Monday, April 20, 2009

Terminated with Extreme Prejudice

Well, I had a snafu all last week. The anti-spam robots over at Google decided that this blog met their criteria as a spam blog and decided to disable it. After much clicking on various links over at Blogger to petition for a review, the gods decided that I was worthy and it seems I'm back online again.

After going through this whole experience, here is some feedback for Google/Blogger:

  1. First, let me applaud your efforts to go after spam blogs. Spam is the scourge of the Internet. At the scale at which Google/Blogger operates, the process of detecting spam blogs has to be automated. With any form of automation, some mistakes will sneak through, either false positives or false negatives. I understand that. So, my first thought at being flagged as a spam blog was, "Okay, no biggie. I'll just petition for a review and we'll get this taken care of." Unfortunately, you made the process unnecessarily painful and disruptive.
  2. My biggest beef with Google/Blogger is that the process for requesting a review is a bit of black magic. After the bots categorized my blog as spam, I was sent a single email saying that I had 20 days to request a review, otherwise my blog would be disabled. Naturally, I missed the email and didn't find out about the issue until I logged into Blogger to create a new post. Still, I was at the early part of the review phase before the blog had actually been disabled and there was a clear notice that it would be disabled if I didn't request a review, but missing that first email was a problem as it cut into the 20-day review period.
  3. After logging into Blogger and finding out about being flagged, I immediately requested a review. Again, "No biggie," I thought, "because they have plenty of time to do the review. They'll just pop open a browser, look at the blog, and it will be obvious that it's not spam."
  4. After requesting the review, I got absolutely no feedback from Google/Blogger that the review was happening or even that the request had been received. There was no communication whatsoever. When I logged into Blogger, it would say that a review had been requested on a particular date, but that was it.
  5. After 20 days or whatever, the blog was simply disabled. No warning. No additional emails either right before or after the disabling saying that the blog was about to be disabled or even that it had been disabled. No nothing. I found out that the blog had been disabled from a reader who sent me a message.
  6. Without any communication from Google/Blogger, I was left wondering what happened. Was the review completed, but rejected? Was the request to review ever received? Was there a bug in Google's request or review process? Was in in limbo?
  7. I immediately went online and started checking all the Google help links. There was no help there, other than to say to request a review if your blog got flagged as a spam blog, and one more link to be able to generate another review. There was no appeal procedure, no additional help. In particular, there was no way to reach a real human. The only option to me was to post into Blogger's support group and grouse about things there. From what I can tell, this is a popular past-time, because there were a lot of other people doing the same thing.
  8. What would have been more helpful is a steady stream of update email from Blogger after I requested a review. I would be nice, for instance, to get an email confirming the review request. Then, it would be nice to get a status email periodically (weekly?) saying when the review would be completed. I have no idea whether reviews are completed by humans, or just another bot. I have no idea how long the queue is. In fact, I have no idea whether a review actually took place for my blog during the 20-day grace period before the blog was disabled. If it did, it would have been nice to receive another email stating that the review was complete and the result, whether rejected, approved, or whatever.
  9. In short, COMMUNICATE. There is no substitute for letting people know what is happening, even if you can't give them good news. Also, make your review procedure as transparent as possible. Tell people what to expect ahead of time. Then deliver to that expectation in terms of communications, timeframes, etc.

My main conclusion from this whole thing is that Blogger is a risky deal for corporate blogs where uptime is critical. Bloggers might be better going with a non-Blogger solution, either paid hosted or locally installed (e.g. Wordpress). Google's procedures are designed to achieve a reasonable service level a high levels of scale, but to do that they deliberately deflect all inquiries for a real human (FAQs and forums for support) and rely on automated infrastructure (spam bots). When things have really gone wrong, that simply doesn't work. I walked away from this with a profound sense that my data exists on Blogger at Google's whim, and even if I haven't violated any terms of service, my data can be snuffed out at a moment's notice with little to no appeal possible.

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