Who"s davidlian?

My photo
davidlian is an ultra-geeky chinese dude that works for a technology PR agency. He loves fiddling with techno-toys, plays Warhammer 40K, and shoots pictures wherever he goes. Here, he rants about PR, Technology and anything else. Don't expect balance and un-biased, he ain't no journalist. Anything said on this blog are solely davidlian's personal views. Don't confuse them with company mantra, client's views or views of any organisation he may be part of.


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Maxis & Rapidshare: Communications in the thick of real-time

In case you've not been keeping up, there was some (nearly) major drama that ensued with Maxis 3G / Broadband over the last 36 hours.

It all started with MyTechNewsInfo's post on Twitter:

Complaint1 - Share on Ovi

And he continued to substantiate the claim with a couple more posts: here, here and here. In a matter of moments, the twitter-sphere exploded with @khawchiahui, @derekw, @ben_israel, @andrewkjs, @icednyior, myself and others starting to comment.

For those of you not in the know, rapidshare is a popular file-sharing site where users can post up big files for friends to download. It is also a popular way to distribute (for example) free maps from malfreemaps (ed: thanks MyTechNewsInfo). The common theory (for lack of a direct explanation) was that Maxis had started blocking Rapidshare downloads as the traffic was getting too heavy and starting to strain bandwidth.

The main sticking point was censorship. What right did Maxis have to censor the internet, regardless of whichever site it is? (In my own opinion, if they do want to block traffic-heavy sites, they should clearly state up-front in their Terms-of-Service and let the customer decide.)

Naturally, we netizens don't take kindly to censorship and Maxis had a mini-mob in their hands. Crisis-time.

At least four of us sent notes to Maxis' official presence on Twitter @maxiscomms asking for an explanation:

DL1 - Share on Ovi

The first response was less than inspiring. Instead of taking the issue head-on with the main complainants, @maxiscomms posted a general tweet about Maxis Broadband's fair usage policy! Two mistakes here: 1. @maxiscomms did not address the issue to the concerned audience (in this case, @mytechnewsinfo et al). 2. @maxiscomms posted an irrelevant response. What does a Fair Usage Policy have to do with the simple question "are you or are you not censoring Rapidshare?"

MaxisResponse1 - Share on Ovi

People obviously weren't too impressed by the response:

13 - Share on Ovi

12 - Share on Ovi

In the following hours, @maxiscomms then adopted a different tact - getting people to DM (direct message) itself directly instead of putting it out in the open. This is a legitimate tactic, and at least addresses some of the concerns above, of ignoring the audience and broadcasting an irrelevant message:

Response2 - Share on Ovi

So I DM'ed @maxiscomms a simple complaint: "Maxis broadband users can't download files from www.rapidshare.com, is maxis blocking the site? Answer appreciated. Thanks." It was 10pm that night already so I didn't expect an answer till the next day.

And as you would have it, the next morning, @maxiscomms got back to me with a simple message acknowledging the complaint and saying they would get back to me. Another couple of hours later, I was sent a direct message:

Response - Share on Ovi
So I tested Rapidshare and, sure enough, it worked. This news deserved to be spread and so, a quick tweet out:

DL2 - Share on Ovi

Was greeted with testing from @mytechnewsinfo and others, who found the same to be true. The conversation turned for the better (for Maxis) and the earlier audience that complained now went back to telling @maxiscomms "Good job".

I thought to share this case as its reflective of the communications (and I don't just mean advertising) industry today. There are a couple of things I'd have done differently from @maxiscomms:
1. I'd have avoided posting the first post in the first place - it just drew more ire from Netizens.
2. When asking people to DM directly, I would have DM'ed them directly first.
3. I'd actually preferred to follow-through with a proper explanation and clarification as to why Rapidshare was blocked in the first place (technical mistake, or policy mistake?)

To their credit, @maxiscomms kept a cool head and avoided hostile remarks and responses that would have drawn further anger from the Twitter-verse.

But the one question that's keeping me thinking now is the expectation of response time and what communications departments / agencies and even the entire company needs to consider as we shift into the world of constant-internet. Consider this summation from @mytechnewsinfo:

Lesson - Share on Ovi

I'd argue to cut @maxiscomms some slack as most of the most scathing discussions took place after work-hours. Complaints actually flowed in at about 6 pm on 3rd December. My DM to them was sent around 10 pm. And, understanding the communications process, I'm quite certain @maxiscomms ended up needing to put in some extra hours after work to get responses approved and to get to the bottom of the issue.

He / she probably needed to wait a while for someone who knew the actual situation (policy maker in Maxis / technicians) to brief him / her and then to work out how to communicate and what steps should be taken to rectify. This is a time-consuming process - but the internet keeps on clamouring as you're working it out.

So maybe the process isn't good enough. In the age where mass communication is more real-time than ever, and more important than ever, companies need to rethink the entire communications flow to match the age we live in.

Arguably, the process should have begun before the crisis started. I'm not sure how the process took place, but if an internet-savvy communications person at Maxis was told about the decision to block Rapidshare and asked for his / her opinion before any action was taken, I'm sure the crises would have been averted - simply by Maxis NOT blocking Rapidshare.

Communications people should now be part of business decisions at the earliest possible stage and before any concrete action is taken - especially when those decisions affect customers. Why? Because communication is real-time. It gives you a chance to avoid a communications mistake before you make it. Because you'll face an up-hill battle trying to clean-up after.

In the aftermath of Rapidshare-gate, I'm sure some of us will be sympathetic to @maxiscomms, but the question surely lingers on - why did Maxis try to censor Rapidshare in the first place? And, was it a legal move?

Update: Corrected Malfreemaps example on downloading from Rapidshare. @derekw twittered a response that while whether blocking sites at ISP level is legal is up for discussion, it certainly contravenes the MSC's Bill of Guarantees.


mytechnewsinfo said...

A couple of clarifications/additions:

(1) Garmin navigation stuff is not shared on rapidshare. The Malaysian map, free, from malfreemaps.com is shared on rapidshare. I do this as a service to the less tech savvy readers so they don't have to download the source map files from the malfreemaps website, and having to "compile" them into a device ready format.

(2) I took up this issue, not because I am a heavy user of rapidshare, but I am more angry at seemingly random attempts by ISPs to better manage their poorly planned network capacity by taking the easy way out by blocking access to heavily traffic'ed websites

(3) it is never the ISP's responsibility to enforce the law (unless they are tasked to do under a country's legal system) - this is the job of the law enforcement agencies. Their job is to provide an acceptable customer experience based on the customer's (reasonable) expectations for the service

(4) IMO, when you're on Twitter, you're essentially broadcasting to the world. The world is your audience. Using DM (direct messages) excessively defeats the purpose of being on Twitter - if one does that, why not just put a static message in the Twitter profile asking people to DM them with problems? Issues raised in Twitter are likely to be issues of public interest, and discussions of public interest topics in the open promotes a perception of transparency. So, why hide behind DMs? And this is the reason why I rarely follow people (if two parties don't follow each other, they can't send DMs to each other) - because I want(the vast majority of) my conversations to be in the public domain so that they can be understood, and appreciated by, others.

(5) an influential M'sian PR practitioner should compile a list of things that one should, and should not, practise on Twitter, if one wishes to use Twitter as an additional support or PR channel.

Hillary said...

Hmm this reminds me of a similar incident: SIGG (makers of aluminium drinking bottles) avoided answering the question posed to them on whether or not their bottles have BPA.

Months later, they announced that they have changed the liner of their bottles, that it now does not contain BPA.

My friend whose toddler have been happily using SIGG bottles was so angry.

Similarly, Maxis never answered if they DID or DID NOT prevent users from using Rapidshare.

davidlian said...

@MyTechNewsInfo: Thanks for your comments and clarification. I made the change on Malfreemaps already.

On your points:
2) same with me. It's a matter of principle, not that I'm inconvenienced.

3) Agreed.

4)Agreed, but in the case of complaints, I don't see the value of replying each and every complaint with an @. Getting users to DM complaints is acceptable procedure. @Maxiscomms still broadcasts news to everyone.

5)Agreed. But I must say that our industry here is still young, and it's early days for handling situations like this.

@Hillary: Right to the point. As people become more educated and savvy, they aren't going to forget you never answered the question in the first place.

KY said...

I think asking for 24/7 support via social media would be a bit of a stretch for now, no?

derek said...

ISPs in Malaysia have very bad habits when it comes to bandwidth management. Other than the rapidshare blocking, I've seen
- website blocking (mostly porn, maybe some political, but still considered censorship)
- flash video throttling - there was a point where flash video SPECIFICALLY was throttled to a slower speed
- bittorrent blocking/throttling - been done for past many years, altho bittorrent has many illegal uses, it also has many LEGAL uses such as software downloads, linux downloads, and some games uses BT as patches. Which makes legit users suffer
- Non-HTTP/FTP port throttling - A far worse form. Anything which isnt sent on HTTP/FTP/Mailserve is throttled. VERY VERY bad for gamers which play WoW, or Playstation Network. Proven as I tried downloading a 300mb patch, at a speed of 1-5kB/s via PSN port and 100kB/s via HTTP port from same server.

@davidlian @mytechnewsinfo
Re: 4) In the end, most of the DMs I've sent to @maxiscomms ended up with a "Pls send it to customercare@maxis.com.my. We will get our team to look into it for you :-)", so their use of DM is just as a redirector to their email.

Its just not possible to describe a problem in 140 letters, so there needs to be some way to link DM and cust support well.

Considering Twitter is real time, and many users are active at night, they need to take an effort, hire 3 cust.support. for 3 shifts of 24/7. Imagine if #maxissucks started trending after work hours.. quite a disaster

ShaolinTiger said...

I doubt it's illegal, because they aren't censoring content.

They are blocking something that is adversely impacting their service (too many downloads).

As for how they dealt with it, they should have announced they were blocking RS and why BEFORE they blocked it.

Not doing is secretly and hoping no-one noticed.

That's acting like your users are idiots.

At least they rectified it, but perhaps now it's traffic shaped..

And who knows what else is blocked.

davidlian said...

@KY: Depends on what kind of support and industry. There are some industries (like telcos) that have 24/7 phone support - why not Twitter?

@derek: Thanks for all the useful information!

@Shaolintiger: Legal or not depends on how a judge views their terms of service in comparison to their delivered actions. There was a case with Comcast in the US where Comcast actually had to settle because it's "unlimited" was actually ruled as not "unlimited" due to throttling.

If that applied to local ISPs in the early days (nowadays, I think they all cop out with their Fair Use Policy, but Streamyx never had that at launch), I think most of what they are doing would be illegal.

Anonymous said...

My maxis still cannot access megaupload. You guys can access?

john said...

I love rapidshare.You can find a lot of stuff on it.Great

Mei Fern said...

Hi davidlian,

I'm not sure if this is the correct platform so do let me know if it's not: Anyhow, I would like to ask your permission to reproduce some of your posts on our website www.publicrelationsmalaysia.com. The site is still under construction but it will be basically about insights, news and articles about public relations in Malaysia and Asia. Do let me know if this is OK or if you need more information. Thanks!