May 15, 2009

[Google] The May 14 Outage

Google in 1998Image via Wikipedia

I was busy finishing a blog entry a little before midnight when it happened - I had run a routine Google search on "madeline pastry" since I wanted to verify how it was spelled when my search window timed out. How odd. I almost noticed my Gmail when into "offline" mode, so I figured something was wrong with our internet connection. I checked with my friend and he said he was still connected, but we tried rebooting the router just in case.

No dice. I was still disconnected from Gmail, my Google searches weren't running and Google Reader was not refreshing either. Oh, and Pidgin could no longer connect to Google Talk.

Cue mild panic now.

A Google outage is pretty rare, but of course it's bound to happen sooner or later. Unfortunately, it does act as a startling reminder of just how dependent many of us are on Google for many services. Isolated outages of individual products aren't so bad since that's only a subset of the total population of Google users, but when pretty much the entire Google network goes down, a large chuck of the web goes down with it.

During major web "events" like this, it's always amusing to jump over to Twitter to see how people are reacting. A casual search of the #gmail, #google or #googlefail hash tags got me hundreds upon hundreds of reports about the outage, but not much else in terms of actually useful information. Heck, the worse are those classic Twitter messages along the lines of "if you can't access #google, retweet this post" and it's never ending echoes around the web. It's no surprise some folks have actually written about the silly, non-essential role Twitter plays in times like this.

I have a lot of my life invested in Google's portion of the "cloud", I have to admit. I route all my email through Gmail and I collate all my RSS feeds via Google Reader. I schedule events and reminders on Google Calendar and I maintain a decent number of friends on Google Talk. This blog is on the Blogger platform, my domain is supported by Google Apps and my RSS feed is run by FeedBurner (now a Google product). I run AdSense programs, AdWords advertising campaigns and I study all this through Google Analytics. I manage two wikis via Google Sites, I get updated via Google News and I even have a few Google Alerts set to notify of key updates. I maintain a number of documents and spreadsheets on Google Docs, manage a few email lists via Google Groups and I still have some leftover stuff on Google Notebook. Don't forget watching videos on YouTube and even maintaining links on Google Bookmarks! The list goes on and on...

So yeah, a Google outage is a near catastrophe for me. I'm like Google's primary demographic and it just kills me when any of these services go down, what more all of them.

I almost wasn't able to finish that blog entry - it seemed odd not to be able to search for terms to be used in the entry or to get interest web comics to share from Google Reader. Despite the loss of a major part of my internet life, I pushed on, finished the entry and waited for Google to come back. Yes, I was going through Google withdrawal.

In about an hour it did, and the world was restored to equilibrium. I could finally sleep easy knowing things were more or less back to normal. Google's official statement was as vague as always but CNET's WebWare came up with a pretty comprehensive post-mortem report on precisely what happened.

While I doubt this outage is going to make me abdandon Google for the likes of (gasps) Yahoo anytime soon, it is a bit disturbing how dependent I, and perhaps may others, have become on Google's many web services. While it was funny to read some of the Twitter messages about the Google outage meaning the end of the internet a as a whole, it was also somewhat scary since it almost felt true.

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