How long can your software remain broken?

February 14, 2011
I was very pleased this morning to see Seesmic roll out a bug fix for its Desktop 2 app (Silverlight).

I'm an ex-HootSuite user—one that was quite satisfied with that platform's offering until their commercial release completely missed the price point. I first became a Seesmic user by way of their mobile app for Android. It's a genuine pleasure to use, particularly if you're managing multiple accounts (and I manage over half a dozen). I'm not completely sold on Seesmic Web as a HootSuite web replacement, but on my Windows PC there's no question: I love Seesmic Desktop 2. I tested a slew of alternatives including the almighty Tweetdeck before I found myself hooked on this slick, functional, beautiful product.

Naturally, it was fairly irritating when I updated the SD2 software on January 18 and found that my ability to share URLs had been broken. Apparently, URLs shared by Seesmic's automatic shortening were unaffected, but for people like me who use their own preferred shortener and paste in the link, these were stripped by the app in the process of posting them to Twitter. Maddening. Embarrassing, too.

I can't fault their customer support, @AskSeesmic, for their willingness to help. At least three personnel managing that account contacted me about my problem, even when I didn't go out of my way to direct a complaint to Seesmic. Clearly they're scanning constantly for mention of their brand. But I'm very disappointed with the length of time it took to offer a fix or a workaround.

After remaining broken for two weeks, I honestly wondered who was more foolish: Seesmic for allowing the problem to persist that long, or me for holding on foolishly with my own self-discovered workaround—double-posting all my URLs to ensure that one would make it through.

So what went wrong? I don't know, but here are some of the options that I would have found acceptable:
  • A temporary re-allocation of programming resources to fix the problem in a reasonable amount of time, say, one week.
  • An emergency update containing a warning about the buggy update, and an option to rollback to the previous, working version.
  • Better communication. If the software developers knew that the URL-dropping problem could be avoided by using SD2's internal shortening feature, they could have mentioned this to @AskSeesmic, who might have tweeted me. They could also have emailed me directly, seeing as I filed a bug report and exchanged several emails with their patient and helpful rep Christine Wong.
Instead, none of those things happened. Inexplicably, I hung on to my broken software  until I received an update today: four weeks after my software was bugged.  That's just too long, particularly for a company in the process of investigating the business value of their product. Last week, Seesmic sent me a survey that seemed to be reaching for just that. I was initially pleased to see that they'd written, because I hoped it was a helpful response in line with one of my wishlist items above, but... no.  And instead, it looks like they may be following in HootSuite's footsteps.

Here's my take-away from this experience. Another list of things that shouldn't need to be said, but I'll say them anyway because nothing about this last month with SD2 has made sense to me:
  • Leaving free users with broken software reduces your total install base. I'm certain many fled to Tweetdeck in the last month, because there are few reasons not to like it.
  • Leaving one piece of software broken for too long a time undermines user trust. If you'll do that with your Product 'X', what's the chances you won't do that with Product 'Y' or Product 'Z'?
  • Leaving any piece of software broken for a significant length of time undermines your firm's credibility and appearance of competence. Who's running the show there? How many projects are being juggled concurrently? There's either poor management, or too many offerings.
  • It's irrational to expect that free users who have observed this management or endured these problems will convert to paying customers.
I'm sticking with Seesmic, but they have some trust to earn back and some more thinking to do before they venture into business.

4 comments:

  1. Hello Todd,

    nice to meet you I am sorry it's under these circumstances, I'm the founder & CEO of Seesmic.

    first, thank you for your kind words about loving Seesmic Desktop and I am happy to hear that you were impressed by our "customer" service on Twitter, we indeed pay a lot of attention to our users, as much as we can, and we still miss many questions as we get a lot of feedback.

    second, my apologies for this problem which has appeared despite the quality testing we do at each release. I agree, it must have been annoying and we could have handled it differently. I agree too, we could have solved it faster for you instead of annoying some users. Yet, when you think about it, it's software and not a web page and software takes always more time. We do a standard quality testing at each release with bug fix that can take weeks, so in the 4 weeks period there is a quality pass which we can't really make shorter. We can't fix and push, we have to test, as changes in any software can have other consequences and Seesmic Desktop2 is a pretty complex app that does many things.

    We have an internal conversation going on about your post and how we can improve, but please be sure that we're doing everything we can to avoid this and value your feedback. I agree, it's not that it's free that excuses bugs. On the other hand, my friend Reid Hoffman founder of LinkedIn says "if you are not ashamed of your product when you launch, you launch too late" and we're trying to not be ashamed and launch fast at the same time.

    I hope my comment help earn back some trust into Seesmic and our team, we're glad you are using it. Out of curiosity since you value our work, and since apparently you were unhappy about our competitors pricing, how much are you willing to pay for an app / service such as ours or our competitors? Quality and customer service has a cost, it's totally fine to be very demanding and I am very demanding in quality too, but are you ready to pay somehow something or you just want free free free?

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  2. Hi Loic,

    Nice to meet you, too. I'm gratified that you took the time to read and respond to this personally. Thank you, and thanks also for acknowledging that I do have good things to say about your software even though I've been disappointed in the last month.

    No, I don't expect "free free free" =) but I do think that HootSuite priced themselves out of my range with a cost of $71.88 a year. I understand the model that tries to make 1-5% of the customers that pay compensate for the 95-99% of users that do not, I just think that HS asked too much. Maybe that's how their numbers crunched, or perhaps they were just gambling that with their significant userbase they would convert more powerusers than they alienated.

    (For that matter, and with genuine respect to Mr. Hoffman, LinkedIn's paid service is also too steep for me to justify.)

    Right now I pay for Internet services in the range of $20/year (e.g. Schedules Direct) to $35/year (e.g. Skype), and I think that's very reasonable, even if I have to pay a year in advance to get the discount (Skype is $26.91 for 12 months pre-paid: a great bargain). If SD2 were in that range, I'd buy it. I'd also pay for the mobile Android app (either separately, or as a bundle with SD2) because it's marvelously designed and simple to use (which can't be said for HS's app).

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  3. thank you Todd, glad we connect too and very interesting feedback.

    I would love to keep that conversation going, do you use Seesmic for your personal management of social networks or for your business?

    What are the key features you'd like us to build on desktop and android which we don't have yet?

    thanks!

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  4. I work for government and I use Seesmic both as a way to connect with others professionally, as well as handling my personal account. As far as features: scheduled tweets is an important one, and I like the ability to have a column that shows new followers. But I actually appreciate SD2 for not being feature bloated. With the Android app in particular, it already does everything I'd like it to do, and I'd be happy if it just remained fast and functional, without too many more modifications to the interface.

    My biggest wish is an impossible one: make it run on Linux. I'm sure you had your reasons to build SD2 on Silverlight, but because the Microsoft's support on Linux (Moonlight) is so dismal, I'm unable to run Seesmic Desktop at home or on my laptop.

    Adobe's versions of AIR for Linux are completely stable and up to date. Consequently, I feel kind of compelled to use Tweetdeck, which runs great on Linux. While I'll use Seesmic Web in a pinch, I honestly don't like as much as SD2, Tweedeck, or even HootSuite. If the Web version was more like the desktop one in operation (and theme... SD2's colour-coded tweets are great to look at, and very handy for source recognition), I'd probably be satisfied with it for home use.

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