Deconstructing Tumblr’s apology message

Jack Blog

December 7th, 2010 By Jack Morton

So I became a Tumblr fan (thank you Leesa and Prima) because it’s such an easy platform we can convince a bunch of crazy-busy people in our agency to contribute to our JACK blog, which is built using Tumblr. And I’m still a huge Tumblr fan even after their 24-hour outage yesterday—apparently due to a combination of technical glitches outside their control and growing pains entirely within their control.

 But as a word nerd I’m disappointed by their requisite apology post to Tumblr subscribers explaining what happened. Here, my humble critique of Tumblr’s bumbled message, offered with love of course!

WHAT THEY SAID: “an issue arose that took down a critical database cluster”
WHY THEY SHOULDN’T HAVE: This indirect opening line sounds like the famous politician’s “mistakes were made”

WHAT THEY SAID:  “our engineers worked feverishly”
WHY THEY SHOULDN’T HAVE: As opposed to…? If you’re going to talk about engineers working, we assume it’s not lackadaisically

WHAT THEY SAID: “this is absolutely unacceptable to our team, and unacceptable for a platform determined to be the best place in the world for your creative expression”
WHAT IT SOUNDED LIKE: Repeated self-flagellation followed immediately by a big, fat boast—classic corporatese

WHAT THEY SAID: “Frankly…”
WHAT IT SOUNDED LIKE:  Alert: we’re about to be honest

WHAT THEY SAID: “… keeping up with growth has presented more work than our small team was prepared for — with traffic now climbing more than 500M pageviews each month
WHAT IT SOUNDED LIKE: The real crux of the problem

WHAT THEY SAID: “[We’ve] quadrupled our engineering team this month alone, and continue to distribute and enhance our architecture to be more resilient to failures like today’s.”
WHAT IT SOUNDED LIKE: The real crux of the solution

WHAT THEY SAID: “we truly care about your work as much as you do”
WHY THEY SHOULDN’T HAVE: Sorry, you just don’t… If it’s not true, don’t say it. 

WHAT THEY SAID: “we have an incredibly capable team working incredibly hard to take good care of it.”
WHY THEY SHOULDN’T HAVE: Two “incredibly’s” in a single sentence is at least one too many

A much shorter message simply and honestly stating the crux of the problem and taking accountability for its solution would have been both more effective and more on brand (both for Tumblr and their community).