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What Happens When Web Services Fail Us?

failure.gifAs Web 2.0 gets into full swing and mainstream "average joes" start using and relying on web services, what will they do when those services eventually fail them?

A few stories have brought me to this line of thinking:

  • TinyURL went down Sunday and Monday for several hours. TinyURL conveniently shrinks long web links into tiny web links and handles redirection to the long link's site. When TinyURL failed, so did all of the web links I and thousands of others have created to help our friends, family and colleagues.

  • Pete Prodoehl mentioned the plight of Phil Wilson, who had all of the web services he used on Google fail in a different way — account suspension. Without any warning, his email, documents, and other data was denied him for over a week, as of his last posting.

  • Google penalizes hundreds of blogs who offer text-link advertising on their websites, by dropping PageRank, a number from 1 to 10, assigned to sites based on Google's secret algorithm and other criteria. In a single day, many who relied on Google (too much I'd contend) saw their PageRank and AdSense revenue drop at the whim of Google.

I see these stories as a warning: be aware that the web services I'm using can fail at any time. Be aware that I could be denied services, without notice. Be aware that I could face a lack of access to my account and data, at the whim of the service I use. Be aware that the company who provides advertising income and my search results could change its mind about the value and importance of my site.

I'm not against web services — I use them all the time. However, I keep mission critical data like email on my Macs and my own servers. Maybe it's a generational thing to want my data local, and to be a little leery of giving away too much information to web services.

What web services do you depend on? Could you survive if they folded tomorrow?

Have you considered what you would do if your services went down for a day, a week... forever?

What if those services simply denied access for a terms of service violation you can't prove because the service doesn't respond to your emails?

How would you handle denial from years of your email for 1 week, 2 weeks, a month?

Something to think about.

Reader Comments (6)

Now that I think about it, the majority of what I do online is contained in web services. They are mostly Google apps, which have plenty of resources. But I depend on GMail and — to a lesser degree — Google Reader. There are other web services that I use, but they are only conveniences — things like Todoist and pastebin.

However, losing my account to a suspension is a whole other matter. I can create an email account from my domain, but the only way that would work is if the people emailing me interact with me on a near-daily basis. Getting the address to people who only know my GMail address would be awfully hard.

And if the suspension was indefinite, I guess I'd have to move on. I've started to use GMail's IMAP, so everything backs up. And I make a habit of downloading my OPML every now and again. So I guess the idea here is to these conveniences, but try and maintain backups of your data if those services go down. There's no magic bullet here.
November 19, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterWes
That's a very interesting point you raise Mike.

I have been thinking about using Google Apps or "Gmail for your domain" and had started the process with Google. However, now I'm thinking that maybe I won't.

My site/email is hosted by Segment Publishing who, despite being based in Australia with servers in the US, are the most responsive hosting company I've ever been with.

The only driver for moving to Google was that I can't access my email via my iPod Touch. Not a very good reason I guess... I think I'm addicted to trying new stuff :-)

Think I'll stick with my own IMAP service and keep my Gmail account for shopping, registrations etc.

Thanks Mike...
November 19, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Hughes

Great post. I have thought about this in the past and I think this is exactly the reason that more companies don't ditch MS apps for Google or other online services.

Sure, one of your apps can go down or your company server/individual machine, but I think there's a feeling that this is more likely with an online app.

The ones that will win (in my opinion) are the apps that have a local client and allow you to sync with the web. Then you get the best of both worlds...local backup with the portability of the web.
November 20, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterKevin Behringer
Find the points of failure and try to eliminate them.

My bookmarks are backed up locally, as well as synced with Ma.gnolia. My Flickr photos all start locally, and also go to AmazonS3 (a paid service.) If I lost my Flickr account, it would be the tags, geodata, and comments that were lost, not the actual photos.

Some data is nice, but not critical. For now, if my or Twitter data was lost, it's not a big deal. I could certainly use their API's to do backups.

My email is own my own server. I do use Gmail, but it's mainly as a backup and for non-critical functions.

The question is, do we expect more from paid services than from free services? I pay for AmazonS3, and I do not expect my data to get lost. is free, and in the old days, it went down every now and then, and that was fine.

November 20, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterPete Prodoehl
nice thought, Mike. I think it will be a trend to use more web service. But so far, it is somehow dangerous to keep all content online only. So, I only use gmail service now, but I do believe in near future it will change.
November 20, 2007 | Unregistered Commentertick
Thanks for the comments Wes, David, Kevin Pete and Tick!

I think Pete has an excellent point about being aware of potential failure points and working to eliminate them. Having backups of critical info is a great solution if you can do it. I know I need to review my service and do just that, and ask Pete for guidance.
November 20, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde

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