Sunday, May 31, 2009

Crikey - communicating to prevent the impression of single points of business failure (Alex is in Maui, Steve is at home)

don't speak by Aart van Bezooyen (materialboy) used under a Creative Commons License

One truism about small businesses is that they' If something happens to one person in a small business, it can potentially have an inordinately huge effect on the business. Even if someone else can cover the tasks performed by that person, there's always the danger of an impression that things AREN'T being covered.

A prime example has come up with weekend. On Saturday morning, Alex Payne tweeted the following:

En route to Maui. Feels so good to be travelling without a laptop.

Now there are probably millions of people who travel to Maui without a laptop. In fact, I know someone who took a combined business/vacation trip to Hawaii last week, and when the business was over and the vacation began, the spouse confiscated the person's smartphone. (Smart spouse.)

But that person, while critical to that person's employer, is not Alex Payne. And Alex Payne is perceived, for better or worse, as the technical person who makes Twitter run. So, when Twitter encountered a problem this weekend and was not correctly reporting sources of tweets from third-party services (see Louis Gray's post), this prompted Jesse Stay to make the following comment in this FriendFeed thread:

And Alex is in Maui without a laptop - that's why there's no response from Twitter - they probably don't know about it.

Now perhaps Jesse is right, or perhaps he's wrong, but the fact that Twitter has not communicated anything about this issue can lead to all sorts of speculation.

Of course, this issue is not limited to small companies. The same problem can occur when a prominent person at a publicly traded company is unavailable for some reason. For proof, just follow all of the comments in the last year-plus regarding Apple and a certain individual named Steve Jobs.

While there are valid arguments AGAINST communicating prematurely when you don't have the facts, there are also strong arguments for at least saying something, rather than allowing speculation to run rampant.

Which is why I'm now following the @lastfm account on Twitter, which posted this tweet roughly an hour ago:

Crikey, one of our data centers has overheated! We're fixing it as fast as we can, but the site will be down for a bit.

According to Twitter, this was submitted from the web. And perhaps Twitter may be right in this case. Or not. Crikey.
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