Politics

GMail Goes Down for an Hour and a Half: There Oughta Be a Law!

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Gmail FAIL

When Google's email product, GMail, went down for about an hour and a half this week, it was pretty traumatic. I actually had to remember the password to an ancient Yahoo account in order to send an urgent email. Horrible.

And just as the sun inevitably follows the rain, "there oughta be a law" articles started cropping up that evening and on through yesterday. The most blatantly silly, and most widely distributed, was this gem by Patrick Thibodeau, who wrote:

It's too bad the National Transportation Safety Board can't investigate Google to find out just why Gmail crashed Tuesday…..The NTSB would seek out the root cause of the outage, hold hearings and issue a report with recommendations for fixing the problem.

Yep. A government-issued report six months from now is exactly what we need. Without an NTSB report looming over them, what incentive could the folks at Google possibly have to fix this problem quickly and make sure it doesn't happen again?

Actually, there is one redeeming feature of Thibodeau's article. He does offer the important service of outlining a worst case scenario for government involvement with a good product. Google has been pushing to get its mail, documents, and spreadsheet applications into corporate and government-use environments. If I were Google, articles like Thibodeau's would make me think twice about trying to get government hooked on my product.

Never mind that any city's current system certainly goes down regularly, probably far more regularly than the two very brief Google outages ever that I've been aware of. Even Thibodeau notes "Los Angeles' IT department is recommending the city move to Google Apps and says the company's services 'often exceed the current city level.'" Because the minute that the City of Los Angeles loses an hour of precious paperwork time, well:

it's unlikely that an informed public will settle for incomplete explanations about outages.

If the service is critical, they will want to know what went wrong. Was the equipment upgraded, patched? Was staffing at proper levels? When was the last time someone tested the emergency generators? And so on.

Answers to fair and legitimate questions will be sought and little "dashboards" aren't going to cut it.

Actually, when my mail went down, I hopped over to Twitter, searched #gmailfail, watched the dutifully hashtagged yawps of hundreds scroll by for a minute, found a link to the maligned dashboard page, where I checked in for updates at promised intervals until the problem was fixed. When NTSB can do that, we'll talk. If it gets worse or happens more frequently, I'll bail on Gmail, which boasts about the ease with with people leaving the system can migrate out contacts and old mail.

In the meantime, let's hope governments everywhere take Thibodeau's advice and stay away from Google.