When sites go down ..

I didn’t realise how dependent on Facebook I’ve become till I tried accessing it this morning and got this and error. Errors are nothing new here, I’ve seen so many in my day, but when it stops me getting somewhere I want, I get upset. The error is:


I tried it spuriously over the last coupe of hours, but it’s not up yet, which is sad.

It’s a ongoing concern for anyone with an online service as to how to deal with outages, planned or otherwise. The reality is that updates need to be made to a service and sometimes, these updates just cannot take place while users are logged into it. Traditionally, systems used to be available for office workers, so there was the ability of having a service window outside office hours, but as online applications become more pervasive, service windows disappear. Users around the world expect websites to be available at all times, which means .. there’s no really acceptable service window.

In a commercial environment, site unavailability translates directly to a monetary figure. An organisation will have a pretty good understanding of the hourly income a site generates, and therefore can measure the direct cost of taking a site offline for maintenance. There are also implicit costs, like forcing consumers to try your competitors while you’re available, which may result in the loss of life-long customers.

Unfortunately there’s no panacea here. The only thing I can recommend is to understand your audience and figure out where the least painful service window is. Systems can also be built to minimise the impact of replacing core components, but there’s no guarantee that something, sometime won’t take the whole shebang offline. Understanding your audience minimises the effect of this. Knowing when traffic is lower, when traffic is less profitable, when users will be least inconvenienced is a good way to prepare yourself for the implications.

Managing your client’s expectations is also paramount. The best example I’ve seen of this is Company House in the UK, who offer webfiling capabilities for all the paperwork that goes with setting up, running and dissolving a company. They have a declared service window which is basically Sunday. Service on Sunday is not guaranteed because it’s the time they use to maintain, repair and manage their website. Nice to have a slot isn’t it ?

One comment

  1. After all of the talk about facebook I finally caved in. I’m on a ton of social networking sites..but I just never got the concept of facebook..well maybe I understood it…but I just don’t like it.

    I’m on day one..and so far I’ve been bored out of my mind. lol.

    I hope something interesting happens on it soon!

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