Gmail lesson: Don't use stats to minimize angry users

Google kept its users pretty well informed during the latest outage -- but please, guys, don't try to hide behind percentages

If you were one of the users who logged on to Gmail this past weekend to find all your emails and Gmail settings gone, no doubt feelings of abject terror and helplessness ensued.

Welcome to the era of the cloud.

When downtime casts its pall, honesty and clear, ongoing communication from the cloud provider must follow, or users will flee and never return. Overall, we give Google a "B" in this regard.

Since early 2009, after several downtime incidents, Google has done a decent job keeping users informed with its App Status Dashboard. Last weekend, the Dashboard messages indicating Google had discovered an issue and was investigating started appearing late Sunday afternoon.

Updates continued every few hours until Google announced at 10:40 p.m. that it was beginning to restore access to users. After a few more vague updates, the dashboard provided a link to the Gmail blog, which described the storage software update bug that had erased several copies of user data as well as Google's efforts to start restoring users' email stores -- slowly, using tape backups. To the best of its ability at the time, the blog told customers what they could expect and what email they may have lost for good.

The only false note in Google's efforts was its attempt to downplay the downtime through percentages, saying it affected only 0.08 percent of its users, which several news stories promptly translated into around 150,000 -- then 0.02 percent of its users, which was translated into approximately 40,000.

"It never works for a provider to minimize an event," says Claude Baudoin, senior consultant for Cutter Consortium. "They always look worse if they try to stay silent, or if they look like they're spinning the numbers."

Another lesson for users, says Baudoin, is to take simple measures to reduce total cloud dependence, such as downloading your Gmail into a local store using Outlook.

This story, "Gmail lesson: Don't use stats to minimize angry users," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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