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June 8, 2021, 10:01 a.m.

When all else fails: An internet outage sends news publishers scrambling for a backup plan

Some options: Google Docs, Twitter, or just sitting quietly for a while while you wait for the technological gears to come unstuck.

Ask any prepper: You always need a backup means of communication, the stairs you can take when the elevator’s broken. If your wifi’s busted, use your data. Cable out? Dig out the old handheld radio. Slack down? Send an email. If they don’t get the message, you gots to run the pigeon.

From its Pentagon-funded start, the internet was designed to avoid any single point of failure, to route around any damage on the network. But most modern web publishing depends on a small number of large content delivery networks that serve as a faster, more efficient middleman between server and browser. They have names like Akamai and Cloudflare and StackPath, and when they work, they make the internet faster. But when they don’t, they can take down huge chunks of it.

This morning, a CDN named Fastly had a problem for the better part of an hour, and it took down an awful lot of the web: Reddit, Spotify, Amazon, GitHub, PayPal, Twitch, and Hulu, plus major international news sites The New York Times, The Guardian, the BBC, CNN, and the Financial Times. (Not to mention a gazillion more sites, plus a lot of mobile apps that depend on the service.)

So publishers had to scramble.

The Guardian moved to Twitter, where technology editor Alex Hern began a running liveblog of sorts on the situation. (Twitter remained up through the outage, though its emojis — hosted on Fastly servers — didn’t work.)

Some, like the Times, simply noted the outage on social media:

While others whose sites were still online, like Germany’s Deutsche Welle, took the opportunity to show their level of thirst and/or lack of self-esteem.

Perhaps the most smart/dumb response came from technology site The Verge, which opted for Google Docs as a temporary home for its reporting.

The smart part was heading to a company like Google, which was apparently unaffected by the outage. The dumb part was forgetting to make the Google Doc read-only, which meant that for a while, absolutely anyone in the world could be a writer for The Verge. (Put that on your resume!)

And all those “editors” overloaded Google Docs and made the article unaccessible.

POSTED     June 8, 2021, 10:01 a.m.
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