Blogging is a big part of my life. Thus so is TypePad, the service that hosts my HinesSight and Church of the Churchless blogs.
By and large, I'm happy with TypePad. But not with their TypePad Connect service, which I tried out for a week before shutting it down when it seriously screwed up my blogs.
I've spent quite a bit of time communicating with TypePad staff about what they need to do to improve both TypePad Connect and their basic blogging service (actually, I'm a "Pro" member, several steps above "Basic").
Invariably I get a prompt, friendly reply along the lines of, "Thanks for the feedback. We're working on the problem."
That's nice. However, it'd be nicer if the problems actually were solved.
So this post is sort of an open letter to TypePad, written with the hope that a more public airing of my gripes will result in more action than I've seen so far. Likely it'll be fairly lengthy, because I've got quite a bit to say.
(If this subject is already terminally boring you, I'll reward your interest in getting this far into the post with links to some Sports Illustrated 2009 Swimsuit Issue photos, here and here, before you head off to more interesting ports of call in the blogosphere.)
I'll begin with my qualifications: my first TypePad post dates from January 2003, so I've got more than six years of mostly-daily blogging experience. My two blogs are approaching 1,800,000 page views. They average about 1,000 page views a day.
I write about all kinds of stuff, leaning toward serious (or semi-serious) subjects. Meaning of life. Current affairs/politics. Oregon land use issues. The etiquette of staring at a rose cleavage tattoo (hey, that's an semi-serious topic to me).
Now... my gripes and what I hope TypePad will do about them.
TypePad Connect (TPC) isn't ready for prime-time.
I figured that the commenting features in TypePad Connect would be an improvement over the current system, which has its flaws. After trying TPC for a week on my Church of the Churchless blog, I found that this beta release is a step backward, not forward.
Now, TypePad keeps reminding me about the "beta." Meaning, TPC is still in testing, with bugs being worked out. OK, yet TypePad is marketing TPC like crazy, urging not only TypePad subscribers to sign up for it but also people using other services (like Blogger).
I waited more than two months after the beta release before trying out TypePad Connect, figuring that the most serious problems would have been fixed by then.
Blog visitors couldn't read the most recent comments on posts where the comments stretched over more than one page (TypePad allows only 50 comments on a page). The sidebar on my blog wouldn't show up. Lengthy comments would be "previewed" in a small box with scroll bars that didn't look at all like the final posting. There was no way to edit a comment after it was posted, even by me. Replying to a comment via TPC's emailed notification led me to the original post, not the comment I wanted to reply to, which I had to find on my own. Comments weren't visible to Google and other search engines. Etc.
Worst of all, my blog clearly was becoming much less stable than before. TypePad Connect was like some sort of alien presence that threatened the existence of my dearly beloved Church of the Churchless.
It felt great to uninstall TypePad Connect last night. Cleansing.
Thankfully, the reversion went smoothly. I'd copied 42 pages worth of comments that had come in during the frustrating week of dealing with TypePad Connect problems before clicking on "the get rid of TPC" button. So far, it looks like none of those comments have been lost.
That's good. But I still fault TypePad for releasing TypePad Connect when it is so flawed. Others agree, having made the same complaint on a customer service blog. For example, Rosangel Valenti said:
From information that we've seen on other blogs hosted by Typepad, this issue has been raised before by some of your customers, as far back as October of 2008. It's staggering that it's still going on now. Also unbelievable that your company dared to roll out the new software not only without warning or consultation, but still containing four-month-old problems.
TypePad needs to focus on improving its current service
For years I've been telling TypePad staff, including the head honcho, about relatively simple improvements that need to be made. After all, blogging isn't rocket science.
A blogger like me needs to be able to compose posts smoothly. He then wants blog visitors to be able to share comments easily, and learn what other commenters are saying. Both his words and those of his visitors have to be visible to Google and other search engines, so people looking for info on a subject that's been written about can find a pertinent blog post.
I've told TypePad staff that they should bow down to the Apple model each day. Apple products -- like my iPhone, iPod, and MacBook -- are aimed at letting people do what they want to do without technology being an impediment.
That is, with Apple products I'm usually not aware of software and hardware whirring away. I just do something, almost always without much fuss. With TypePad though (and especially TypePad Connect), I frequently think, "Why the heck is this happening?"
Such is a sign of bad design.
Examples: (1) Blog visitors want to read the most recent comment on a post. TypePad makes them click their way on a "more comments" link, 50 comments at a time, through page after page on heavily-commented posts. (2) Blog visitors want to read the most recent comments on all posts. No way to do that, since TypePad only shows ten comments in the sidebar and there's no way for a blogger to modify that number. (3) Blog visitors want to edit a post after they notice a typo or mistake. They have to email me with a request to make the change, since TypePad doesn't allow editing by the person who wrote a comment. (4) Blog visitors want to read one of the ten comments shown in the sidebar. Clicking on it doesn't lead to the comment, but only to the post, where they have to maneuver their way through hundreds of comments, potentially, to find the one they're looking for.
Over and over, for years, I've asked TypePad to make changes that would fix these problems. This should have been done before a brand new (and flawed) commenting system was rolled out in the form of TypePad Connect.
It's the Microsoft Windows mentality at work. When I was a Windows user, before moving to a Mac, all I wanted was a stable, easy-to-use operating system that didn't crash on me.
Instead, Microsoft would release upgrades with more fancy bells and whistles -- Vista! -- instead of getting existing software right. By contrast, I've found that with Apple products often you don't have a whole lot of choices, because Apple knows what you want to do and makes that possible in a direct manner.
(The Time Machine back-up software, to offer an example, has an extremely minimalist control panel. Apple knows that what you want to do is back up your files, not have the ability to screw things up by choosing how to back up your files.)
TypePad, emulate how Starbucks listens to customers
I've told TypePad staff that they should check out how Starbucks solicits and responds to customer suggestions on My Starbucks Idea. Very nicely done.
You know better than anyone else what you want from Starbucks. So tell us. What's your Starbucks Idea? Revolutionary or simple-we want to hear it. Share your ideas, tell us what you think of other people's ideas and join the discussion. We're here, and we're ready to make ideas happen. Let's get started.
There's a four step process:
Share. Post your Starbucks Idea - from ways we could improve to things we've never even thought of.
Vote. Check out other people's ideas and vote on the ones you like best. The community votes. The community decides.
Discuss. Talk about ideas with other customers and our Starbucks Idea Partners and help make them even better.
See. This is the proof. See which of your ideas were the most popular and watch as we take action.
Given that TypePad Connect (and TypePad in general) supposedly is about fostering a sense of bloggish community, it's sort of strange that a coffee purveyor has a better feel for how to relate to its customers.
Again, I find TypePad staff to be wonderfully responsive, open, and friendly. However, somehow this doesn't translate into needed changes being made.
Somewhere in the organization there's a blockage between hearing from subscribers about problems, and the problems being resolved. There isn't a seamless Share - Vote - Discuss - See flow between suggestion and action as there is with Starbucks.
So I keep on griping, TypePad staff keep on telling me that the issue is being worked on, nothing happens, so I keep on griping. And so we go. Not the most effective way of spending time for either the staff or me.
One problem, and its a significant one, is that active, long-term bloggers such as moi are pretty much locked-in to their blog service. The Great God Google treats me quite kindly, given my lengthy commitment to making daily wordy offerings to the blogosphere.
To shift all my posts elsewhere, thereby leading to countless "URL not found" messages: almost unthinkable.
So TypePad and me are wedded for now. We've got to make the best of our relationship, because I don't see how I can walk out the door no matter how much I feel neglected.
(On the flip side, I feel for TypePad staff. They have to deal with bloggers, who are some of the most outspoken people in the world. TypePad employees often must feel like they're herding cats who are equipped for megaphones that allow them to loudly meow, "Hey! Not this way! And I want my salmon kibble now!")
I'll end by reiterating that I like TypePad. It's an excellent blogging service. No one would go wrong signing up for it.
TypePad just needs to get its act together a bit more. It should focus on improving basic blogging features rather than rolling out flashy buggy non-improvements like TypePad Connect.
And do a better job of listening to its customers, who are fully capable of pointing in the directions the company needs to move.