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Skype’s IT department must have balls of steel


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You need to have balls of steel to publish the following note on the frontpage of Skype.com:

This was published at 11am, Friday morning, London time:

Hello all,

Here’s the latest on the sign-on problem. We’re on the road to recovery. Skype is stabilizing, but this process may continue throughout the day. An encouraging number of users can now use Skype once again. We know we’re not out of the woods yet, but we are in better shape now than we were yesterday.

I don’t care a jiffy, a jot or a weeeeeeeee bit for what ‘shape’ you’re in.

There is only one valid state for a communications network and that is ON.

Not ‘in better shape’. That’s not helping anyone. Least of all me, when I log on at MIDNIGHT — almost half a day later and find that no one’s bothered to update anything for TWELVE HOURS.

Finally, we’d like to dispel a couple of theories that we are still hearing. Neither Wednesday’s planned maintenance of our web-based payment services nor any form of attack was related to the current sign-on issues in any way.

So presumably, then, it was just a class-A screw up then? An avoidable screw-up?

I’ve got a theory, I wonder if you could dispel it:

THEORY: Skype’s information technology team are inept.

Got another theory for you..

THEORY: Skype’s public relations is dire. Have a read of this. Remember, as you’re reading, Skype is/was a billion dollar company, right? OWNED by another BILLION dollar company.

We’ll update you again as soon as we can. Thanks for hanging tight.

Sorry, did you just say ‘hang tight”? Can you imagine Arun Sarin doing a press conference and asking their millions of customers to ‘hang tight’?

Are you, Mr Skype, an international communications service, or are you a start-up who’s just had their only server burn up because of load and because you’re just waiting for the venture capital cheque to clear?

Please see our Heartbeat blog for ongoing updates.

UPDATED 17 August, 2007 11:00 GMT

Yup, I and a million other people have been ‘seeing’ your Heartbeat blog which says exactly the same thing and it’s almost MIDNIGHT.

WON’T SOMEBODY PLEASE BUY THESE PEOPLE SOME PUBLIC RELATIONS PROFESSIONALS.

There’s a mindset issue at Skype that needs a total rejig.

There’s ACTUALLY a note on the Skype Heartbeat blog that reads ‘Looking slightly better’.

What the hell? I am absolutely 100% bemused that a company of the status and apparent reputation of Skype is actually allowing this level of high-school language.

When you’re providing a free service that’s shoved out to the market ‘as is’, then fine. We’ll be your friends. You can write to me like I’m your best buddy and it’s a minor inconvenience that your service has been Class-F for the best part of 24 hours.

But when you’re a BILLION DOLLAR company and when I’m PAYING you for what I expect to be decent service, the model changed.

It changed a long time ago, boyo.

We’re not you’re mates. We’re not your best buddies. Don’t tell us what’s encouraging, don’t ask us to ‘hang tight’, don’t tell us about your shape and don’t go ANYWHERE NEAR giving us the ‘out of the woods yet’ rubbish.

I waited ’til after midnight on Friday evening (so it’s 00:05) on Saturday morning before publishing this, just in case there was another update due.

Ah well.

Let me finish with this quote from the Heartbeat blog.

August 16th, 10pm London

Apologies for the delay, but we can now update you on the Skype sign-on issue. As we continue to work hard at resolving the problem, we wanted to dispel some of the concerns that you may have.

Ok, this was tolerable. The problems hadn’t really been going on for that long so this update was fine. Er, but wait ’til you read this next line.

The Skype system has not crashed or been victim of a cyber attack. We love our customers too much to let that happen.

But, we don’t love our customers THAT much to properly invest in our infrastructure to make it work. Breathtaking.

On to a bit of a technical explanation.

This problem occurred because of a deficiency in an algorithm within Skype networking software. This controls the interaction between the user’s own Skype client and the rest of the Skype network.

Fix it then.

Fix the deficiency.

Or roll-back to the last known good version.

Or switch on the redundant one.

Or get that guy, you know, the shit-hot programmer dude, to work out a fix to get the damn thing live and operational, somehow, somewhere.

Rest assured that everyone at Skype is working around the clock — from Tallinn to Luxembourg to San Jose — to resume normal service as quickly as possible.

A valid response at 10pm on Thursday night. Rather empty at 12 minutes past midnight on Saturday morning.

It’s also invalid for me to scream ‘work harder’.

It’s not about hard work. Or about asking for patience. If you choose to play in the big world of telecommunications, step up and understand that downtime is simply not an option. It’s not a consideration, it’s not a fall-back position.

Downtime for a carrier is past being embarrassing. It’s past a joke, a bit of matey language and a wink. Every second of downtime is a constant reminder that you’re shit.

There’s no other perspective that fits. Your job is to provide the facilities to enable communication. It is our expectation that when I load Skype that it works. I don’t want any doubt at ALL.

Now, well.

I just can’t get over how the Skype CEO can tolerate it.

I’d be going absolutely nuts. I couldn’t accept downtime. And if it was a catastrophic failure — as this appears to be — I’d be all over Youtube with an explanation, a deep apology. I’d want to see regret and exasperation mixed with deep reserves of energy and enthusiasm to demonstrate that they’re working on it.

I’d clear the frontpage of Skype totally and replace it with a live blog updated every 30 minutes, typed personally by the CEO and/or his chief officers (obviously, where practical).

Why clear the frontpage? Well, because 90%+ of the visitors to the site will be visiting to find out what’s screwed up. They, like me, are going to be mightily unimpressed at being offered to ‘find out more’ about Skype Pro or finding a link to download Skype. What use is that when your service is Class-F and has been like that for … well, it’ll shortly be ‘days’.

I’d also expect an email in my inbox to a) explain what’s going on, b) link me to the CEO’s video explanation and c) apologise profusely. I’d also want to know when I’m next getting an update.

Or……. am I being unreasonable? Maybe it’s just not that big a deal?
Is Niklas Zennstrom not really bothered?

Well, I suppose I need to flick on my not-bothered switch too. And just use Google Talk more.

Dan, Anthony and Alex, you’re generally the only ones I *actually* type to on Skype regularly, so how about it? Get me on Google Talk from now on.

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

16 replies on “Skype’s IT department must have balls of steel”

This has been a disaster for Skype and I agree with your comments above. But, as most of its users are only using the free service I don’t see Skype Management taking much notice of any rants!
This does not mean Skype don’t owe it to their users to supply a perfect service as its them who decided to make the basic service free of charge. I was personally thinking of using Skype In, guess what, the jury is out on that now!!! Lets see what they do and tell us how they are making sure this does not happen again.

Thanks.

You’re too mean! A problem may occur to everyone. Maybe ok… they did not handled the problem professionally but it is not fair to threat them that way. Everyone can make mistakes even you!

Bozzu: EBay paid £1.4bn for Skype… are you saying that with that kind of resources it’s acceptable to be down for this long?

Consumer/Prosumer VoIP has become like air… it’s free and nobody wants to pay for it. It’s true value is only realised when it’s no longer available.

I’ve never liked Skype and I’ve only ever knowingly used it at most three times, it’s far too proprietary.. you want to make free calls? use a SIP provider or get something like GizmoProject, at least they interop with other open-standards based VoIP solutions, meaning if one provider goes down, the rest of the world still operates just fine.

Can I say “I told you so” now?

At the end of the day, people who benefit from a free service have much lower expectations and are likely to be more forgiving. Even those people like myself who are able to run a virtual office on the back of skype and who actually pay for the service are likely to be tolerant provided this is a one off. When I fly with Easyjet all I expect of them is to arrive at my destination in one piece. I am much more critical if things go wrong with a ‘proper’ airline. The only paying customers are mostly very small companies in the start up phase of the business cycle who realise there are much more integrated VOIP/telecoms solutions than Skype but just dont want to (or can’t) pay for them. I am really annoyed with Skype this week, more because of their completely inadequate PR but if they sort this mess out I will just get on with it. If this happens again I dont know if I could stomach another 2 days like this.

I actually found their response refreshing. No hiding behind impenetrable spin or corporate lawyers with smoke and mirrors … a simple response. They now say on their website that they are back to normal and apologise and thank all for their patience with a full explanation to follow on Monday. I find that there are very few companies in this day and age who will hold their hands up and say they have messed up and are doing their best to sort it. I personally think your rant about a system that is not marketed as a mission critical business service a tad harsh and indicative of our instant fix, blame culture. Maybe you would prefer them to do the responsible corporate thing and lie and point the finger of blame elsewhere that would be expected from a number of their contemporaries.

Lets wait and see what the fuller explanation of what happened reaches us before we start burning effigies.

I think Ewan’s point can be summarised as simply this…

More information on what is going on.
Don’t write ‘at’ us like school kids.
Update us more often, even if it is a “still working on it… xyz was done so far”.

I have stayed well away from Skype for many reasons, and now that Ebay have them I will never touch them unless they are the only remain form of communication. That’s my own choice. This recent episode just goes to back up what I often think really.

You say not mission critical… fair enough…. there are other options, like a normal phone…. BUT… what if you could not get in your front door of your house? Yes, there are other ways in, but that is not really the point is it? If there was someone on the other side just saying “you can come in some time… maybe” you would be annoyed. Perhaps not the best analogy, but one that runs quite well at midnight on a saturday after a beer and a pizza.. 😉

So Ewan… although I found your “writing style” a little harsh, I agree with your points entirely!

David
http://www.davidgeere.com

Well written and very accurate in my opinion. I have missing money issues with Skype as well as suffering the outage and it would appear that Skypes PR team are on par with their Customer support team, piss poor performers. I’ll be another leaving Skype for good.

I absolutely agree with Ewan’s original entry – the communication was mind-numbingly dismissive. Their update on Saturday was pretty light but the CEO has now at least updated their home page:

Hello everyone,

It’s been a very hectic few days around Skype but I am really pleased to say that since the early hours of Saturday morning Skype has been back to normal. I’d like to take this opportunity to say a big, heart-felt thank you to all our users who contacted us with messages of support. It’s the little things that make all the difference in a crisis. We’re very sorry that Skype was unavailable because we know how much people enjoy using it. But we’re back now and we’re stronger. For more information about what happened, please take a look at our Heartbeat blog. In the meantime, thank you to everyone again – you make the Skype community what it is today.

Niklas Zennström
CEO, Skype

The suggestion is that they’re a bunch of very tired chaps who’ve really been struggling with a very nasty little problem. He thanks those that offered support. Is he implicitly telling the 99.9% of frustrated users to get stuffed!

Holy cow. You seem a bit uptight and harsh. Or shall I say, your attitude reflects a slight flaw that enables you to perceive experiences as a mere Human and not a perfect machine – this flaw also prevents you from showing a balanced form of compassion and understanding. Minus the PR bullshit…… what that means is that you have become another tech drone. Always demanding everything run perfect all the time everywhere in every way – or else! Lol. lol. lol. Get used to being frustrated for the rest of your life. Or maybe you could learn to relax for gods sake. Tech drones everywhere I go. : ) Always bitching. Always better than everyone else. I would much rather a company talk real with me. Rather than some PR guy blow smoke up my ass. No matter what is going on.

Holy cow. You seem a bit uptight and harsh. Or shall I say, your attitude reflects a slight flaw that enables you to perceive experiences as a mere Human and not a perfect machine – this flaw also prevents you from showing a balanced form of compassion and understanding. Minus the PR bullshit…… what that means is that you have become another tech drone. Always demanding everything run perfect all the time everywhere in every way – or else! Lol. lol. lol. Get used to being frustrated for the rest of your life. Or maybe you could learn to relax for gods sake. Tech drones everywhere I go. : ) Always bitching. Always better than everyone else. I would much rather a company talk real with me. Rather than some PR guy blow smoke up my ass. No matter what is going on.

Holy cow. You seem a bit uptight and harsh. Or shall I say, your attitude reflects a slight flaw that enables you to perceive experiences as a mere Human and not a perfect machine – this flaw also prevents you from showing a balanced form of compassion and understanding. Minus the PR bullshit…… what that means is that you have become another tech drone. Always demanding everything run perfect all the time everywhere in every way – or else! Lol. lol. lol. Get used to being frustrated for the rest of your life. Or maybe you could learn to relax for gods sake. Tech drones everywhere I go. : ) Always bitching. Always better than everyone else. I would much rather a company talk real with me. Rather than some PR guy blow smoke up my ass. No matter what is going on.

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