Once You're Lucky, Twice You're Good, Open Source Software, Silicon Valley, Twitter, Web/Tech

Yesterday: International Pile on Twitter Day!

Yesterday Twitter seemed to be all anyone wrote about between stories of chief architect Blaine Cook leaving, accounts of personal messages getting exposed and Twitter Japan launching with ads. Oh, and a spate of new Twitter third party applications. They're like multiplying rabbits those Twitter apps!

While a lot of the news seems negative, the thing to keep in mind is that the pile on and scaling issues are all happening because the exact people who LOVE twitter are loudmouthed, opinionated and rely on Twitter as a tool to broadcast themselves. (Present company included!) When it’s down, we miss it. So it's actually an endorsement.

It reminds me a bit of the Salesforce.com outages several years ago. Customers were screaming and gnashing their teeth when they couldn’t access the application for a few hours, or worst case, a day. Never mind that legacy software programs are down all the time. But when you design a Web application right, people get lulled by its ease of use and reliability and count on it to just work. Put another way, sales people were actually using SFA software for the first time, so they missed it when it was down.

The other issue with Twitter seems to be the vulnerability that comes with people are experiencing your brand through third party applications. I’ve found Twitterific to be tremendously buggy all of the sudden, so I now just use the Web browser or my phone. I was thinking about trying out some of the newer clients and services but Orli’s experience certainly makes me re-think that.

It’s similar to what I’m going through with Zimbra, the open source email client Yahoo bought for a whopping $350 million last year. The first time I saw the demo for Zimbra I thought it was the Firefox for email. It solved so many things I hated about Outlook that I didn’t even realize I hated. When I left BusinessWeek to write my book, I wanted a Microsoft-free existence, so I got Zimbra. (Yes, I realize the irony that I’m on a train down to my part-time job at Yahoo, which will likely soon be owned by Microsoft, making my life more Microsoft-full than ever.)

Satish Dharmaraj, Zimbra’s CEO, recommended a certain service provider and it has been a constant nightmare. Service outages, buggy software, mis-billing me—all kinds of problems. Almost all of them are the fault of the service provider, not Zimbra, but I only know that because I’ll periodically have dinner with Satish and gripe. At which point he cries. Not really, but he does shake his head and say "I'm so sorry I recommended them." But if I were a normal customer, I would just blame (and hate) Zimbra.

This is the Achilles Heel of a lot of these open source  or distributed Web business models—in trying to save money, you’re giving up control of your brand. It’s a big reason Zimbra sold to Yahoo—to be part of a big enough organization to do their own support. It's a different business with a consumer product like Twitter. But I am finding myself wishing they developed more of their own desktop and Web apps.


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