the lessons we've learned and the experiences that we may not have talked about in too much detail.
And if you've got a question that you'd like me to answer about the past four years of Six Apart, I'd be interested in hearing it as well.