Faxyourmp.com went down for a couple of days this week. It was a bit our fault – we’d been stringing out the current server for a while longer than it was really spec’d for, and hadn’t tweaked things to cope with the increased load we’re getting these days. So when a major charity pointed to us (as they do) for a time-dependent campaign, and thousands of people started faxing simultaneously, we broke. We’d have been up quicker, but three of our volunteers have had big deals at their paid work this week.
On the other hand, that charity that dumped all this work into our lap managed to break pretty much every guideline that we ask people to keep. We’ve already finished being grumpy at ourselves for letting this happen, and we had some left over. So we sent them a mail.
Dear Big Huge Charity,
We’re really sorry that we had to take down FaxYourMP over the last day or two. I’m afraid the [Charity's Name omitted] campaign against the [Particular Bugbear of Theirs] took us a bit unawares. We’ve been in the middle of transitioning to a new machine, and the sudden onslaught was a little bit more than we could take at the time.
We don’t like taking down the service, as it’s pretty tough on the dozens of people who use it every day.
Unfortunately, we’re feeling slightly less apologetic towards your organisation in particular. Here’s why:
- Despite what we specifically request on our site you sent a pre-written message that you asked your members – and their friends – to cut and paste into our service. To quote from our own document:
Why shouldn’t I copy and paste “form” letters?
We know your issue is important to you, but we’ve spoken to MPs – and if you are not a constituent, or you send a “copied and pasted” form letter, your fax will go straight into the parliamentary bin.
If you’re a pressure group, please think about what you’re doing. If you encourage all your members to write to the same MP, you will not show that MP the depth of support for your issue. You’ll simply have used up a few sheets of tax-funded fax paper, and irritated an underpaid secretary or researcher. And if you encourage them all to send the same rote letter, MPs will just assume you have a nasty little man with a photocopier blasting them out from your office, and ignore you even more than they did before.
We really, really, really don’t like people doing this. It effectively diminishes the hundreds of faxes we get from people who have pressing problems of their own, and for whom their MP is their last point of contact.
We notice that in your mailout, you suggest people “forward the mail to anyone you think might be able to help”. Unfortunately, you don’t provide any date or details of when the [Bugbear] will end its passage through Parliament.
This is a very bad thing to do to us, and the Internet in general. That’s because of what’s known as the “Craig Shergold” problem.
Craig Shergold – and you can skip this if big charities like yourself have heard it before – was a little boy who was dying of leukemia, and wanted to beat the World Record for Most Postcards Received before he died. Naturally, people wanted to help, so sent letters, wrote newspaper articles, told their friends, and later emailed around pleas to send the cards to his hospital.
Fortunately for Craig, he got better. In 1991. The hospital he was connected to is still getting cards – 350 million at the last count, apparently. The message has also mutated to involve other charities, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Children’s Wish Foundation. It’s a terrible drain on everybody’s resources, because there’s no way to kill the message.
That’s why responsible email campaigns contain a “sell-by” date.
Basically, not only have you diminished the worth of every fax that runs through our service, not only have you cost us a fair bit relaying a bunch of identical faxes that will go straight into the bin – and not the recycling bin, either – but you’ve also potentially doomed us to months or even years of fending off people who will persist on faxing their MP the obsolete details of a Bill that the MPs have already voted on.
In order to stop all of this, when we come back online, we’ll stick a block on the text of the message which will turn away anyone attempting to send it. We’ll probably put some non-shirty message politely explaining why we’re refusing it.
Were we a bit less civically-minded, we might send you a copy of every refused mail with a note attached saying “Remember not to do this again!”.
However, we won’t. This is because we are lovely.
You, however, have been very bad, and this is your punishment:
Please carefully read this email and then ask one of your volunteers (preferably the one who wrote your original mail) to write an explanation, in words that would be best understood by organisations like the [Big Charity], about why what you did was such a bad idea, and how they can avoid doing this in future.
Then mail it to us, and we’ll put it in a prominent place on our site, so we can encourage other large charities to read it before they do what you just did. We won’t put the [Big Charity's Name]‘s name on it if you don’t want us to. We’ll just put “Signed, a charity with over 500,000 supporters throughout the country who is very sorry and won’t do it again”.
Lots of love,
- the FaxYourMP.com volunteers
No reply yet. Big charities and big companies don’t like saying sorry, because their lawyers think it exposes them to all kinds of liabilities.
They forget that not saying sorry exposes you to the liability of being a complete dick.