Failure and Frustration on the Consumer Web

Updated: January 07, 2011

Instances of consumer web failures are common. To name just a few examples out of many: - In late 2010, this personal money management service inadvertently deleted a user's entire account, including all his data. The anonymous user explained what happened:

About 30 days ago, I had problems logging in. I tried to reset my account but it didn't work so I contacted "support" - for which they just have a form. After several attempts - I am told by support that they cannot find any accounts for me - and the rep told me she has limited time so she has "communicated my problem to 'engineering'". Wow! My entire financial information is available online and I have been a customer for 2 years and they can't locate my account nor do they have a process to get back to me. Its taken me 30 days to get 2 emails back. I am panicked as expected since someone out there could have hijacked my account and obtained all the information. And MINT doesn't have time to get back to me. I am livid.

Skype - This past Christmas, the ubiquitous calling service, used by many millions, went down for about 24 hours. The company's blog explains the problem in technical babblespeak terms that are probably meaningless to most users:

Skype isn't a network like a conventional phone or IM network - instead, it relies on millions of individual connections between computers and phones to keep things up and running. Some of these computers are what we call ‘supernodes' - they act a bit like phone directories for Skype. If you want to talk to someone, and your Skype app can't find them immediately (for example, because they're connecting from a different location or from a different device) your computer or phone will first try to find a supernode to figure out how to reach them.

Hotmail - Just before New Year's, thousands of email users discovered messages missing from their mailboxes. The Hotmail blog explains:

Beginning on December 30th we had an issue with Windows Live Hotmail that impacted 17,355 accounts. Customers impacted temporarily lost the contents of their mailbox through the course of mailbox load balancing between servers. We identified the root cause and restored mail to the impacted accounts as of yesterday evening, January 2nd. As with all incidents like this, we will fully investigate the cause and will take steps to prevent this from happening again. We're very sorry for the inconvenience this may have caused to you, our customers and partners.

Netflix - In 2008, the video service suffered "massive shipping delays" due to internal hardware failure. After this failure, I wrote the following on my ZDNet blog: "Although diagnosing hardware problems can be tough, Netflix gets the dunce award for lack of transparency in the face of disaster."

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