Thursday, September 23, 2010

Facebook downtime

Facebook has been experiencing some major downtime today in various locations around the world:

"After issues at a third-party networking provider took down Facebook for some users on Wednesday, the social networking site is once again struggling to stay online.
The company reports latency issues with its API on itsdeveloper site, but the problem is clearly broader than that with thousands of users tweeting about the outage.
On our end when we attempt to access Facebook, we’re seeing the message: “Internal Server Error – The server encountered an internal error or misconfiguration and was unable to complete your request.” Facebook “Like” buttons also appear to be down on our site and across the Web"
Details are still sketchy (there's speculation Akamai is at fault). And that's the problem. It's almost all speculation right now. The official word from facebook is simply:
"We are currently experiencing latency issues with the API, and we are actively investigating. We will provide an update when either the issue is resolved or we have an ETA for resolution."
That's not going to cut it when you have 500+ millions, and countless developers (Zynga must be freaking out right now). I'm seeing about 400 tweets/second complaining about the downtime. Outages will happen. The problem isn't the downtime itself. Where Facebook is missing the boat is using this opportunity to build increased trust with their user and developer community by simply opening up the curtains a bit and telling us something useful. I've seen some movement from Facebook on this front before. But there's much more they can do, and I'm hoping this experience pushes them in the right drirection. Give us back a sense of control and we'll be happy
P.S. You can watch for updates here, here, and here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

BP portraying Deepwater Horizon explosion as a "Normal Accident"...unknowingly calls for end of drilling

While reading last week's issue of Time magazine, I came across this explanation of BP's pitch attempting to explain the recent accident in the Gulf:
"Following a four-month investigation, BP released a report Sept. 8 that tried to divert blame from itself to other companies -- including contractors like Transocean -- for the April 20 explosion that sank the Deepwater Horizon rig, killing 11 people and resulting in the worst oil spill in U.S. history. A team of investigators cited 'a complex and interlinked series of mechanical failures, human judgement' and 'engineering design' as the ultimate cause of the accident."
Though to some it may come off as a naive "it's not our fault" strategy, the reality (and consequence) is a lot more interesting. I've spoken before about the concept of a "Normal Accident", but let's define it again:
Normal Accident Theory: When a technology has become sufficiently complex and tightly coupled, accidents are inevitable and therefore in a sense 'normal'. 
Accidents such as Three Mile Island and a number of others, all began with a mechanical or other technical mishap and then spun out of control through a series of technical cause-effect chains because the operators involved could not stop the cascade or unwittingly did things that made it worse. Apparently trivial errors suddenly cascade through the system in unpredictable ways and cause disastrous results.
What BP is saying is that their systems are so "complex and interlinked" that they were unable to avert the disaster. In a sense, they are arguing that disaster was inevitable. If "Normal Accident Theory" can be believed, BP is indirectly suggesting deep water oil drilling should be abandoned:
"This way of analysing technology has normative consequences: If potentially disastrous technologies, such as nuclear power or biotechnology, cannot be made entirely 'disaster proof', we must consider abandoning them altogether. 
Charles Perrow, the author of Normal Accident Theory, came to the conclusion that "some technologies, such as nuclear power, should simply be abandoned because they are not worth the risk".
Where do I sign?