Web Apps

Google Gives Talk Users Something to Squawk About

The Google Talk chat application went down some time on Wednesday night, provoking many users to anger. Some said they had switched temporarily to Skype or Twitter.

Google posted updates regularly on its App Status website, and began restoring service on a rolling basis.

The problem apparently also affected the Google+ Hangouts service. Some reports said Gmail had also been impacted.

“The problems with Google Talk and Hangouts are now resolved for everyone,” Google spokesperson Iska Hain told TechNewsWorld. “We apologize for the inconvenience.”

Chronicle of a Chat Service Unraveled

At 3:40 a.m., Google posted a notification on its App Status website saying it was investigating reports of an issue with Google Talk. Ten minutes later, it said the problem affected a majority of users.

Users could access Google Talk but were seeing error messages and other unexpected behavior. Google promised an update by 4:30 a.m., by which time it expected to solve the problem.

At 4:50, Google said it was continuing to investigate the issue and would provide an update one hour later. The next two hourly bulletins said essentially the same thing.

At 7:50 a.m. Google said that Google Talk service had already been restored for some users. At 8:25, it said the problem should be resolved and suggested that users who were still experiencing issues contact it through the Google Help Center.

What Happened?

Outages like this “often happen as the result of a hardware or software upgrade that wasn’t properly tested before installation,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld.

Google Talk is a free service, which makes it a cost center, “so there is excessive focus on doing things cheaply which can, and generally does, result in outages,” he explained. “You don’t exactly get service guarantees with free products.”

Google’s Hain trotted out a stock statement about system reliability being a top priority at Google that had been posted on the company’s App Status site.

“We aren’t sharing the details around the outage publicly,” Hain added.

The Wrath of Users

Google’s behavior toward users, “coupled with the massive discontinuing of services, which is ongoing, will likely convert into distrust for the company and increased reliance on products from other firms,” Enderle warned.

The Internet search giant plans to shut down a variety of services. These include the Google Mini search appliance; Google Talk Chatback; Google Video; iGoogle; and the Google Symbian Search App.

The shutdown of iGoogle sparked widespread user dissatisfaction, with some launching threads on Google forums protesting the move.

Some Google Talk users have threatened to switch to other services because of the outage.

Keeping the Customer Dissatisfied

The Google Talk outage “will certainly cause many to rethink Google for communications,” Enderle suggested. “As Google tries to increasingly sell businesses on their professional offerings, failures like this will [militate] against their adoption because they will translate into distrust of Google’s ability to provide reliable services in general.”

Google “isn’t communicating well at all,” Enderle pointed out. Its response to the outage “continues to reflect a behavior that is anti-customer and serves as a major red flag for anyone thinking of using a Google product for anything.”

Other Services, Other Options

Users have plenty of other options for messaging. Skype, Twitter and Yahoo Chat come immediately to mind. Then there is Pidgin, an open source multiprotocol chat client that connects to AIM, Microsoft’s MSN, Yahoo, GroupWise, and other networks simultaneously. It supports Mac, Windows and Linux and has built-in support for Network Security Services (NSS), which enables encryption.

Empathy, an open source multiprotocol client from the Gnome Project, replaces Pidgin. It has been included in the Gnome desktop since version 2.24.

Ubuntu (from release 9.10, aka Karmic Koala, on) and Fedora (from release 12, aka Constantine) have replaced Pidgin with Empathy as their default messenger.

Other open source IM applications are also available.

IM “really hasn’t been consolidated, unlike email, and folks … often have to use more than one [IM service] because the people they connect with don’t all use the same system,” Enderle said.

Whether that will cost Google users in the long run remains to be seen.

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