When Gmail Fails, Users Adapt

Updated: Can technology users adapt to the relatively high failure rates of their favorite communications tools by skipping from service to service when one option fails? With Gmail down last night, Twitter traffic relating to the failure was all over the place. Update: Hitwise says Twitter’s traffic on Monday was an increase of 35% compared to daily average so far in 2009. A quick (but obviously unscientific) peek at my Facebook page showed more messages than usual from my friends, some even noting that Gmail was down.

The companies behind these web services have huge data centers packed with servers running their social networks or mail functions; they’re designed so when one of those servers fail, it doesn’t bring down the entire application (clearly, last night something did in the case of Gmail). As users, we apply this redundant approach to keep our digital lives in synch.

Thanks to free (but less reliable) web services, we can face a failure and move on to the next tool in our arsenal with only a few minutes of complaining. Yes, it’s a lowering of standards to accept nothing but the fabled “five nines” provided by the wireline phone business, but it’s a road we’ve been on for years.  Think about what you will accept from a cell phone in terms of lost connections and dropped calls. Reliability is not keeping us tethered to our landlines by any stretch of the imagination.

Five nines is too expensive for most free, consumer-oriented web services to maintain, and realizing that, we seem to be building out our store of redundant communications. So now, when life offers us power outages, snowstorms and even Gmail failures, we’re able to pick right up and keep blogging, tweeting, texting and posting our thoughts into the ether.

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