Facebook Takes Down the ‘Net: A Cautionary Tale

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Photo credit: Sean MacEntee.

Never put all your eggs in one basket, and beware of relying on outside platforms for your core functionality. These are the watchwords of the digital age, as websites belonging to The Washington Post and CNN, as well as Mashable and Gawker, discovered last week. These and other websites were brought down by what seems to have been an error in Facebook Connect, the code that drives the ubiquitous “Like” button and other Facebook widgets.

The past few years have seen Facebook aggressively pushing its “Like” button until it has become a fixture across the Web. I’m sure that after last Thursday’s failure many of these websites are reconsidering their relationship with Facebook.

Christina Warren of Mashable gives a few details about the hijacking in a piece on CNN:

So what happened, exactly? There was an issue with the Facebook Connect API that caused users on sites that use that API to redirect users to a Facebook error page.

For example, if you were visiting Mashable and logged into our site using your Facebook account (and you were also signed into Facebook), you were automatically redirected to a Facebook error page.

Exiting the page or attempting to re-access the original site would lead to another.

Sites such as The Huffington Post, Kayak, Hulu, The Daily Dot, Pinterest and hundreds of others were all impacted. The bug lasted less than 10 minutes.

Ten minutes can be an eternity in Internet time. For large, high-traffic websites it can represent thousands of missed pageviews — all because a third-party website had a gitch. I’m pretty sure that when all the big Web properties integrated Facebook functionality they had no idea that an error would not only disable that functionality but cut off access to their online content in the process. As far as the wake-up calls go, it’s a pretty serious one.

Richi Jennings at Computerworld flat out calls Facebook “malware” in his roundup of reactions to the event. In my opinion, it’s an accurate assessment. Take a look at his collection of quotes from around the Web on the subject — it’s worthwhile reading.

While I’ve always endorsed the use of Facebook for my clients I have also always done so with numerous caveats. The obvious and recurrent privacy issues are one reason, but the main one is that a brand should not put most of its efforts into a third-party platform.

Instead of uploading pictures or notes to Facebook, I always advise my clients to host them on their own dedicated Web space and link them from Facebook. That way, they can keep control of their work and assets rather than putting it in control of a third party. Of course, this most recent Facebook failure shows that even non-Facebook content can suffer when Facebook has a problem.

Investing in an online social footprint is an essential part of being a modern brand, but relying on outside parties for core functionality is a foolhardy risk if those companies are not being paid to keep your brand’s interests at heart.

I have been leaning away from Facebook for some time now, mostly keeping up with it for the sake of my clients. This incident makes me happy that I have always advised my clients to avoid outsourcing their comments or functionality, beyond the “Like” button itself, to Zuckerberg and Co. Now I find myself even reconsidering the “Like” button. After all, with the drastic reduction in reach brought on by changes in EdgeRank it may not be worth dropouts like this one.

What do you think? Are you, like Mark Cuban, reconsidering how much importance to give Facebook in your marketing mix? Let us know in the comments!

About George Williams

George "Loki" Williams is the community and brand manager for award wining game company Savage Mojo, Ltd. and the owner of SocialGumbo, LLC, an online consultancy specializing in Web content and online communications. Loki has produced content for clients including the Open Society Institute, National Association of Broadcasters, Kobold Press, and Kaiser Permanente. His work has been seen or written about in The New York Times, The BBC, Air America, The Gambit Weekly, and NOLA.com, among others.

   

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