I'm so sad for the Raspberry Pi Foundation, after all their hard work, wonderful goals, and such tremendous support from the worldwide community. This alleged "launch" has to be the worst launch there has ever been in the history of launches. The lovely little device didn't deserve this, and nor did the people. Much sadness ...
To cut a long story short, a few nanoseconds after http://www.raspberrypi.org/
switched to their "The Raspberry Pi Launch" static page which linked to the two distributors Farnell and RS, both of those "industrial strength" websites instantly collapsed. The inability of webbies to make robust and scalable websites is a topic for another time, so I won't dwell on it here. Right now I'm more interested in what this has done to the RasPi launch.
The first casualty was communications with the community. The Raspberry Pi Foundation has built itself a superb record of communication and openness throughout this project, and it's hard to overestimate how important this has been in the creation of something akin to a mass worldwide movement, reaching far beyond mere techie interest. Nothing quite like this phenomenon had happened before in the world, certainly not surrounding a $35 device, and the interest had blossomed so beautifully as a result of the power of people talking to each other.
Until the day of launch, that is. With a click of a sysadmin's hand, the Foundation killed off its own life support. Not only did the main blog disappear but every other communication page as well, including the forums and (incredibly), the FAQ. They created a Twitter channel, oddly expecting 140-character bleets to be able to carry worthwhile information, but the result was predictable. In the absence of a tsunami, the entire stream can be summarized as "How do I order?" and "It's dead, Jim", repeated a million-fold. Perhaps they've finally realized how pointless it was as an information channel, as there hasn't been a tweet there for 22 hours now.
This loss of communications was self-inflicted, and would have been pretty bad even if everything else had worked properly. Alas, the collapse of Farnell and RS turned community isolation into a total launch disaster. Very rapidly, excitement and eagerness to order one of the 10k units in the first batch was replaced with bewilderment at dead websites compounded by complete absence of official information. Nobody knew whether orders were actually working for some people, had the first 10k units been sold, was there any point continuing to try, or what? Amidst this mess, there must have been quite a few minor personal tragedies as well, since many people had disrupted their work or sleep schedules to order a unit, the vast majority to no avail.
Farnell has quite a useful community site at http://www.element14.com/
and its Raspberry Pi group channel was substantially more informative than Twitter. RS's community site http://www.designspark.com/
published a few brief Raspberry Pi articles but doesn't seem to have built any kind of community interest group around the device. The Foundation may have been hoping that these two side channels would take over from their own blog during launch, but that really hasn't worked out too well. RS in particular seem to be very distant from the whole thing. Indeed, RS still doesn't have a proper product page for the device, and a search takes you to nothing more than a "Register here to express an interest in Raspberry Pi" page.
Which brings me to a final point. Both Farnell and RS have rather odd "Register an interest" pages for Raspberry Pi, unusual in the electronics industry. It makes me wonder whether it wasn't the Foundation who orchestrated this, because it seems unlikely to be a coincidence. That aside, it makes no sense whatsoever. The level of interest starts with the size of the RasPi mailing list (~100k), multiplied by some factor representing that many of us will buy several units, and from that baseline the numbers grow into the millions or dozens/hundreds of millions consistent with the goals of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, namely to get these low-priced units into the hands of school children everywhere. So what's the point of a few early adopters registering at Farnell and RS? None at all, it's meaningless. The whole point of putting industry muscle behind Raspberry Pi is to manufacture in volume, say in batches of 100k units minimum, and to keep doing so until demand starts to slack off. The "Register an interest" concept is just plain silly.
So, to wrap up, an eventful couple of days which are best forgotten as rapidly as possible. We still don't know what happened with the first batch, nor the size nor timing of future ones. Raspberry Pi Foundation, please please please restart communication again, it's important. Communication and information is the lifeblood of a project like this one.
And I'm hungry for my Raspberry Pi, and many more later. :-)