Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Under cloudy skies

My Gmail account was on the fritz for a couple of hours yesterday afternoon, where I could see my new messages on my iGoogle page, but kept getting the following "temporary error" when I clicked on the Inbox link.

I kept trying to log in every few minutes like they told me, and kept getting the same error. Apparently this was part of a global Gmail outage yesterday afternoon. The whole world was without their Gmail from 2pm to 4pm PDT. Oh the humanity!

One of the major benefits of so-called "cloud computing" (webmail and other web-based software services) is that software and data is "always there". Even if your hard disk crashes or your primary computer is lost or stolen, your data is still safe on a magic cloud on the internet.

I've been using Gmail since a few months after it launched, and have had it as my primary personal email address for the last couple of years. I have another email account on yahoo, but that's another web/cloud account. I also have a blog on blogger (obviously) and a flickr account and many other bits of personal data scattered across the intertubes.

But what happens when the cloud is down? If my home ISP or our work network is down, I can still go to the library or Starbucks to get on the internet, but I'm SOL if "the internet" (Google or Gmail) is down. A large part of my internet existence is in Google's hands, even though I've never given them a cent (or even clicked on any ad-words) and they don't provide any guarantee that the cloud will always be there for me. But what happens when it isn't?

Google later apologized for the downtime on the official Gmail blog, saying it was caused by "a temporary outage in our contacts system". Going without email for a couple of hours really isn't the end of the world (and it was only the webmail interface), but it made me think about how much faith I put in that company. Why is Gmail still in "beta" more than four years after its launch? That's enough to cause me to think twice about putting too much faith in it!

Gmail is still the best email I've ever used, and I can't imagine using anything else. Google's products are powerful and easy to use, and not terribly intrusive (unless you want them to be). And their 2008 "Summer Games Gadget" (even they aren't powerful enough to use the O word without paying the IOC) is very cool, but the internet is a big place, so I'm going to try not to use Google as my sole information source.

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