TypePad down: A reminder of why open standards matter

TypePad down: A reminder of why open standards matter

Summary: 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.

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TOPICS: Collaboration
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typepad.jpgRight 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.

typepad404.jpgThe 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."]

Topic: Collaboration

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  • Hosted's Not a Good Way to Go

    Anyone that is truly relying on their blog should buy blogging
    software and get a host, run their own, and have a direct domain
    name. In other words, control their own destiny. It's not that
    expensive.
    I use Expression Engine and couldn't be happier.
    PXLated
    • Hosted - YES WordPress - Why not!?

      All I have to say is that if your like EE you will LOVE WP. 2.0 offers some great new features to the already huge list of available features.
      I am trying to convince a good friend of mine that TypePad is not the answer for him - he wants so much more than the paid blog can offer him.

      Tim (http://timegriffin.us/blog/

      PS can't believe I filled out the application just to reply.. Man, can ZDNET ask for anything else? Blood, a foot, a few teeth... Please make your blog more community minded :-) Take the pain out of saying "Hello"!!
      griffhome@...
    • Hosted - YES WordPress - Why not!?

      All I have to say is that if your like EE you will LOVE WP. 2.0 offers some great new features to the already huge list of available features.
      I am trying to convince a good friend of mine that TypePad is not the answer for him - he wants so much more than the paid blog can offer him.

      Tim (http://timegriffin.us/blog/)

      PS can't believe I filled out the application just to reply.. Man, can ZDNET ask for anything else? Blood, a foot, a few teeth... Please make your blog more community minded :-) Take the pain out of saying "Hello"!!
      griffhome@...
    • Hosted - YES WordPress - Why not!?

      All I have to say is that if your like EE you will LOVE WP. 2.0 offers some great new features to the already huge list of available features.
      I am trying to convince a good friend of mine that TypePad is not the answer for him - he wants so much more than the paid blog can offer him.

      Tim (http://timegriffin.us/blog/)

      PS can't believe I filled out the application just to reply.. Man, can ZDNET ask for anything else? Blood, a foot, a few teeth... Please make your blog more community minded :-) Take the pain out of saying "Hello"!!
      griffhome@...
      • URL :-)

        make that link: http://timgriffin.us/blog ;-)
        griffhome@...
  • Open standards for data storage are rarely helpful with TPVs

    Mr. Berlind correctly points out all of the frustrations and difficulties of being tied to a particular service provider through a proprietary provider. However, open standards are only a small part of the solution, unless you are willing to accept an extremely thick client application (just about the thickest client out there). What exact problem would an "open standard" solve? Where in the process would this "open standard" be applied?

    In this example, I see two ways in which an open standard is useful. The first would be if all providers supported the importing/exporting of the data you have entered into their systems in a common, open format. The other way in which an open standard would be useful is if the service provider allowed you to import data from open format. This is only half of the previous solution, of course. The other half is to use a desktop application that supports this open format to create the file.

    It is in a provider's best interest to allow the importing of data into their system, because making it easy for a user to get their data in make it easy to get new customers. There's a reason why so many websites have a Microsoft Word import system, despite the technical difficulties with reading the Word format.

    However, exporting is NEVER in a service provider's ebst interest, as you've pointed out. Why would any provider make it easy for you, the customer to stop giving them money? They like their data flows to resemble funnels: easy to pour into from one direction, hard to pour out of from the other direction. Mr. Berlind mentioned exactly this in his article.

    This highlights the real problem at hand. Third Party Vendors. As I have written many times before, TPV's are the lowest of the low, and they are only going to make your life miserable. Without an *incredibly* thick client approach (using a desktop application to create the document, then importing that document into the website, provided it can accept that file format) to the problem, you will never get what you want, open standard or no open standard. No TPV will ever allow you to get your data out regardless of what format you would like to get it out in, regardless of what format you put it in as.

    You are already entering your data into TypePad in an open format: HTTP POST methods, using plain text with HTML (or some other type of markup language) to denote an extremely limited set of instructions, such as "bold", "highlight", "hyperlink", and so forth. It would be trival for you to simply compose your articles in Notepad (vi, emacs, OpenOffice, whatever) using basic HTML, save them locally, and then do a search/replace on the document to convert the HTML tags to whatever that vendor's markup language is.

    But Mr. Berlind doesn't want this approach. He wants to be able to export his data from a TPV in a format that anyone else can read (thus, the open format/standards slant of the article). To repeat myself for the umpteenth time, NO TPV WILL EVER ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN. If you want to have control over your data, you cannot use a TPV, that is all there is to it. The only reason why even a basic web host allows you to get your data out is because you put it there with FTP, and can get it out with FTP. Why do you think webhosts love online site editors? Because it makes it easy for them to make it difficult for you to get your data out. As soon as your data gets into a TPV's system by any method which accepts input from you in a method that is even the slightest different from any way you can read the data back from them, you have lost the game and are locked in.

    Open standards are simply irrelevant in this situation. Email is a great example. All email gets sent using the SMTP protocol. But what happens once it gets to the server? Let's pretend that the TPV for the email is using sendmail or qmail, and storing the email in either mbox or maildir formats. Again, quite standard and open formats. But if you are using a webmail TPV, you're doomed. You will never be able to easily get your email off of their server, unless you want to forward it to another email account. If your TPV allows you to use POP3 (an open standard) to retreive the mail, then you will get to see the mail exactly as the mail standards allow, untouched one bit.

    Mr. Berlind, your complaint here is actually not about open standards or formats, but about TPVs. If you are truly serious about having a web domain, you need to be running your own server. That is the only way to control your data in the manner which you crave. As soon as you allow the TPV to control your data in the slightest, you have lost all control. What format they store the data in behind the scenes is now irrelevant, as they will never let you access it in any format except for viewing it in HTML generated by their application.

    J.Ja
    Justin James
  • Dump TypePad, Make the Switch - Free

    First, I'm not affiliated with the company in any way, just a satisfied
    web developer/user.
    pMachine, the developers of Expression Engine just released a new
    version this evening. But most importantly, they released a free
    basic blogging version called "Core". Has all the functionality that
    TypePad users would probably want and if they really want to
    expand into advanced features, they can migrated to the full
    version of EE for a reasonable price at some point.
    Really lets one take control of their blog.
    PXLated
  • TypePad leads in standards support.

    I work with Six Apart, the makers of TypePad. We've been leaders in the standardization of blogging formats (including the recently IETF-ratified Atom standard) for years, and have created the reference open source implementations of a variety of formats for over four years now.

    More to the point, the reason the directions you point out are so convoluted is because many *other platforms do not support standard import/export APIs* to the same degree TypePad does. We've had direct export functionality built into our platform from day one, based on our belief that it helps our users trust us to do the right thing.

    You say "Now, imagine if all blogging solutions conformed to a standard storage format."

    That IETF standard is Atom. We helped creat it. We were the first professional hosted blogging service to support it. We took a lot of grief from competitors or industry analysts for making that step. And we've been unequivocal in supporting the format (unlike some of the other platforms mentioned) ever since. It's just not accurate to use our downtime as a hook for implying that we don't have the best open standards support in the industry, because we do.

    In regard to TypePad's downtime, we are deeply sorry that we have had this outage, but the service is back up and running now and no posts were lost. We'll be updating more on that in the future.
    anil@...
  • OPen Standards are not the answer to every problem

    It's appealing to suggest open standards as the solutiion to the blog switching problem or document recovery at the State of MA, but thsi represents either a pretty significant misunderstanding of the environment or a Pollyanna-like belief that "we can all just get along."
    Open standards limit innovation to the standard-owners -- which may well be a single company or a consortium. It works work well for well-defined problems where the pace of innovation is slow. Sure you could standardise blog formats or document content standards, but it would mean tht new features -- ones we haven't seen yet -- would either happen at the pace of the standards body (or not at all) or that they'll happen on top of (outside) the standard, which will induce the incompatibility you see. Blogs and documents are still evolving like crazy so standarsd wont do much to make document or blog platforms instantly interchanagable.
    It's good to look for standards where they are appropriate, but they aren't the answer to all of the tech world's ills.
    In addition, where standards might help, we need to be thoughtful about which aspects of the technology should be standardised, with full understanding that standards imply tradeoffs.
    cjreeves_z
  • An example of why web services will never work...

    And now one outage can disable thousands of users... If it's not the service supplier itself then its the carriers who have defeated the self-repairing fabric of the Internet by routing traffic through single wire choke points. A recent Verizon outage for the entire state of Florida was traced to a single cable cut in Georgia. And now they want to charge based upon how special your 'bits' are compared to other's 'bits'... Open standards defeated by greed indeed.
    Steven J. Ackerman
  • Caution...

    We can debate the merits of scale all day long. From everything I've seen, this was a predictable outtage. The fact certain factors came together is neither here nor there.

    6A - and - from what I can understand others in this Web 2.0 bubble - have not been tackling scale very well. And deliberately in the race to feature whizz bang stuff.

    Not a good idea when you're looking at this from a business perspective.

    It's curious the blogosphere has remained relatively silent about this isn't it?
    dahowlett@...
  • Serving Customers

    As a one-man-band, it is appealing to me to operate a business in such a way that the customer can always walk away at any time, their having everything they need to migrate elsewhere. It might not be easy, but that won't be because I'm in the way.

    In that respect, open standards really matter to ensure alternatives and a genuine prospect of migration. And for a small software business, a high level of transparency of operation is called for too, and standards help immeasurably with that. (I'm too small an operator to hope to have much of serious proprietary advantage other than my commitment and know-how.)

    I think it takes courage for a larger firm to be able to do that, just as it takes something to fully open-source ones work in the face of someone forking the effort or of making proprietary improvements. Yet I don't know any better way to build trust.
    orcmid
  • host your own blog if it's critical

    Blogger goes down often -- or it used to. LiveJournal disappears for hours at a time. Now TypePad is choking. It happens, leaving those who rely on hosted blogs vulnerable. If it's critical to you or your buiness, host your own blog.

    We moved from Six Apart products a while ago, both because the company transformed their Movable Type blog software licensing into one that was no longer cost-effective for our customers, because the amount of content grew bigger than the MT engine could handle, and because there was no upgrade path that we could discern. TypePad was not an option because it's an entry-level blogging system and doesn't provide what we need (mainly, control).

    We looked around, very carefully, and settled upon ExpressionEngine by pMachine (pmachine.com). Best decision we could've made. Now they are offering a free core version for those who don't need all the bells and whistles such as the gallery module -- with clear upgrade paths and a company highly responsive to it user community.

    Also, it's not true that you can't get your data out of TypePad, or MT, or even Blogger. Most applications that we've had to work with in converting clients to ExpressionEngine have easy-to-use export functions. Moving the entry data from one blogging setup to another was the easiest part of the process.

    So for those left high and dry when TypePad chokes: get your own domain name, host your own blog (hosting is cheap) with PHP and at least one MySQL database, check out ExpressionEngine. Transferring to a new blogging system is NOT that hard if you just do it step by step.
    wordsilk
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