Sunday, 24 June 2012

Outage Outrages And Why We Shouldn't Worry

Twitter went down for about two hours on Thursday, triggering the most almighty kerfuffle. You'd think we had been hit by an asteroid or something. No, it was a bug in the system and order has been restored. My own website went a bit funny and was out for a few hours today. I didn't make a fuss, I found other things to do. The situations got me thinking about our culture of instant gratification and how we need to let go a bit and focus on what's really important.

I'm as fond of Twitter as anyone else is, but I remember what my father told me many moons ago. One day he was called out to repair the television set of a family in Tallaght, Co. Dublin. When he arrived they said, "Thank God you're here, we've been staring at the four walls for the last hour!"

That story has stayed with me through the years as I recall my father's incredulity that they hadn't grabbed a book, played a game, gone for a walk, or God forbid, talked to each other. I was quite mean when I described it on G+, saying "Shell-shocked survivors staggered into G+ looking for somewhere to post pictures of themselves, their cats, and their dinner." I could have been meaner; "Can you spare $10 to top up their mobile phones so you can see the indecently suggestive pictures they post?" But that's not what it was about and I shouldn't be so horrible. Besides, that's not what happened.

Microblogging culture

Twitter is not about posting up to 140 characters of content, such as a joke or off-the-cuff comment. It's so much more than that. Typically, I use it to post links to my latest blog post, to have a mini-chat with someone, or to spread a message. Most of the Twitter users I follow do the same. News sites post links to their articles there and people share them. This is fantastic free advertising. I've had people retweet my posts from time to time because they found them interesting.

One, at least, has gone viral. Mind you, it helps that I shared it on the FB page of the chap I was talking about, but now that the post it was shared on has gone, I'm still racking up views for it while post view counts for my other posts have stayed the same. People are sharing it, probably as a link on Twitter. Since I don't see the RT of my original share or follow any of those people I don't know how far it's been spread or who is spreading it, but I've got nearly 700 views at this point, more than I've ever had for any of my other posts.

The point is, when Twitter went down, it was a big deal because, for many of us, it's where we "live" online and it's how we communicate and share information. The size of the tweets create a culture of its own and although you can use Twitlonger for longer tweets, most of the time people learn to shorten everything they say so it fits into that tiny space. If you are suddenly the internet version of homeless, it's as much of a shock as if the bailiffs came to your real house and chucked you out on the street with all your stuff. As Google Plus user Eli Fennell says,

What began as one discussion can easily segue into other more-or-less related discussions, even spinning off whole new threads, which in turn may spin-off other threads, which may even lead back to the original thread that started the process in the first place, all contributing to the "Long Conversation" in different ways.

My experience leads me to conclude that Google+ is no mere social network, nor simply an "online community", but a very real and sophisticated, online culture, perhaps unlike any other (most closely comparable, I suspect, to the early days of Twitter, or the Reddit community).  I embrace the part I play in helping to extend the "Long Conversation" across time and (cyber)space, as do many others, all contributing to arguably the most passionate internet community today.

He's talking about G+, but that's because it's where he lives now. Culture may shift and change, but it doesn't stop just because you're not there any more; it stops for you.

My own outage

My website started going slow last night, and given the hour I decided not to post the article I'd written until this morning. But the website was completely down because my ISP had a server problem that persisted for several hours before my site was back up. The blogs and portfolio came back later. I didn't flip out about it, though, because iPage is reliable and I knew they'd sort it out sooner or later. It came back up and I posted the article. The point is that I didn't have the mother of all breakdowns over it.

Obviously it was inconvenient for that short while, but what was the purpose? To share the article. I went on G+ and other sites and chatted to friends until my site came back up, then I posted the article. As I said, iPage is reliable so this isn't going to happen too often and if it does I'll still be fine about it.

What can we learn? Have a backup plan for dealing with outages. Have "games" or "walks" so there's somewhere else to go and something else to do. There's no need for FUD-filled articles of script kiddies bragging baselessly about bringing down the system to be plastered all over the tech news websites. Just chill out and wait for your site to come back up. If it's run by competent professionals, it will.

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