Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Transparency in action at Twilio

When Twilio launched an open-source public health dashboard tool a couple of weeks ago, I knew I had to learn more about Twilio. I connected with John Britton (Developer Evangelist at Twilio) to get some insight into the Twilio's transparency story. Enjoy...

Q. What motivated Twilio to launch a public health dashboard and to put resources into transparency?
Twilio's goal is to bring the simplicity and transparency common in the world of web technologies to the opaque world of telephony and communications.  Just as Amazon AWS and other web infrastructure providers give customers direct and immediate information on service availability, Stashboard allows Twilio to provide a dedicated status portal that our customers can visit anytime to get up-to-the-minute information on system heath.  During the development of Stashboard, we realized how many other companies and businesses could use a simple, scalable status page, so we open sourced it!  You can download the source code or fork your own version.

Q. What roadblocks did you encounter on the way to launching the public dashboard, and how did you overcome them?
The most difficult part of building and launching Stashboard was creating a robust set of APIs that would encompass Twilio's services as well as other services from companies interested in running an instance of Stashboard themselves. We looked at existing status dashboards for inspiration, including the Amazon AWS Status Page and the Google Apps Status Page, and settled on a very general design independent from Twilio's product. The result is a dashboard that can be utilized to track a variety of APIs and services.  For example, a few days after the release of Stashboard, MongoHQ, a hosted MongoDB database provider launched their own instance of Stashboard to give their customers API status information.

Q. What benefits have you seen as a result of your transparency initiatives?
Twilio's rapid growth is a great example of how developers at both small and large companies have responded to Twilio's simple open approach.  The Twilio developer community has grown to more then 15,000 strong and we see more and more applications and developers on the platform everyday.  Twilio was founded by developers who have a strong background in web services and distributed systems.  This is reflected in our adoption of open standards like HTTP and operational transparency with services like http://status.twilio.com.  Another example is the community that has grown up around OpenVBX, a downloadable phone system for small business Twilio developed and open sourced a few week ago.   We opened OpenVBX to provide developers the simplest way to hack, skin, and integrate it with their own systems.

Q. What is your hope with the open source dashboard framework?
The main goal of Stashboard is to give back to the community.  We use open source software extensively inside Twilio and we hope that by opening up Stashboard it will help other hosted services and improve the whole web services ecosystem.

Q. What would you say to companies considering transparency in their uptime/performance?
Openness and transparency are key to building trust with customers.  Take the telecom industry as an example.  They are known for being completely closed.  Customers rarely love or trust their telecom providers.   In contrast, Twilio brings the open approach of the web to telecom and the response has been truly amazing.  When customers know they can depend on a company to provide accurate data concerning performance and reliability, they are more willing give that company their business and recommend it to their peers.  Twilio's commitment to transparency and openness has been a huge driver of our success and Stashboard and projects like OpenVBX are just the beginning.


  1. Nice, we have downloaded Stashboard to check it out. We wanted to do a dashboard but weren't sure we were going to be able to get enough dev time to get it done by our launch, so this could be a big help!

  2. Definitely let us know what your experience with it is.

  3. Hi Lenny, we have it setup and testing over at wickett.appspot.com. There are several things that you get out of the box with this tool: 1. Status updates and custom status codes (so if you wanted to say "manufacturing line two is down due to a peanut butter jam" then you could do that. 2. Notes and comments on status which allow you to explain status codes. While you are still in the error state you can say "We spilled peanuts on the floor and are working hard to clean it up" but it will still maintain the error state in addition to the comments about what is being done to troubleshoot an issue. 3. API for your customers to hit directly so that people can consume our status into their tools and processes.

    We are working on actually hooking this together right now with our monitoring solution.

    One design feature we are kicking around is escalation of event status. So an alert can go from NORMAL to WARNING to ERROR, but once in ERROR it can never go back to NORMAL without human intervention. We think this is a good idea because we want to make sure that we are providing details every time we are in a down state. What do you think about that logic? Should human intervention always be required for status to be communicated back to normal?

    - James

  4. Thanks for sharing! Impressed with how much you get out of the box. Didn't realize it included an API feed of statuses.

    In regards to your question, I love the philosophy behind it, but it's hard to say if this needs to be a hard requirement. That depends on your organization and your culture. Just being transparent about the issues with the simple status is more then most companies will ever have, and being accurate about the state of the issue (e.g. if it fixes itself it shouldn't show ERROR) is probably more important at this point.

    Thanks again for sharing!

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