When I read yesterday that Facebook was down, only hours after Gmail servers had gone dark, I actually laughed a bit to myself because I realized I was reading it on Twitter. I began to imagine what would happen if it also had server issues. What would the world do...go back to MySpace?
Then, it dawned on me that less than ten years ago, none of those services even existed. Crazy to think that even ten years ago there was no YouTube, no Facebook, no Twitter, no Gmail, not even MySpace. To think just how completely connected we've become in a decade is astonishing.
And all of these services operate on servers -- special computers connected via wires to other computers that form what we call the Internet. The beauty of the concept is that, unlike traditional telecommunications where hubs linked entire networks together, every individual network on the Internet is independent. If one goes down, it doesn't take any other networks down with it, which is why when multiple large networks fail, it feels scarier than it actually is.
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It's also worth noting that neither Gmail nor Facebook were down simultaneously. They, of course, function on their own networks and neither was down for particularly long. For all the e-mail and other services it provides, Google is remarkably reliable as is Facebook, so outages are rare. Even Twitter, so famous for its Fail Whale, almost never forces its users to endure an outage.
Yet, we are so inherently linked to these machines that even a glitch of a few minutes can send people into a panic. Messages about both being down flooded Twitter and, no doubt Google+ if I ever bothered to go there and look.
But, the lesson isn't really that our dependence is a terrible thing. It probably is, but that's for someone else to debate. The lesson is that, when one thing goes down, we naturally migrate to another. It is why companies even as powerful and popular as Facebook and Google do everything they possibly can to secure their networks and improve their services. Once, MySpace was far more popular than Facebook and Yahoo! was a much more trusted search engine than Google. As Chris Rock once said about the music business, "You know what they say, 'Here today, gone today!'"
So, don't panic the next time one of the social media giants goes down. You'll survive on the next big thing as you always have.