It’s nice to be told when systems fail

(This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)

The wee meltdown that meant our lovely newspaper wasn’t published on Tuesday shows how damaging technology can be when it decides to have a bad day.

The whole frustrating situation showed both sides of technology: the agonising epic failure of no printed newspaper on one side of the coin with the ability to get the message out there via our website to let readers know what was happening.

NewspaperRollThings go wrong and, while people with a whole lot more technical ability than me are trying to work out what it was that went wrong to prevent it from happening again, I’m pleased to say we probably handled the whole owning-up-to-a-techno-drama situation much better than Telecom did when its Yahoo!Xtra online mail system had a few issues on Monday.

I was at home bonding with Norman the newbie cat, who was sleeping soundly on my shoulder. Instead of waking her to go upstairs to my home office, I decided to use my laptop to check my email.

This was late morning, and I got an error message.

A check on Telecom’s “service status and alerts” page showed there were no issues, but when I went back to check my email again, the same error-code-15 taunted me.

My next move was to see what was happening on the Trade Me message board, because if it is not being talked about there, it’s probably not worth knowing.

And yes, there they were: disgruntled Yahoo!Xtra online mail users bemoaning the fact that they couldn’t access their messages.

I went back to the mail again and clicked on the link to report the error, but simply got a message saying Telecom knew about it and it should be sorted in a couple of hours.

It wasn’t.

In fact, like a lot of those disgruntled people on Trade Me, I wasn’t able to access my email until after 6pm.

In all that time, there still wasn’t any indication of a problem on the Telecom service status and alerts page. This point was made by several stranded mail users who were starting to think there was a problem with their computer or that they had somehow screwed up their mail settings. So, come on, Telecom: when there’s an issue you know about, at least note it on your alerts page.

You might save some of your customers a whole lot of stress and frustration.

I understand that things go wrong and so do most users, but there’s no excuse for not owning up to the problem.

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