Monday, June 11, 2007

Library Thing: Outage

I knew I should not have sung the praises of the Library Thing widget the other day! For having put the thing in I was greeted with this message when I log on this morning to add a new book:

We're having some issues with a database, and had to take the site down. We're working on it, and the site will hopefully be back up later tonight. Our apologies for the outage.

To be fair, this kind of thing can happen to the best of us. I have knocked over a database or two in my time. I don't want to single out library thing, however, this kind of problem draws attention to a particular quality of a 'web service'. It is only any good if you can get access to the thing.

Now I know that all software is unreliable, however, a web service is unreliable in an interesting kind of a way. Let's face it, you can not get out the manual and fix a web service. Furthermore, you can't re-install it or even switch the server off and on as a last resort. You have to wait and wonder (and then look foolish). Now I know this means that I probably won't waste lots of my time on an unwanted repair task (there are economies of scale even when the service is free to the customer). Furthermore, it also means that library thing will have professional staff to get sweaty and swear but it is still largely out of my control. It is an unwelcome return of the black box blues. Furthermore, it is a return to a deep sense of frustration because the danger of any kind of outsourced service (web-based or otherwise) is that you become dependent upon it to function when you need it (and it will, of course, always fail at the least opportune moment).

I wonder how reliable web services are? Am I making something of nothing here? I welcome your comments!

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