Have We Become Too Dependent on Google?

By Craig Buckler
We teamed up with SiteGround
To bring you the latest from the web and tried-and-true hosting, recommended for designers and developers. SitePoint Readers Get Up To 65% OFF Now

Google holding up the WebThe recent Google downtime affected several of their core services including search, GMail, YouTube, Analytics and their advert systems. The fault lasted around an hour and Google estimated that 14% of users suffered slow or interrupted access. This follows a couple of bouts of GMail disruptions earlier in the year.

Most of us have experienced some sort of server hardware or software failure. Service disruptions are inevitable no matter how much planning or contingency you put in place: unexpected events will always occur. However, few of us are responsible for services that total 5% of all Internet traffic.

To be fair, Google has experienced few periods of downtime in over a decade of continuous service. Unfortunately, when Google does go down, it can take other systems with it. Many people experienced problems with business-critical websites, such as online banks, because they relied on services such as Analytics.

Take a look at your own portfolio. Even if you are not using Google’s website platforms, such as Google Sites or Blogger.com, do you depend on Analytics, Google account login, Google Checkout, Google Maps, YouTube videos, AdSense, or Feedburner? Or does your business rely on Google Docs, GMail, AdWords, News, Reader, or Trends?

During the downtime, Google stated that people could switch to competing systems. If users could not access Google search, they could easily use Yahoo, Live.com, Ask or one of the many other search providers. But how could GMail users switch services? How could an online shop using Google Checkout switch to PayPal for an hour or two.

The situation is likely to become worse. Google’s business model is to provide great online tools and services for zero cost; many of us have benefited from that policy. However, would you now choose to develop an Analytics-like web statistics system or any other service that Google gives away for free? Both Microsoft and Yahoo have tried and neither has been particularly successful. Google’s tools are better and cost nothing: will there be any Analytics competitors in five years time?

The Internet may be a distributed network, but Google is rapidly becoming a single point of failure.

Were your sites affected by the downtime? Has Google become too dominant? Are we too reliant on their services? Do Google failures cause a tsunami effect across the whole Internet?

We teamed up with SiteGround
To bring you the latest from the web and tried-and-true hosting, recommended for designers and developers. SitePoint Readers Get Up To 65% OFF Now
  • I don’t use gmail, or any free email service in fact, the only thing I use google for is searching, so I don’t think I’m dependent on them by far!

  • Tarh

    I’ve managed to switch away from all Google services, with the exception of GMail (but that switch is in the pipeline). I didn’t switch because of downtime, though; I switched because Google is becoming increasingly evil in terms of privacy.

  • appletsauce

    I use Google search and Gmail but didn’t even notice there was any downtime. Thankfully I don’t rely on the other services.

  • Shufflemoomin

    Unless someone buys their own physical mail server, you’re still reliant on a service that could go down. Even your own mail server would reply on your ISP not to go down. I’ll stick with GMail. All services are liable to downtime and Google’s record isn’t all that bad.

  • Sasha

    This depresses me. I’m one of those those people who use Google for at least 50% of their online stuff…

  • @Shufflemoomin
    It’s absolutely true that any service can go down, but Google’s services are inter-connected to some extent. When Google goes down, it can take email, websites and your important services at the same time.

    That said, Google is reliable and has the financial and technical resources to remain that way. But how long would it take for the web to recover if Google disappeared?

  • I am truly hoping that a new search engine will come up and compete with Google. It is not as if I hate Google, but businesses have become so dependent on it. We have already seen what has happened when businesses get to big and then fail. Google has grown so big that it is essentially the “official” search engine for the internet. This isn’t 100% accurate results, but through searches of my site it is a 50 to 1 difference. For every 40-50 Google searches there is 1 yahoo search.

  • curtismchale

    Really google is down less often than the corporate email server at work. They end up shutting down our server at least once a week and we loose email for an hour as everything spins back up.

  • tcertain

    What if PayPal goes down or hotmail or etc., etc, etc. We all depend on something from the internet. Yes Google has a lot of users. But that is why everyone uses them for something. For as big as they are, I think they do a pretty good job of all the things they do. As the old saying goes though “Never keep all your eggs in one basket”

  • I only use Google for search. I use to use Google and Yahoo, now just Google.

    I have noticed an increase of visitors from Yahoo search. Same rank on both Google and Yahoo for years, so maybe more people are using Yahoo?

    Either way, I think we all know nothing is forever… except Diamonds…

  • monton

    In an ideal world you would have 3 or 4 major search engines with similar share and passing similar levels of traffic so there own’t be need to worry to much if some of your pages get deindexed or pages drop in rankings on Google because you can still get traffic from other search engines.

    It would be a lot better if the search share was 40-30-30 or any other similar combinations with Google, Yahoo and Microsoft rather than what it seems like 70% share to Google currently even if official statistics tell us Google has around 62% or so.

  • I’ve never used Gmail. It never appealed to me especially the GUI. Google is my search engine of choice and I am always checking out where places are using Google Maps. Also, I can’t resist using YouTube, viewing and uploading my own videos.

  • 12sharks

    One of the words in this headline isn’t a word. (hint: third to last)

  • 12sharks

    Oh wait, never mind. That was stupid of me.

  • Kevin

    I use Google for everything because it’s easy to use and it more secure than 99% of the other stuff out there. Sure Google had down time … but it’s super rare. I’m actually more worried about my laptop crashing than Google going down. At least they back things up properly.

  • Lacy Lee

    wow. I’m one of those person who use Google for at least 50% of their online stuff…
    But i don’t think i have made good use of it.
    Just as my store is a good example.WELCOME!

  • loganathan

    google mail looks good to me, never felt bad!

  • Heh, I blogged about that about half a year ago – http://www.mikeborozdin.com/post/What-If-Google-Suddenly-Stops-Working.aspx

  • orokusaki

    Google Checkout is not affected by their site’s downtime. Google Checkout runs on a different system, and is not coupled with Search/Gmail/Analytics, etc.

  • There is still other search engine like you can try Exalead

  • @orokusaki
    Are you 100% sure about that? Even if Checkout is on a separate system, it’ll still be connected to the net at a Google-owned data center.

  • Interesting article. Its occured to me for some time that Google are constantly developing ‘free’ tools to become an ever increasing part of internet users online experience with sights set on global internet domination it appears. But of course you rightly point out the pitfall of relying on services provided by a single company is that if the service fails it can cause major disruption.

  • never put all your eggs in one basket, google offers many great services but we need to not be afraid to support other start ups. Too much power and information centralized with 1 incorporated company is not going to do humanity much good.