Crowdsourced error detection and the Gmail outage

Gmail was down for an unknown amount of time today. Judging by the talk on Twitter some people were still having issues several hours after Google said the problem had been fixed.

Managing user speculation

One way Google is countering the speculation that will undoubtedly arrive in the tracks of incidents like this is via its status page (screenshots below), where they quickly posted information to its users.

It’s always a good move to have some form of public status page when you run a large online service. This could be a status blog or a purpose-built website like the Google Apps Status Dashboard. This approach not only promotes transparency but also gives companies a central point of information to refer their users to.

That won’t stop people from talking, though.

The real-time, online discussion

The public, real-time discussion of service outages that take place on Twitter is interesting, and a testament to how people have become more or less dependent on Gmail and similar online services. In addition to this, Gmail has so many users that a large number of people will be affected even by brief outages (which they then talk about online).

It should be mentioned that this is in no way unique for Google or Gmail. To name a recent example, problems with the hosting provider Media Temple have been widely discussed on Twitter. Rich Miller over at Data Center Knowledge has posted an interesting article about how Media Temple’s customer service is dealing with this.
There are also a lot of people who use Twitter as an indicator to see if services are having problems. This whole “check on Twitter if others have the same problem as I am” is a pretty interesting phenomenon. We stumbled upon this tweet that sums it up nicely:

Social media sites like Twitter are rapidly becoming the go-to place for status information about large online services such as Gmail. A kind of crowdsourced error detection.

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