Tech & The Web

The ‘Fail’ Firestorm

©Scyther5/123RF

For about an hour on Thursday, Google was offline.  The company blames the problem on a glitch that routed too much traffic through computers in Asia, overwhelming the system.

To hear the Twitter world talk, it was not only a problem they — the Twitter users — discovered, but a problem of monumental proportions.  Many tweets about the outage featured the additional codeword #googlefail, a “hashtag” that becomes a searchable keyword that Twitter users can use to see what everyone on the planet is saying on the service about that particular subject.

What’s so funny about the whole #googlefail phenomenon on Twitter is that it’s revealing what Gawker is calling a #twitterfail: hours after Google was completely back online, Twitter users were still “reporting” Google being offline as “breaking news.”

For many traditional media haters, services like Twitter represent an exciting alternative, where citizen journalism and speed-of-light posting ability combine to give old-school journalism a run for its money.  One of the biggest complaints the anti-traditionalists have is that the old-school media like to “blow things up out of proportion.”

Says Gawker:

“What Twitter actually does is inflate problems out of all proportion, as Twitterers noisily tweet about how with it, on it, and over it they all are, repeating each other’s messages without adding anything of value. Any Googler trying to search Twitter to diagnose his company’s networking problem would go mad long before he extracted useful information.

Who’s going to report this outage? No one on Twitter, certainly. They’re too busy congratulating themselves for yet another Twictory over reality and common sense.”

Am I being too hard on Twitter to point out such a failure?  The answer, of course, depends on your point of view.  Sure, it’s exciting when you feel like you’re in the grasp of a big, breaking story and it’s your job — either by actual employment or self-appointment — to spread that news.

But for a service with some users who think they can do it better, how ironic it is that they seem to waste no time making the same mistakes they scream to the heavens about.

2 Comments

  1. Jared, that reminds me of a boss I once had. He would jump the gun and be SO unprepared, we called him “Ready, Fire, Aim.”

    Well, not to his face.

  2. This is an incredibly important thing to point out, because it’s a problem with the real-time Web that is being repeated over and over again.

    Take the fires in Myrtle Beach last month — if you believed what was being retweeted, the entire city was burning. This is an even more potent example because this is an example where businesses lost money because people canceled reservations thinking their safety would be threatened. It wasn’t even close to that — it was in a northeastern part of the city, well away from the tourist attractions. Sure some smoke was in the distance for a litlte while, but it was mostly contained fairly quickly and wasn’t something that threatened the main city.

    Here’s an even better one. Late last week the LA Times sent a tweet linking to a year-old story about a California same-sex marriage ban being overturned, labeling the link to the story as “SUPREME COURT STRIKES DOWN PROPOSITION 8.” This was retweeted for hours upon hours to high heaven when in fact the LA Times screwed up — there was no overturning at all.

    Bigger problem? Social media has very little expiration date. Outdated memes typically blaze their way through hours after they should have expired — the only way to expire a meme is to put out counteracting information and hope it takes. Often, the countering information is sobering or not something that stimulates the “Retweet” button (which is a blight on Twitter); the facts are not always sexy. The sensational nature of Google being down is something that strikes folks’ fancy — Google’s NEVER down! — and they want to spread it to all their friends who have already heard it a million times, regardless of whether it’s true or not. Social media is increasingly becoming “shoot first, ask questions later,” making it all the more important for professional journalists to step in and learn the new media.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.