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Computers don’t work

I always like to remind people that they will be far less frustrated with technology if they just remind themselves of a simple truth, “Computers don’t work.” I myself was painfully reminded of this when my blog was unceremoniously knocked off the air the last two days by a problem I still don’t understand. But it helps us to remember that technology, while something we all depend on, is amazingly fragile. It’s best to think ahead about our technology dependencies, so that we are not overly dependent on one outage becoming a crisis.


On Wednesday, I was in the middle of writing a post when I started getting server errors from Movable Type. We hadn’t changed anything, so I wasn’t sure what was wrong. My wife asked me if I had checked the permissions (no) and she found that our permissions for the MT script were revoked. I opened a ticket with my Web host, Lunarpages, who responded with an e-mail explaining that the script was turned off because it was consuming three gigabytes of memory on my little old shared server plan.
Three gigabytes of memory sure seemed like a lot to me for a script that was being run a few times a day by one person. (I am old enough to have written programs that ran in four kilobytes, so even the concept of megabytes still seems like a lot to this fossilized coder.) I clearly understood why they had to turn it off—it might have taken down the server if left unchecked. I was seeing reports of spam comment attacks around the Internet and wondered whether it was related.
But I didn’t know what to do and neither did Lunarpages. My wife and I were the ones who originally installed Movable Type, so it’s not their problem to fix what’s wrong. So, in the face of such fragile technology holding my site together, I did what any good techie would do, I turned to more technology. I began doing Google searches that turned up nothing promising. Then, almost in desperation, I turned to Twitter.
I began to Twitter about the problem (here’s my handle), at first to just explain to people why they weren’t getting the normal daily post, but also realizing that someone might help. I received some helpful information, but then got a surprise—an e-mail reply from a Movable Type product manager offering to contact Lunarpages to help out (which he did). I haven’t pieced together the whole story of what was wrong and how it was fixed, but they eventually isolated the problem and turned the scripts back on.
As a customer of these companies, I walked away feeling impressed. If Lunarpages had not been on the ball, my whole site could have been taken down by this problem. And even though it wasn’t their responsibility to fix the program I installed, between they and Movable Type, that is what they did. I sure had no hand in changing anything on my site to make it work. I was also impressed that Movable Type is monitoring us Tweeple to try to help. (I’ve asked if they’d like to do an interview to explain how they do it and what the results are, so stay tuned.)
But I also found the need to calm myself down during the whole thing. When you have so many subscribers that you think are waiting for your golden posts each day, it feels like a crisis to be off the air. But it’s not.
I don’t want to trivialize the problems involved in Internet marketing or minimize the real frustration that all of us feel when things don’t work. I felt it myself. But I did realize that I needed to take a chill pill and let people help me (and even be grateful to them afterwards that they did so much they didn’t have to do).
After all, if folks didn’t read my fabulous posts for two days, I bet they found something else to do with their time. Nobody died. No one went out of business. It was just part of living in an imperfect world, and the technology parts of the world are far more imperfect than the rest, I think. We’re still marveling at the fact that Frankenstein moves at all and we haven’t focused on how god awful ugly he is—yet.
So, don’t be so reliant on any technology to the point that an outage for a day or two is really a crisis. If you are that dependent, you need a backup, because eventually it’s gonna fail. What would you do if your blog was out of commission for a couple of days? Or your laptop died? Or you Web site got hacked? Or your e-mail provider went out of business? Or you dropped your Blackberry down a sewer grate?
Think about it now and make it less of a crisis then. And just remember that computers don’t work. Be happy every day when some of this stuff works out and don’t stress over when it doesn’t. Because sometimes it won’t.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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