Posted by Nic Musolino on September 2, 2009 03:02 PM
People used to regularly complain about the endless appending of the qualifier ‘Beta’ to all Google products. Yesterday afternoon Google proved the logic of its naming schema when its free mail service, Gmail, went dark for almost an hour, plunging most of the western world (or at least the small sliver that use Gmail) into confusion and anguish as the ubiquitous and free service was taken from them.
The jokes were barely dry on various blogs before the service had returned. Like Twitter, the lingering damage to reputation will be minimal. Not because they have a joke ‘fail whale’ (the graphic Twitter uses when its service is interrupted), but because you rightly suspect that every second the problem persisted there was hue and cry throughout their catered lunch and scooter-friendly halls.
In the history of online service, be it hosting, SaaS or cloud computing, the Holy Grail is ‘five nines,’ or 99.999% uptime. This has spawned various measuring tools, guarantees, complaints, lawsuits and more. The argument that you can map cause and effect (x minutes of downtime means y lost revenue) doesn’t really hold. Before businesses could automate sales 24 hours a day, you still had dropped and missed calls. Staff may be unavailable for any number of reasons. Stuff happens.
Rather than getting tied up in knots with metrics, it’s more important to make it clear to clients and customers that you are doing your absolute best, and on occasion providing a little evidence that your best is also the best. Google’s best with Gmail is pretty impressive (my account, according to a rough calculation has had practically ‘five nines’ of uptime over four years). Other companies, such as Zappos, go far on the same principle. Antagonism is never a recipe for customer retention.
Then again, there’s the alternate view: when Google goes down, there ain’t a whole lot you can do either. Making yourself indispensable (note to Google legal team: remember this term when you travel to Europe) is another way to make sure people keep coming back for more.