Xbox Live, Microsoft’s killer online gaming platform, was down for maintenance yesterday for a lot longer than was anticipated by the Redmond giant, something which caused a predictable wave of panic among the gaming community.

The website was also taken offline – the homepage was replaced with a low-rent one-sentence message. Probably not the best plan, since that’s the first place you look to figure out what’s going on.

And for those of us who didn’t realise that Xbox Live was temporarily closed, the console proved no help at all, as it suggested some necessary router changes (‘MTU settings’, ugh). A curve ball.

However, in the midst of this mess, Xbox Live Director of Programming Larry Hryb was doing a sterling job on the ‘Major Nelson’ blog (that being his pseudonym, and presumably his ‘gamertag’).

Since was offline, the blog was the next best place to look, and I wasn’t alone in pressing the F5 (page refresh) button. At one point the blog had more than one million page impressions within an hour. And a hell of a lot of comment spam to boot.

At any rate, it was a great example of using a blog for crisis management. It shouldn’t have been a crisis though. This was partly the result of a failure to manage expectations.

The Xbox Live team had advised that the platform would be up and running by 4pm Pacific Standard Time, which was about 10pm in the UK. I gave up looking as midnight approached, but it turned out that I’d have had to wait another four hours for the service to be back online. In future, Microsoft should under-promise and over-deliver, with regards to self-imposed deadlines.

At one point – after the deadline has elapsed – the Major, having noticed that the blog couldn’t cope with the weight of traffic, moved his messaging onto Twitter.

Now, I’ve never really seen the point of Twitter. I know it’s only new and that it has been the top search on Technorati for the past two months, so there’s certainly a lot of buzz out there, but do we really need a nanoblog platform?

Nano is certainly the right word for Twitter. It restricts messages to 140 characters. It is to blogging what text messaging is to email. And you can communicate with it by text message, IM, or via the web.

Twitter prompts usage by asking a simple question: ‘What are you doing right now?’. So you get the usual rubbish – here are seven typical examples:

1. On the coffee machine
2. Wondering why internet connectivity is intermittent
3. Forgotten cigarets
4. Argh mobile phone doesn’t work at the agency
5. At work
6. @office perform housekeeping task
7. No excuses for Fed Express

To all of which I say ‘who on earth cares?’, or something slightly stronger. But last night I did care… I followed the Major’s progress as he tried to whip the Xbox Live engineers into shape. It worked well, in this context.

So next time you have a crisis and tens of thousands of people want to be kept in the loop, and your website is down, and your blog is too slow to be functional, you can move your (nano)messaging onto Twitter. It works well.

NB – actually, at the time of writing Twitter, it doesn’t work. It appears to be broken. Bloody gamers…

Further Reading

Time on Twitter