Google may have emerged from its Gmail outage unscathed, but that and similar incidents may ultimately strengthen social media apps commonly used with Google, like Facebook and Twitter, analysts said.
Gmail users were left without the service for over an hour and a half, leading them to seek alternative ways to communicate about the email service. Updates, tweets and blog posts about Gmail proliferated as users realized quickly that it was Google's trouble and not their own. In fact, Google itself helped to amplify the troubles, as searches related to Gmail took 10 of the top 10 of the top spots in Google Trends Tuesday for a time.
Google reacted swiftly and apologized to its customers."Today's outage was a Big Deal, and we’re treating it as such," wrote Ben Treynor,vp of engineering and site reliability czar posted on Gmail’s blog. "We've already thoroughly investigated what happened, and we’re currently compiling a list of things we intend to fix or improve as a result of the investigation."
According to Treynor, the outage was due to routine server maintenance that put more pressure on the backup routers than Google had expected. The overloaded routers refused the extra traffic and users were no longer able to access it.
Experts said this was a prime example of the need to rely on alternate means, especially if a company uses Gmail or other so-called "cloud computing" apps to communicate with consumers. Cloud computing refers to apps that can be accessed on any PC or Mac and don't rely on storage on an individual machine.
"Companies really need to advertise the alternatives—they need to hedge their bets and let the consumers know that they can also go to Facebook or call an 800 number, but you have to put the alternatives in front of social media consumers," said Pete Blackshaw, evp of Nielsen digital strategic solutions. "The Google breakdown upped the benefits of using alternative channels."
This is only the most recent such social media snafu. The Twitter outage in early August also forced users to find other ways to communicate, and according to David Griner, social media strategist for Luckie and Company (and writer for AdFreak), it presented more challenges than the loss of Gmail for those seeking immediate updates on what was happening. When Gmail went down, the functioning Twitter offered a more convenient solution than when the roles were reversed.
"I was kind of surprised how much Twitter worked as a backup—almost everyone I needed to reach I could reach through there and I was able to get information publicly about how it was down and what the updates are," said Griner.
Such issues may create a tougher environment for new media sites and even new Google services that are seeking greater market penetration. According to Alan Wolk, founder and creative strategist at digital strategy company The Toad Stool, could also raise interest in Yahoo's efforts at creating a new mail service and give the company an opening to move in on Google. But that these issues could make a long-term impact on Gmail or Google seems unlikely.
"I don't think there's a lot of people who are going to say 'nevermind Google, they've had an outage,'" said Griner. "They've had several outages and when it happens it seems like a catastrophic earthquake, but then people come right back the next day."
— Nielsen Business Media