Right now, as I type this blog, TypePad is down and I'm rather certain of it; there are thousands of TypePad users every where that are steaming mad. If you're one of the many TypePad users who has chosen to host their blog on the Web-based service from SixApart and you've been trying to login to your blog in order to update it, you'll see something like the partial screen shot I'm displaying to the left. As someone who knows first hand about the post and post often gestalt of blogging, I can't imagine being locked out of my publishing system for hours -- particularly if I've got something I want to publish. But there's something else about the error message that isn't going to sit right with TypePad's customers. It's basically telling customers that the only problem is with TypePad's authoring side when that's not the case. Says the message:
TypePad is currently unavailable for maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience. During this time, your weblog is available for reading and viewing, but you won't be able to log in to TypePad to post, and visitors will not be able to comment on weblogs.
The statement is misleading because, as it turns out, TypePad's Weblogs are not available for reading and viewing. At least not in their entirety. As you can see from the 404 message pictured to the right, the problems that are plaguing the authoring side are impacting the viewing side too. Some blogs, like Steve Rubel's Micropersuasion, are apparently available for viewing. But the posts made in the last six or seven days have vanished. So, now, not only do TypePad's users have a problem, so do those of us whose RSS feeds are filled with subscriptions to bloggers that are hosting their blogs on TypePad. For me, my feed is populated with a bunch of blog entries that I have an interest in writing about. At least I think I do (based on their headlines). I can't see them.
Not only isn't this very good customer service, this isn't the first time in recent months that TypePad has had problems. Last month, because of all the troubles TypePad users were having, SixApart apparently offered its customers 45 days of free service in hopes of quelling an uprising of the natives (the sort that some companies never recover from). But now that the problems are persisting, this will most certainly be the last straw for some (unless TypePad gives them something like 6 months or a year for free). After all, if you can't deliver the very service that people are paying you for, it stands to reason that you should stop charging for it until you prove you can (for a sustainable period of time). But for the people whose livelihoods depend on the service and who are considering a switch, now comes the question of how difficult such a switch might be.
In a lot of what I've written over the years -- and especially over the last several weeks regarding the potential benefits of completely open standards like the OpenDocument Format -- I've cited some of the reasons that good IT strategies (for individuals as well as enterprises) should understand why going with standards (versus proprietary technologies) are so empowering. Believe it or not, buyers of information technology have been known to become dissatisfied with the cost, stability, performance, or security of the solutions they're using. In TypePad's, I'd say stability is clearly a problem. With Microsoft Office, some people think its expensive for what it does (compared to other solutions; both open and closed source). Actually, considering what Office does, it's actually a pretty decent value. Some of us who've been in computers for 20 or more years remember when just a spreadsheet program -- one that does far less than what today's spreadsheet products do -- cost more than what an entire suite costs today. But even though that might put a more palatable perspective on the value, it doesn't change the fact that other products that cost far less are considered by some to be an amazing value (different from "decent"). I digress.
The point is that there will probably be some TypePad users that want to switch. But the problem, as evidenced by this WikiPedia entry on moving from TypePad to Wordpress (just one alternative to switch to) is that it's not exactly like you can go to the new system and with a few clicks, be off to the races. There's work involved. Exporting. Importing. And other geeky stuff. The stuff that makes switching difficult. And that stuff is very different from one new alternative to the next (there are many). It's actually in TypePad's best interests for it to be this difficult. Just in case, for example, they stop doing a good job of meeting your needs and you start thinking about switching. Now, imagine if all blogging solutions conformed to a standard storage format. Maybe something like OPML. Or even the OpenDocument Format. I'm sure there are proponents of these and other standards that could argue why their standard makes sense. I'm not here to debate that today (maybe another, but maybe after the holidays). I'm just here to say, this is a perfect example of why it makes sense to go with solutions that are based on standards. If you don't, then you're giving your solution provider more control over your data than it deserves; something you should never be so cavalier with.
(Transparency note: I sent an email to TypePad for official comment but have not yet heard back. When I do, I'll update the blog).
[Update 2:54pm PST: SixApart has issued a status report: "..we will be restoring photos and files that you've uploaded to TypePad this week. To reiterate, we have no reason to believe that any of your photos or files have been lost, and expect to have them restored to your blog by the end of the weekend."]