Twitter, Tweeters, And T-Mobile: Everyone Loses

A subset of a subset of Twitter’s users — Twitters who Tweet on the go and use T-Mobile — suffered a service outage this weekend. And if you think that went unnoticed… well, you don’t know what avid Tweeters are like. Everything’s fixed now, except for the reputations of Twitter, T-Mobile and avid Twitterers.

To recap: Late last week, some T-Mobile customers stopped being able to access Twitter via its text-message “short-code,” 40404. Blogger Bob Mertz complained to T-Mobile, and Friday, posted an email he says he received from from T-Mobile “executive customer relations,” which became widely circulated around the Web:

In your email, you express concerns, as you are not able to use your service for Twitter. As you have been advised, Twitter is not an authorised third-party service provider, and therefore you are not able to utilise service from this provide any longer. … T-Mobile is not in violation of any agreement by not providing service to Twitter. T-Mobile regrets any inconvenience, however please note that if you remain under contract and choose to cancel service, you will be responsible for the $200 early termination fee that would be assessed to the account at cancellation.

Translation: “We don’t really know what Twitter is, we don’t care about Twitter, we don’t authorise its use, and if you don’t like it, you can pay us $200 and get a new wireless carrier.”

Later, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone confirmed the outage in a thread on Satisfaction, a customer service forum, saying “T-Mobile has definitely turned us off without notification.” Stone didn’t didn’t know whether T-Mobile was blocking Twitter because it didn’t want its subscribers using Twitter, or whether there was a technical issue. “We’re still trying to find out why T-Mobile has taken this action—as soon as we find out, we’ll let you know.” But bloggers and Tweeters smelled scandal and ran with it.

Stone reached us Sunday by email. Turns out T-Mobile wasn’t discriminating against Twitter users at all:

Twitter is working well right now over T-Mobile. The issue looks to have been a technical problem between T-Mobile and Ericsson, the company that serves our SMS traffic. Simple communication problems may have complicated the issue as well. We’ll know more next week once we’ve investigated. We don’t have any other information than we put out there on Satisfaction and our blog.

Things seem to be working again. But everyone loses here. Even though only a tiny subset of its users were shut out, Twitter again looks like a less-reliable service — one that is prone to potential interference from the carriers that run the airwaves that its service rides on, and its technical partners like Ericsson. If performance is lousy, its users could be more likely to leave for a competitor. See: Friendster.

Bloggers and Tweeters didn’t help by making a scene before they had solid facts. Or by continuing to make a scene once solid facts were available. Late Sunday night, even after service was back up and the outage explained, people were still Tweeting about T-Mobile. “Tmobile has always been my friend but now that i found out that they were the cause of my twitter fiasco, i’m a little angry at them,” Tweeter “milagrosfarias” writes. “Yesteray” asks: “T-Mobile is blocking Twitter. Beginning of the end?”

But the biggest loser here is T-Mobile — even though the outage doesn’t seem to be its fault. The carrier didn’t lose any money because of the outage. It probably won’t lose any customers. But Twitter users — mostly early adopter, tech-types — are probably less likely to recommend T-Mobile. As carriers battle to be the most “open,” T-Mobile looks bad for no good reason. And that arrogant, impersonal customer service email sent before the carrier could figure out the problem is all over the Web to stay.

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