Yesterday’s Gmail Outage: Google Responds

By  |  Friday, September 25, 2009 at 4:36 pm

Gmail LogoYesterday night, I blogged about Gmail’s most recent outage and Google’s communications about it and about glitches in general. This afternoon, Andrew Kovacs of the company’s PR department called to respond to the post. He explained the company’s philosophy about responding to technical issues and conceded that Gmail (which had another major outage on September 1st) has had a rocky month.

A few of the points he made:

  • In response to customer requests for more information after an outage earlier this year, Google introduced the Google Apps Status Dashboard, which indicates whether any of the Google Apps are experiencing services disruptions, and includes information on the nature of any problems and what Google is doing to address them.
  • It decided to provide information about what caused service problems to paying Google Apps customers within 48 hours of an incident, and now releases this information to everybody via the Dashboard. (As I write, it hasn’t done so yet for yesterday’s disruption, but it’s still got time to meet its deadline.)
  • The company doesn’t want to clog up the Gmail blog with information on each and every malfunction, but will post about serious issues that affect a lot of folks. (It hasn’t done so for yesterday’s outage.)
  • When an Apps Status Dashboard said that only “a small subset” of Gmail users were having problems yesterday, Google believed that to be the case. It later learned that more customers were affected, and while it said so in a statement to the press it didn’t update the dashboard.
  • Does Google have an official stance on whether Gmail is unusually flaky, or simply operates in a way bigger spotlight than most e-mail providers? “If you look at our reliability compared to on-premises e-mail, we absolutely perform better,” Kovacs said. “We welcome the scrutiny.”

Kovacs told me that the Google search engine is so dependable that many people use it to test whether their Internet connection is working. “For a whole bunch of reasons, it’s hard to make e-mail as reliable,” he said. “People expect us to be perfect, and our goal is to be near-perfect…In September, we haven’t done as good a job as we want, but the good news is that the team is learning” from technical problems as they occur.

My take? The Google Apps Status Dashboard does most of the things Google should be doing to communicate with the world about Gmail mishaps, but an awful lot of Gmail users don’t seem to be aware it exists. (I know that in part because whenever there’s a Gmail glitch, a lot of them Google for “Is Gmail down” and end up at this old Technologizer post). If there’s any way to get directly from Gmail to the Status Dashboard, I can’t find it, and it’s not easy to find information about it via Gmail’s help system.

Yup, I know that references to the Dashboard at Gmail can only help so much–if Gmail is totally of commission, the pointers will be, too. But it would be in everybody’s interest if Google did everything in its power to alert the millions of folks who rely on Gmail to the fact that there is a place to go for information on disruptions, and for explanations of what happened once the problems are over?


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1 Comments For This Post

  1. Mike Parks Says:

    Can't access Google apps from my 3G Network mobile here in the UK.

    3G Network techies say it's a SIM problem!

    Pity 3G aren't on the ball.

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