Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Good Explanations

When much-loved IP telephony service Skype had a major outage, users wanted to know why. Their explanation sounded pretty weak:

The widespread failure of Skype’s Internet telephony service last week happened when millions of Windows users tried to log in to the system at the same time, after downloading a software update from Microsoft and rebooting their machines, Skype said Monday.

Users encountered problems logging on to Skype’s VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) service early Thursday morning, leaving them unable to connect until Saturday.

Skype said that the load placed on its system as computers rebooted after receiving a routine set of patches from Microsoft’s Windows Update service revealed a previously unknown bug in the Skype software.

So everything crashed because everyone rebooted and tried to log on. (Yes, there's more to it than that... but the problem speaks to some basic capabilities of Skype's network.)

Whether it's smart or not, a lot of people have come to depend on Skype; this isn't exactly a confidence builder. (And I can't help but wonder if Skype's software didn't have the obnoxious default of logging in when you start your computer if they might not have had this problem.)

And so people aren't buying it:

Microsoft releases its security patches on the second Tuesday of each month, so this type of widespread restarting is nothing new. Skype hasn't said what in particular about August's updates led to the network crash, and its vagueness on the issue is causing some Skype users to cry foul.

"What was different this time from previous [Microsoft] updates?" asked Jim Courtney, a business consultant based in Mississauga, Ontario, and a contributor to the Skype Journal Web site.

Skype business partners want to know what went wrong and, more importantly, what steps the company has taken to ensure the problem won't happen again. "They've got to explain what they've done to increase the peer-to-peer network resources ... and they haven't done that," Courtney said.

Andrew Hansen, whose company designs software to work on the Skype network, said he's scratching his head over Skype's explanation of the problem. "What was released by their PR agency doesn't make any sense at all," he said.

When things go terribly wrong, as they did for Skype, a company has to be very open - particularly with business partners. It sounds like these partners just getting the same press releases as everyone else; is it any wonder that, with their own businesses riding on Skype's ability to provide its service properly, that they're not too happy about what they're hearing?

Sounds like Skype needs some crisis communications help.

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