Today is the kind of day that make a user question his or her willingness to rely on cloud communications tools. Skype went down this morning, plunging millions of users into phone and IM darkness. Then, Twitter was out briefly before coming back online. The incidents may be unrelated, but they highlight our growing reliance on web communication tools to keep in touch. As we move our exchanges to the cloud, we are increasingly vulnerable to these kinds of outages.
We here at GigaOM were affected when we couldn’t reach contacts via Skype. Our development team coordinates on Skype, and was forced to look to other channels. One alternative was Twitter, which has become an important tool with DM (direct messages). That worked for my colleague Stacey until Twitter went down. A Facebook outage today could have had us preparing for the end of the world.
This is obviously not the first time something like this has happened. We wrote about a big Skype outage in 2007, wondering if it raised concerns about the reliability of P2P communications networks. But a few years later, we’re not just relying on Skype. So many of our ways of communicating are heavily dependent on cloud applications. When one goes down, it can strain the other channels we turn to pick up the slack. Last year’s Gmail (s goog) outage also slowed down Twitter as people turned to that platform to vent and communicate. Today’s Skype outage was trumpeted by many on Twitter, which was also the tool Skype used to update its users. Imagine if Google bought Twitter or Facebook bought Skype. We’d have even fewer alternatives to route our traffic.
The lesson here isn’t that we should abandon online communications tools. Those are here to stay. We need to just keep our options open and be prepared to roll with the punches. Outages are going to be with us for many years to come, especially as these services scale up. The key thing is to have multiple channels ready if and when the next Skypefail or Twitter outage occurs. Think of it like an emergency back-up plan, much like families have rally points to meet up in case of disaster. For example: Meet on Twitter if Gmail fails. It may sound extreme, but with more and more companies and start-ups relying on these tools, it doesn’t hurt to prepare for the worst.
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