Skype – Without more information, I don’t buy their excuse

We use Skype and we purchased the SkypeOut plan for unlimited calling in the U.S. and Canada and we buy Skype minutes to call New Zealand since my husband’s family lives there. We also use it to talk to his brother in Italy and we use the video sometimes too, which is really nice.

I like Skype a lot and have been a strong supporter of Skype. And it has been very reliable. But I’ve always said that you can tell more about a company when it has problems and you can see how they handle them, than when everything runs smoothly. Every company has problems and there have been many times that what I thought was a good company, turned out to be bad in a crisis.

I took a cruise on Royal Olympic cruise lines to Greece and Turkey and I really liked their itinerary, their food and the ship (not my cabin, but that is another story). But I had problems with my luggage when I arrived and they were unresponsive and when we were to disembark, they had put me on a bus that gave me almost no time to check in at the airport and they refused to allow me to get on an earlier bus. Naturally, I ended up missing my plane and standing in the middle of the Athens airport crying (the trip was amazing, but was so exhausting that my reserves were absolutely shot). And they had just dropped me off at the airport and split. After much problems, I eventually got home.

But that soured me so much on Royal Olympic that I would have nothing to do with them, even though they had interesting cruises and had (after much hassle) offered me $500 towards another cruise. They have since gone out of business and I am not surprised.

Anyway, I think Skype dropped the ball on this and I think their post that they finally issued today on why they had the problems, just doesn’t make any sense to me. And not just to me. Just read all the comments on their post – it is up to 320 comments so far. Mauricio Freitas speaks on this in his post Skype Outage caused by Windows Update? Yeah, Right. As he points out: the Windows Updates run at 3am local time. So everyone’s PC does not reboot all at once, they would reboot as their own particular local time hits 3am. And by the time the update would take effect in New Zealand where he is, the outage would have already been in affect for a ridiculously long time. Also,Windows Update is delivered every second Tuesday of the month, and has been for the last three years so what makes it cause a problem this time?

The Microsoft Security Response Center blog posted a response to Skype who asserted it was caused by all the PCs rebooting from the Tuesday Windows update and basically said that they were in contact with Skype and there was nothing unusual with this particular Windows update and there was nothing in the update that would have caused any problems. They said “Fortunately, Skype has identified the cause. As Villu Arak notes, “a previously unseen software bug within the network resource allocation algorithm” was the cause, and they have corrected it.” That doesn’t say anything bad about Skype, but essentially says Skype found a problem in their software and fixed it.

But what does Villu’s statement mean? What specifically was the problem and what caused it to occur then and why do they feel it won’t happen again? I would not necessarily be able to understand a full explanation, but the beauty of the internet is that there are people who would and who would determine if what they said made sense and would work to fix the problem. But who can say one way or the other when all they say is that it was “a previously unseen software bug within the network resource allocation algorithm”. And there is a real concern about it being a P2P network model.

And as MyITForum says in their post on this, “Skype’s main development unit is in Estonia. Estonia’s infrastructure was targeted by massive denial-of-service attacks earlier this year. This tied together with the fact that a new Denial-of-Service exploit against Skype server software was posted to securitylab.ru just hours ago has created lots rumors about what’s really going on.”

Infoworld had a very good article called “Skype Users don’t Buy Outage Explanation. CSO, the resource for Security Executives asked some specific questions of ennifer Caukin, a Skype spokeswoman. The answers were weak, at best and she said there was no one in the U.S. who could answers the questions today (maybe tomorrow…?). The Skype Journal writes about this and has several thoughts on what Skype needs to do to address this correctly with its users. And Computerworld had a good article asking “Does Skype’s Windows update story fly?”  (Thanks to Greg of Voip Spider for turning me on to this article.)

I like what Mike McGrath said on his comment to Skype Journal’s post: ”

The great Outage of 2007 has some important lessons. The most surprising to me is that there are many folks out there that believe you have no right to complain about something that’s free. Does that mean I have no right to complain about polluted air?

Still, I like Skype and will continue to use it. I hope Skype takes this opportunity to understand the blogoshere’s reaction, good, bad or ugly and make some adjustments that will be good for everyone.”

Skype should had sent emails to every user of Skype (especially the paying customers) and continued to update with real information regularly. Now they need to answer the questions still being posed and answer them thoroughly. I expect nothing less of them, or of any company.

~Susan Mellott

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Skype – It’s not the problem, it’s how they handled it.

Skype appears to be starting to become available. I have been able to access it consistently for several hours. But it is hard to find out how many people are still without Skype and if you cannot get Skype yet, please send me a comment so we can keep track of what the real picture is.

Skype has not been forthcoming at all with what the problem is and there is much speculation that it was caused either by the planned maintenance that took place right before Skype went down, or by a hacker attack or both, through an opening while performing the system maintenance. Here is a good post called Ebay Says Skype was not Attacked and another one by PCWorld on why people feel it could have been an attack and it says:

“eBay attributes the outage to a problem in a Skype networking algorithm, but code has been posted to a Russian security discussion forum that could supposedly be used to knock the service offline in a DOS (denial of service) attack.

The code, which was published anonymously, appears to be capable of forcing Skype’s servers to freeze up, said the discussion forum site’s editor, Valery Marchuk, in a posting to the Full Disclosure security discussion list. “Reportedly, it must have caused Skype massive disconnections,” he wrote.”

Even though Skype/ebay denies either of these and is blaming it on a “software problem” (could they be any more vague?), they are both not unreasonable scenarios. Skype is only going to quell any rumors if it gives a good and specific reason as to what happened. They can, and obviously would, say whatever they felt was the safest and less likely to frighten customers away. And that is not unusual, that is what any company would do.

Look at 365 Main when the big outage hit San Francisco a couple weeks ago. Rather than saying they didn’t have proper power backup systems (UPS), a company representative said “Someone came in sh*tfaced drunk, got angry, went berserk, and f**ked up a lot of stuff. There’s an outage on 40 or so racks at minimum.” ValleyWag had a good article on this with lots of interesting links.

While Skype is not updating us on the situation, you can go to the original post on the Skype blog about Skype login problems and read the comments to see what is going on with people in different areas. And here is the latest update at midnight GMT August 18 on the heartbeat.skype.com official Skype site. Basically, it says “We are pleased to announce that the situation continues to improve. The sign-on problems have been resolved. Skype presence and chat may still take a few more hours to be fully operational.” I wonder if all the sign-on problems are now resolved. There are about 4 million users online at this moment. That is less than usual, but some may not have tried to get back on so it is hard to tell.

Skype has been really reliable and this is a rare occuraence, but I think that Skype did a very poor job of keeping people updated. Many people didn’t even know there was a general Skype problem and spent a lot of time trying to figure out why their Skype was not working.

Skype has everyone’s email address that uses Skype and they could have easily sent out emails to everyone stating the situation and giving regular updates (and specifics on what they are finding wrong and what they are doing to correct it).

People say “Skype is free so who are you to complain?”. Well, many, many people actually pay for Skype, believe it or not, and use it for their businesses, their help desks, their contacts and their phone system. I am a paying customer of Skype. At the very least, they owe it to the people who pay for their service to provide a better communication than just a couple posts on their heartbeat website saying nothing more than Skype is having problems and they are working on it.

According to GigaOm’s post on Skype Groans and SIPhone Gains: “The company saw a 400% increase in traffic this morning, with 4 times increase in sales, calls and downloads of its Gizmo Project software. “It is interesting to see that voice callers are transitory,” Michael Robertson, founder, SIPphone wrote in an email.”

Yes, voice callers ARE transitory. And people who change to Gizmo Project, or use Jajah or any of the other ways to make calls, very well may not go back. And while you can say that these may not be the paying customers, people who use Skype for free today, are the paying customers of tomorrow. I used it for free until I decided it was good and I wanted to expand what I could do. And I recommend it to other people who do business in other countries.

I am going to wait and see how this plays out before I recommend Skype again. I have always said that you can tell more about a company by the way they handle problems, than by how well they do when there are no problems. Every company has occasional problems, its how they are handled when they happen that makes the difference.

~Susan Mellott

Skype is Back Up! Well, off and on…

Skype is up again!  Well, it is fluctuating on and off but it appears to be getting there.  Skype Heartbeat issued this statement at 2:15am GMT saying essentially that they are working on the problem and feel they are making progress (could they say any less and still issue a statement?).

I’m going to bed and hopefully it will be good to go tomorrow morning.  And I do have to say that I think Skype is in general a very reliable piece of software.  I can’t remember it going down before.  But the problem is that so many people rely so heavily on Skype now that Skype going down is like losing your entire phone service.

I got an email from someone who said that their business phones were run completely through Skype and they are having to try to contact people (and be contacted by people) completely through email until this gets resolved.  But I’m betting it will be fixed when I get up (fingers crossed).

And if people doubt that Skype is a major player and extremely important to people, just because of my posts on Skype being down, My first Skype post was #27 on the Top Posts on WordPress.com today and my All Things Web 2.0 blog was #5 in the WordPress.com list of fastest growing blogs.  Ah, the fame!  It will be back to reality tomorrow though 🙂  So Thank You Skype for that, anyway 🙂

Susan Mellott

Skype is down – Are there Alternatives? Yes!

Well, there has been an overwhelming interest in my last post about Skype being down. So I thought I would do a little research for people into what alternatives there were. Gizmo seems to be the big competitor and is highly regarded. Here is a great article by ZDNet on Skype vs. Gizmo and the comments are equally interesting. Here is a list of some popular voip providers with a little bit about each one. And here is a much more in-depth comparison of Skype to Gizmo called Crowning the King of Free Talk-Skype vs Gizmo. And here is a list from C/Net Download.com of bunch of net phones, sorted by user rating (although it is confusing because the rating and number of users don’t seem to match when you go to detail of each – maybe best to sort by editor rating?).

And of course, let’s not forget the wikipedia entries for Gizmo Project and Skype and a very comprehensive entry on Comparison of Voip Software (I’d only check out the ones with links, there are a million of them on here).

That is a lot of information, but for even more, you can search on “free internet skype gizmo reviews” and get a ton of information about Skype, Gizmo Project and other VOIP software.

If you are here because Skype is down, I’d check out Gizmo Project. It sounds easy and good and of course, free. And if you are just trying to figure out what to use, these reviews and information should help. At one time I would have said Skype, hands down. I still really like Skype, but I can’t say I feel it is the only game in town anymore.

Here is a link to the original post from Skype. And again, you can go here for updates from Skype on the situation. This is their latest communication:

“Hello everyone,

Apologies for the delay, but we can now update you on the Skype sign-on issue. As we continue to work hard at resolving the problem, we wanted to dispel some of the concerns that you may have. The Skype system has not crashed or been victim of a cyber attack. We love our customers too much to let that happen. This problem occurred because of a deficiency in an algorithm within Skype networking software. This controls the interaction between the user’s own Skype client and the rest of the Skype network.

Rest assured that everyone at Skype is working around the clock — from Tallinn to Luxembourg to San Jose — to resume normal service as quickly as possible.

(Updated at 10pm GMT)”

~Susan Mellott

Skype Problems! Many users unable to log in or make calls

We had a big thunderstorm/tornado warning last night and lost power several times so I disconnected my computer.  When I reconnected it this morning (and reset a couple of power strips), everything was fine except Skype would not connect.  I wondered what was going on, but was just happy to be all up and running except for that so I just let it go and kept waiting for it to connect.

Then I started reading all my “My Yahoo” feeds and I have one for Skype and saw that there were big problems with Skype.  Here is an Associated Press article about it from Germany.

Infoword said in its article that “The problem appears to be affecting users particularly in Europe, according to blog postings.  Users in the U.S. don’t seem to be having problems.”.  I’m afraid they are mistaken, because I can tell you this U.S. user is having a problem!
According to the Skype blog post called Problems with Skype Login, dated August 16 (today):
“UPDATED 14:02 GMT: Some of you may be having problems logging into Skype. Our engineering team has determined that it’s a software issue. We expect this to be resolved within 12 to 24 hours. Meanwhile, you can simply leave your Skype client running and as soon as the issue is resolved, you will be logged in. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Additionally, downloads of Skype have been temporarily disabled. We will make downloads available again as quickly as possible.”

And if you read the Skype blog post from yesterday Aug 15,  they had planned to do maintenance and some services would be unable yesterday and then they added an update: “The planned maintenance was completed at 15.08.2007 7:10 GMT and now all systems work normally again.”  Oops! maybe not… 🙂

Skype is courting businesses right at the moment and has a lot of marketing going on and this is not going to help one bit.  Reliability of phone service is paramount to business and there are several other internet phone systems competing for their business.

And many, many of the individuals who use it really count on it too.  It has millions of users and if you read the comments from them, this affects many of them, as of course you would expect.  And it is even easier for an individual to download and use another option for now because they can’t use Skype and then very possibly, stay with the new provider instead.

I know that a lot of people use and like Gizmo which is another “free phone for your computer”.  I had thought of looking into Gizmo but was happy with Skype.  If the outage goes on with Skype, I will probably install Gizmo just to have an internet phone.  And if I like it better, Skype may have lost a customer (paying customer, too).  It will be interesting to see what effect this has on Skype.

~Susan Mellott

Major Web 2.0 Sites Down from Power Outage – They need a lesson from Big Business.

Power Outage in SF Tuesday brought down major Web 2.0 sites.

6 back-to-back power outages hit the SOMA neighborhood of San Francisco Tuesday afternoon causing major havoc with popular web services. 365 Main is down, along with craigslist, Technorati, Yelp, AdBrite and SixApart (including TypePad, LiveJournal and Vox). Many other popular sites such as CNet were unavailable too.

Interestingly enough, a “source close to the company” (365 Main) had this to say:

“Someone came in sh*tfaced drunk, got angry, went berserk, and f**ked up a lot of stuff. There’s an outage on 40 or so racks at minimum.” ValleyWag had a good article on this with lots of interesting links.

This however was unlikely as the cause since the area had been having power outages and clearly their UPS system did not function properly.

The San Francisco website Laughing Squid has a write-up of the power outage .

Here is another informative post from Radar.OReilly.com

Six Apart, in a very 2.0 move, kept everyone updated via its twitter stream.

But the real question is, what happened to their power backups? They should be able to keep running regardless of any lack of power. This is a good post about what 365 had to say regarding its “Credibility Outage” (and basically they made a bunch of excuses).

So again, do you trust your Web 2.0 online providers? Clearly there is a gap between what “should” have happened and what actually did happen. Datacenter 365 Main released a self-congratulatory announcement celebrating two years of continuous uptime for client RedEnvelope, mere hours before today’s drunken blackout.. [PR Newswire]

And without extensive testing and backout plans, it is hard to know what exactly would happen if something happened like a server being hacked or a major power outage. I would be more interested in the disaster recovery plans and testing they (or any major player) had done than in what they theoretically think might happen, based on the things they think they have in place.

Coming from a big business background, where their only real commodity is data (in my case, insurance), I have seen and been involved in a huge amount of disaster recovery testing and planning. I remember what they, and other businesses went through for testing for the 2000 rollover and for any number of other potential disasters. September 11th tested their and many others disaster recovery plans. The Stock Market and major banks and other financial firms simply cannot just go down or lose data, for any reason.

But as we move to a Web 2.0 world, companies like 365 Main are now also the repositories of major amounts of data and for many Web 2.0 companies, their business is data, just like financial institutions. It’s not small potatoes anymore. Face it, they are big business now and need to act like a big business. I’m sure they are bringing in big business income. So who holds them accountable? I’m wondering if many of these Web 2.0 companies didn’t grow from such small beginnings that they may not even be aware of what they need to ask and know from their provider.

And unfortunately, I hear people with a business background being dismissed as “luddites” or “1.0” or “dinosaurs” or just not with it, supposedly not able to comprehend the new 2.0 world. It reminds me of when PCs first came out and I started programming them after having had a mainframe background for several years.

PC programming was wild and wooly. There were no standards, no one documented their code so maintaining it was a nightmare, and people would see how many functions they could put on 1 line of code (more being better in their mind). An “elegant” piece of code would be completely undecipherable by anyone (which seemed almost to be the point) and would have no documentation. Which meant of course, that the code for most of the programs were a mess because no one could figure out what the last person did so they hacked around it. But if you were from a mainframe background, you supposedly could not “understand” PCs and were basically a dinosaur. Well, I know that is a bunch of nonsense because I didn’t have any problem understanding PCs and PC coding. What I didn’t understand was why they allowed projects and programs to be so sloppy and poorly run and written.

It was a real case of 1.0 technology meets 2.0 technology. In this case, Mainframes vs. PCs. Now it is happening again with Web 2.0. And regardless of what the current “New Thing” ™ is, one thing they all have in common is the belief that they know more than the people who have used the ‘old’ technology. But what they don’t realize is that they really haven’t learned anything at all yet. They have a great direction and new ideas and concepts and great plans, but if for no other reason than that the technology has not been around that long, they don’t have practical experience and a background to build on. I’m sorry, but while college gives you an in and a piece of paper to say you are somebody, the real learning starts when you start applying the knowledge in real world situations.

I remember taking a LOMA (life office management) test on data processing and thinking it should be a piece of cake. It turned out to be one of the hardest of the set because I had to learn what they thought the right answers were, not what was actually correct. I had the same experiences in higher education where what was being taught was so outdated that it was really completely wrong and in my opinion, was harmful in many ways to learn, especially if you thought you knew something afterwards.

And this is where I think the 2.0 arrogance is showing. It is a wonderful new way of doing things, but there are many foundations they could and should build on that have already been figured out. They can take what has been done to new and exciting levels, but reinventing the wheel for every single thing is pointless and causes the new technology to be without wheels for a while.

~Susan Mellott

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