As many in the Blogosphere know, an undetermined number of blogs managed by Blogger, a free service offered by Google simply disappeared last week. For a number of days, bloggers were unable to even see their blogs, much less edit or post columns. Attempts to contact Blogger about the problem produced no response, except for a single automated e-mail response which neither addressed the problem nor promised a solution.
I published an open letter to Google/Blogger, wherein I thanked them for the convenience and affordability of Blogger, but also reminded them of the implicit responsibility they held in creating such a service. I also warned them that continued silence on the cause and remedy for the blog removals would create an impression they might wish to avoid. By this weekend, service had been restored to every Blog*Spot site which I knew to have been affected, but there had still been no explanation.
On Tuesday, March 21, I received an email response from Jason Goldman, the product manager at Blogger. I can’t be sure whether or not the email was a form letter, which in itself was something of a good sign and a bad one, simultaneously. Here is the text from that email:
“Those of us who work at Blogger do so because we want to give a voice to as many people as possible. That’s why it upset me to see that your blog was mistakenly removed from Blog*Spot last week.
I’d like to personally apologize for this mistake and assure you that your blog’s accidental removal was in no way reflective of a policy decision on the part of Google. As a result of this error, we have implemented additional controls on the tools used by our team. Also, it shouldn’t have taken this long to resolve the issue, and we apologize for the delay in restoring your site.
Please let me know if there’s anything else I can do.
Project Manager, Blogger”
First off, I think it is important to thank Mr. Goldman for his letter and accountability. When something like this happens, no one wants to be the person who has to step out and take responsibility. Whatever you think of Google, give Jason credit for answering the call to put out a rather large fire. Next, having seen some disasters myself, I am quite willing to believe the removal of these sites was accidental. To be blunt, if Google had wanted to delete a certain type of blog or site, they could have found a way to do so which wouldn’t have reflected on them the way this incident did. I can’t prove it, but I get the feeling that when the sites started disappearing, Blogger was not aware of it at first, having no process in place to track such a possibility, and also they had no idea what to do if that scenario happened. I find it easy to believe that the first couple days at Blogger were filled with confusion and panic – after all, if Google decided this whole ‘free blog’ thing was just making them look bad, they could just dump the project and fire everyone at Blogger. After all, other companies have done this sort of thing before, especially to avoid looking bad on the surface. Google, whatever else they have been up to, worked to get the blogs back up, and allowed Mr. Goldman to do his job. Sure, it would have been nice if the blogs had never disappeared, but then I would have liked to not have had to replace the oil pan on my car; stuff happens.
In the end, I only have one important piece of advice for Blogger and Mr. Goldman. We live in a rapid-fire age of information, and word spreads quickly, and what’s more, some of the most modest blogs are well-respected and get immediate attention in influential places. So, even though Blogger did not mean for this to happen, the silence which greeted blogger inquiries for so long created an impression, and not a good one. It would be a very good idea for Blogger to think about the possible worst-case events, and prepare statements to address them. In this case, it would have made a great difference if the Blogger Help page had immediately announced they knew there was a problem, and were working on it. By leaving up a page which seemed to claim nothing was wrong, and that a former problem had been completely fixed, Blogger made worried people into angry people. Last year, my company saw what happened during Hurricane Katrina, and so made preparations for responding to customers if we needed to close the company, which actually happened during the voluntary evacuation from the path of Hurricane Rita. The same kind of foresight and planning could really help Blogger avoid falling on its face again.
But all in all, I appreciate Blogger’s efforts to fix the problem and apologize for the accident. Thank you, Jason.