On Thursday night Facebook experienced a substantial outage, going dark for up to 80 minutes for some people. This isn’t just another indignity for the company after a rocky IPO — it’s revenue lost. When Facebook is offline it can’t sell ads.

Engineers are working overtime at Facebook’s new HQ

Updated: Facebook isn’t having a good May. First its IPO didn’t “pop” and then the stock traded down the week after it went public. And on Thursday night the social network experienced a substantial outage, going dark for up to 80 minutes for some people. The site is still loading slowly for me and is apparently out for some people at 6:35 PT.

This isn’t just an inconvenience for users — it’s a big deal for Facebook, which can’t make money when users can’t access the site. As it said in the risks section of its IPO filings with the SEC, if Facebook is “unavailable when users attempt to access it, or if it does not load as quickly as they expect, users may not return to our website as often in the future, or at all.”

Like Google, Facebook can’t make money if users can’t see ads, so keeping it up is both a necessity and the source of a huge amount of spending and engineering talent.

I’ve emailed the crew responsible for keeping Facebook up and running for comment. The site has had its share of hiccups, as well as outright outages such as this one in 2010 caused by database error. It also went down briefly earlier this year. But for a site with almost one billion users, Facebook has proven to be remarkably resilient. I expect we’ll soon hear from the company on what caused its latest problem, given its openness around engineering efforts. Remember, delivering five nines (99.999 percent) reliability — which means your site is down less than 5.26 minutes a year — on the web is hard, so hard it may indeed be a pipe dream.

Update: Facebook hasn’t shared details but did offer the following statement:

“Earlier today, some users briefly experienced issues loading the site. The issues have since been resolved and everyone should now have access to Facebook. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

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  1. ..and GigaOm woke up now. TC has been reporting it for past ….

  2. Says my account is temporarily unavailable for the past 30 minutes now

  3. Hey, still better uptime than the Apple store, which they have to take down whenever they update their inventory.

  4. From these two comments, I thought I was reading E! Online.

  5. Hello Stacey! I quoted a section of your article here http://www.quora.com/Facebook-1/What-caused-the-turbulence-and-eventual-downtime-of-Facebook-on-Thursday-May-31st-2012/answer/Ellie-Kesselman with attribution to Stacey Higginbotham on Quora, but wanted to confirm that you were that person, as there are a half dozen other Higginbotham’s on Quora. (And of course, I want to say “thank you” for such a good write-up, so quickly!)

  6. Ha. That’s what they get for forcing the timeline downgrade on everyone.

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