Don't Screw Your Partners Over A Marketing Promotion

Celebrities are starting to take notice of Seesmic, a “Twitter for video” service that lets people have asynchronous video conversations on the fly (see my disclosure, I am an investor).

First was Deepak Chopra, who made a whole series of videos for this site. And yesterday things got even more exciting, when Steven Spielberg, Harisson Ford, George Lucas, Shia Laboeuf, Karen Allen and Cate Blanchett came on the site and had discussions with other users. Here’s one of the exchanges, between Jemima Kiss and Steven Spielberg. Here’s a Harisson Ford video. etc.

So that’s all really great, and I’m happy as an investor. But Seesmic made some terrible judgment calls yesterday around this promotion that has resulted in us removing it from our sites (we installed Seesmic video comments on all TechCrunch Network blogs last month).

First, we didn’t know about the promotion until reading about it this morning along with every one else. All we knew is that our sites all simultaneously went down three times yesterday. After the first time we identified the likely problem as Seesmic and contacted the company. They assured us there was no way the plugin could take the site down. When it happened a second time we disabled the Seesmic plugin and the sites went back up. We identified the problem – the plugin was loading an external Javascript file, and when Seesmic’s servers were down, we just sat and waited for it for up to two minutes before timing out.

Seesmic said they’d patch the problem in the next version (which will pull the Javascript call into the footer instead of the header, so TechCrunch can mostly load even if they are down), and said they shouldn’t be going down again in the meantime. We re-enabled the plugin.

Then we went down a third time late last night, and we disabled the plugin for good (until the new version is available).

This morning we heard from Seesmic that the reason for the downtime yesterday was due to multiple server reboots around the Spielberg promotion.

What They Should Have Done

A simple email to us telling us that they would need to be rebooting their servers periodically over the day would have let us prepare for this and disable the plugin as it was happening. That way, Seesmic video comments would have disappeared from the site for periods of time, but TechCrunch would not have gone down. Of course, as Seesmic grows, having properly architected plugins and server redundancy will also help ensure that this problem doesn’t occur again.

I understand that young startups need a little wiggle room to get things right, and I don’t mind testing that raw software on TechCrunch. Even if that means we go down occasionally during their growing pains.

But never withhold information from your partners and tell them that you have no idea what is causing downtime when you know exactly what the problem is. As exciting as getting Steven Spielberg on your site to talk to your users is, it is not worth being dishonest to partners.

I understand that Seesmic may have been hesitant to tell us about the promotion because they wanted to keep it quiet. But all they had to do was tell us before the downtime that it was going to occur, and we would have been happy. And Seesmic would still be an active plugin on TechCrunch.

Some of you may wonder why I’m calling out a company that I’ve invested in so harshly. The reason: I’m calling them out because they deserve it, and the fact that I invested in them means I need to be careful before giving them any kind of break.