When I first read this story on techcrunch about Grand Central snubbing customers and changing their numbers with very little notice, it seemed like the kind of thing that was affecting thousands of users. Perhaps it was a problem on the same scale as the recent Skype outage. That’s a big deal right?
The problem affected exactly 434 users.
As explained by founder Craig Walker in the comments of the techcrunch post, the problem occurred when one of their partners stopped providing service in a particular part of the country. They were able to port the majority of customers to a new provider but were unable to do so for 434 people.
Unfortunately two of those 434 people had a blog. Then it got picked up by Techcrunch and all of a sudden it’s not a problem that affected 434 people, it’s a problem that affected the entire internet.
It’s unfortunate (for Grand Central and Google) that some of those 434 people were in Northern Virginia. The blog per capita there is off the charts. If those 434 people had been in rural Iowa, the internet would have never known.
That brings me to the other takeaway from this incident: When designing a product or service (especially for alpha geeks) you have one and only one chance to get it right. You’re never more than one power outage, one service outage, one information breach, bad decision, misstep, misquote, or mess up away from loosing your customers or potential customers forever.
Are people going to remember that this issue affected 434 people a few months down the road? Nope. The conversation will go something like this: “Grand Central? I dunno about them. I remember hearing that they changed phone numbers on a ton of people after promising them ‘one number for life.’”