Have We Become Too Dependent on Google?

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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?

Craig BucklerCraig Buckler
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Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.

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