Mailbox Suffers Outage Due To ‘Unprecedented Demand’

When you consider yourself a pro at something, but it’s mainly because you have a great tool to help you, what happens when that tool breaks? I got to find out this morning when Mailbox, my email client for both mobile and desktop, for some reason decided to stop working. And suddenly I was no longer a pro at handling email.

I knew that I had new email because I could see them in my Gmail and TechCrunch browser windows. But they weren’t appearing in the Mailbox app, either on my phone or on my computer. I wasn’t alone — a number of users suffered the same issue, which began at around 7:00 or 8:00 am PT this morning.

The problem apparently revolved around Mailbox’s ability to add and sync emails between different clients. The service isn’t a pure IMAP client, so it does a little bit of magic on the backend to ensure that emails which are archived and snoozed and saved for later. (For more on how it does that, you can check out the explanation here.)

But that can cause issues if its servers become overwhelmed, which is what appears to have happened this morning. As a result, the client wasn’t properly syncing messages from users’ email accounts, which caused email to be a little less easy to use.

A representative for Mailbox said the sync delay issue was due to “unprecedented demand,” which seems to have been prompted by a number of people trying out the company’s brand new desktop app all at the same time.

When Mailbox first launched its mobile email client about a year-and-a-half ago, it came out with a reservation system that was designed specifically to avoid that type of spike in demand. In that way, it was able to gracefully scale up and bring users on board without its servers falling down.

With the launch of its desktop client, it tried to avoid that fate by introducing the concept of “betacoins,” which are basically just single-user licenses that unlock the client when it’s installed. Unfortunately it seems like they didn’t stem demand quite enough, as new Mailbox for desktop users seemingly overwhelmed its system for syncing mail.

The good news is that our short email nightmare is over and apparently Mailbox is working again. So I can finally go back to being a pro at email.