Today’s Gmail outage illustrates just how tolerant the new realtime architecture is to individual service failure. The initial surprise at the comprehensive nature of the flatlining may have caused some significant degree of marketing damage, my bet is that the end result will be a boost to the service’s popularity, and with it, realtime services including Twitter and FriendFeed.
For my part, moving over to FriendFeed direct messaging and private groups immediately took the outage offline for the work I was doing. The fact that traffic slowed dramatically on Gmail (IMAP and POP were still up) meant there was little to miss or catch up on. My iPhone let me know that I was missing very little, and FriendFeed aggregated both the Twitter flow that documented the extent of the outage as well as the message and blog traffic that explained the outage’s contours.
Within minutes it became clear how little I now depend on email in general. TechCrunch’s internal traffic is over Yammer, and FriendFeed’s realtime chat function has already scooped up most of the collaborative chatter. In recent weeks we’ve been readying a service to be released alongside the return of live video streaming of the Gillmor Gang, and the development team switched over to private groups (what used to be called rooms) a few days ago. Email continues to be a valuable source of one-to-one messaging in near realtime, but the collaborative filtering of social graph-based alerts is slowly but surely taking over from RSS readers.
Taken from a 10-thousand foot view provided by the outage, Gmail becomes a critical service that can be patched around with just a few key services, nailing up direct messaging and private groups configured to send email alerts of the resultant rerouted messages back to email when the outage is over. After 5 minutes or so, the problem went away from an operational perspective. Twitter outages have been more disruptive for their impact on information flow, and Google has learned valuable lessons which will reduce the likelihood of the current event significantly. We didn’t dodge a bullet as much as catch it in our teeth.