Tuesday, September 15, 2009

THE WAY THINGS WORK

In Internet-land as administered by US big business, there's no way to get serious help. The US business model is to ignore customers and users (it's shot throughout the system) -- to fob you off on help desks staffed in a foreign land or to send you for advice delivered by a team of passive-aggressive charity-case IT volunteers trolling a chat forum.

DD discussed his experience with this in Prisoner of Blogger at el Reg in August. My incidents were not remarkable as many readers surely know from years of getting the same rigamarole shoved at them.

The nut of it is that you've no recourse if your application blows up. Generally, you're ignored or blamed as the instigator of your new trouble. If you've no stick to whack someone with to get attention, good luck with that.

Re the WordPress blogging application, which suddenly blew up on a dickdestiny.com subdomain due to an undocumented fault, DD wrote:

My WordPress fail hung on an unusual show-stopping problem with the program.

WP depends on its database and, apparently, under certain conditions, if that database server hiccups or goes sideways, and the application cannot see it, it thinks it's being asked to freshly install. It does not happen for everyone, but it is not uncommon, and it is very bad when it crops up ... [Any] stranger logging onto such a faulted blog in the time between crash and when the owner figures out what's up can input their e-mail and be installed as administrator. This is a fair sized window of opportunity, unless absolutely no one reads your blog, and it is exactly what happened as I was attempting to put the pieces of wreckage back together. A new administrator had to be disposed of after my password was reset in an attempt to lock me out. And although the blog remained intact, something was crippled in the capacity to update it.

The blog is hosted on Yahoo!, so the vulnerability is present for anyone using a Yahoo! hosted-website and its WordPress installation.


Yahoo!'s policy toward WordPress, if you called to consult help on this was, essentially: "We provide no support for WordPress."

So -- you were sh-- outta luck calling them about it, a not uncommon state of affairs across the US re software applications offered by big business on the Internet.

Normally, that would have been the end of it. Root hog or die.

But DD was able to write about it for el Reg.

Imagine my dry amusement, as well as surprise to read this from Yahoo!, in the morning e-mail:
Dear Yahoo! Small Business customer,

We are writing to inform you of a critical issue related to the WordPress blog(s) you activated ... We have become aware of security vulnerabilities in older versions of the WordPress software. To prevent others from exploiting these vulnerabilities and potentially damaging your blog or Web site, we will soon upgrade all Yahoo! Small Business WordPress blogs [to the allegedly] more secure [most recent version of WordPress] ... Please note that this upgrade will not damage your blog data, including your posts and comments, and will not break themes and plug-ins you may have activated when you set up your blog.

For most customers, the upgrade will simply fix critical security issues.
There was more but readers get the idea.

Not so easy to ignore anymore, eh, when the shortcomings are distributed through a through a more widely distributed and read narrative. I tried the polite question; I tried in different places with different audiences. Really.

In any case, Yahoo's! solution was the predictable one, the regular fob used at WordPress.Org by its volunteer help squad.

At the time, DD wrote:

As for aid in WordPress support forums, one is dependent upon the pure milk of human kindness dispensed by others. If one is inexperienced, the help forums can be combed for clues which, on balance, tend not to accurately describe the fault and its implications. In two questions I posted, the general solution offered was to update to the newest version of WordPress, which is not a fix at all, but a catch-all recommendation many people receive from the volunteer squad as a pro forma band-aid. Some people, naturally, resent it.

Updating sometimes cures a problem. Perhaps not your problem. And often it saddles users with an entirely new set of bugs and faults to be divined after the passage of time and many tears of frustration. Patching and updating can be likened to the polishing of a turd a thing which cannot be polished.

Dragging people into updates is the way of US computer process. The future is always better. When, invariably, the update destroys some blogs or renders others non-functional in place, frozen, it will be the fault of users until proven otherwise.

We don't support that software, buddy boy. And if no one can hear you yelling, whaddayougonnadoaboudit, huh?!

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