So the near-global service outage for Blackberry users is into its third day. Ho hum. What is interesting here is not the actual outage – with the way RIM has their service black-boxed away from the “real” internet it’s actually surprising that this doesn’t happen more often – but rather the bits of fallout surrounding it. To wit:
The supposed user “outrage”: Yeah, whatever. The media loves to jump on the dirty laundry with both feet and start stomping away, but the fact is that for every mope quoted in the news who claims to be fed up and ready to abandon ship, there are five or six thousand who just glumly sit there and take it. RIM benefits here from the way that wireless carriers around the world have built an industry around treating their customers like garbage. When it comes to telecommunications in general, and wireless service in particular, most consumers have been trained to bend over, take it hard, and say thank you when it is done. And because the average schmuck doesn’t know enough to understand the difference between a handset maker and a wireless provider, they are more than willing to shut up and swallow on this one too.
User shock at the fact that all Blackberry traffic goes through RIM’s hands: Now this is a surprise. There has never been any real secret about the fact that every single bit of the proprietary data – email, calendar and contact data, and messenger traffic – on a Blackberry goes through RIM’s own super-secret servers. Not a month goes by that there isn’t some government or some potentiate out there that gets all high and mighty over the fact that RIM controls / owns / not-so-secretly archives all of this data. But apparently most people either glossed this one over in their minds or just didn’t understand it in the first place, because there are a lot of folks getting pissy over this one. Far more, in fact, than are bothering to get worked up about the fact that they have no service at all.
The fact that RIM has no “fall back to regular ol’ internet” strategy: If the blackberry.net infrastructure goes down, that’s it. Radio silence. There is no failover wherein at least basic traffic (email and messenger) is routed via some sort of standard internet protocol. It wouldn’t be terribly difficult for email, it would require some serious re-jigging for messenger, neither would be as fast as the regular service, but both are definitely do-able if planned for and programmed for in advance. You may be out there boggling at the fact that no one seemed to have this sort of foresight, but if you are it just means that you don’t know anything about the top corporate structure at RIM. Much of the company’s direction and strategy is based on the twin pillars of “our way is the best way” and “we’ve always done it that way”. If you are a student of World War 2 history you would be able to find a lot of parallels between RIM and the Japanese military: Both find it incomprehensible that there may be a different way, and unfathomable that anyone would show enough weakness to admit that the nonexistent different way might be better. Death before dishonour, and all like that.
Things are already falling back into place, so it is completely conceivable that by the time you get up and read this most of the problems will be gone. And after all the posturing and chest-thumping, it is more than likely that this will have no real effect on RIM, the blackberry infrastructure, or their customers. There will be no mass exodus, everyone will go back to sleep, and the entire story will be nothing but a footnote until next time.