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Gmail was down (google.com)
971 points by d1egoaz on Jan 24, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 457 comments

Very funny that me and my coworkers at nearly the same time opened our office doors to look into each others eyes and silently confirm that we were having the same issue.

Then we all turned around and went back into our offices to check HN to see if it was just us.

Very funny that everyone reading this did something similar. 84 points in 4 minutes.

The intensity and speed this thread rose up on HN illustrates a very important principle. People are more likely to leave a review/comment/upvote if something is not working for them.

Understanding that is useful when comparing products using reviews.

This is a very important principle.

For a time, Target used Amazon's website code. Here is what they found. People leave reviews of books that they like. People only bother reviewing microwave machines when they didn't work.

This meant that Amazon's code didn't work out as well for Target as it did for Amazon...

The whole online review thing is thoroughly broken. I am not even talking about people leaving bad reviews for things like "the seller didn't ship it on time", etc. I am talking about the fact that most people that leave a review have nothing to compare the product to. For example, try shopping for a wireless router. You'll find lots of people either praising or bashing it but having no basis for comparison. Star ratings are completely screwed because lots of people give both one and five star ratings based on completely insane criteria. Long written reviews are naturally most informative, but you have to remember that they are also extremely subjective.

On the other hand, you can't trust expert reviews either. The experts spend too little time with each product to form an actual opinion. They often form their opinions based on some very shallow factors. A canonical example of this is mobile phone reviews by sites like Engadget or Gizmodo. They review so many phones that they can spend only a few days with each.

Edit: one of the worst things for this is reviews of hard drives. While there certainly are hard numbers to go off, there are also lots of opinions: "Well I've owned 6 Seagate drives over the past 4 years, and they all ended up dead. Seagate products are crap!" That does not mean that all Seagate drives are crap, maybe just laptop ones. Or maybe your controller is bad and you keep attaching good drives to it. Or maybe you keep sticking these drives into a case with poor ventilation. On top of that your sample size is too small.

Agreed that online reviews are broken. That's what drove me to co-found a company that takes a different approach to reviews, one which stresses category over individual products.

Start with the premise that the person you most want to give you advice is someone who is passionate about a topic or at least has done a lot research on it. If you ask them for advice, first they'll give you an overview, which hopefully includes what attributes you should be thinking about. Then they'll recommend a small number of models to consider, based on what you seem to be interested in. If you're doing this with other people around, perhaps a few other people will pipe in with suggestions.

So - for example - if you're looking for 3-4 player board games more interesting than Sorry and Monopoly - so interesting that they have a decent chance of getting your friends and/or family members more into gaming - I prepared a guide on our site that does just that:


(Note: site styling is incomplete - we're not quite ready to launch)

The essential idea is that if you narrow a topic down enough (i.e. 7200 RPM HDDs that are very quiet and can easily survive a several foot drop onto a hard floor), there's probably somebody out there who's taken a great interest in that narrow niche and can write about it very well.

On the other hand, it's hard to write about the too-broad hard drive category as a whole, and it's also difficult to talk about one hard drive with little context.

It's sometimes great pleasure to see how an original topic in HN starts delving into side topics that have nothing to do with the original. I thought it was a one-off thing but seems to happen quite a bit.

Nothing wrong with a good fork!

The original post is sometimes just kindling for other discussions. What can you really say about gmail being down that is that interesting? (That is a question....)

Would be interesting if we could flag a side conversation and they appear collapsed by default, with a button like "Off Topic. Click to Expand."

I think that one's pretty easy: Why is it down? Technical hypotheses, discussion of past history of outages, etc.

This is normal for any conversation.

They aren't great but they aren't useless either. A customer is basically rating, "Was I satisfied?". If everyone who bought this product was 100.0% satisfied, is that not useful information, even if there is another competing product that might be better?

The thing is, there is no way to ascertain the level of competence of the person writing the review. Is this someone really knowledgeable, or is it some dumb newbie? Sometimes it's easy to tell, but other times it's very hard.

Then there's also the issue of reviews with an "agenda" - self-explanatory, no need for me to say more.

One thing that seems to work is to see someone I know using a gadget, to actually see that gadget being used, and talk to that individual briefly about the gadget. The info I get this way seems quite a bit more trustworthy than online reviews. Of course, this could also be an artifact of the way we form opinions.

Another empirical observation: on Amazon, a significant amount of negative reviews is typically an indication of a real issue. But the absence of negative reviews doesn't say much. Positive reviews do not appear to be quite as relevant-information-rich, unless there's an extremely large amount of them.

This is why Google did the right thing tying their reviews to their social network. If I know the person doing the review, I can put it in context. There are people whose opinion on wireless routers I'd listen to, and people I wouldn't.

A lot of people got angry at the time, and publicly declared they wouldn't review any more. But that's not really a big loss. Their reviews might be the most qualified out there, but as long as they were anonymous I would be unable to put them in context, and they would be of very limited value to me.

This just leads to survivorship bias. Its a shitty hack. A good review systems needs to encourage honesty, not discretion (selective revelation). The substitution of selective revelation for "honesty" is not a more honest or more reliable system. This is a common mistake, and one that marketers like to promote. As it works to their advantage: to manipulate the selection and revelation process, it helps to have a system in place such as the one you describe.

I think while that is one benefit of their move, it was not primary purpose. Google is data. They had different users on different services, now they are trying for unified account (Which is probably going to be G+ with everything else attached to it). In essence that is to allow people "convenient" access to all Google services with a single login. However, really it is to tie real people to their services (Easier to sell shit to real people) and to chain them to using Google.

I know there are lots of other reasons, but I believe what I stated above to be main reasons that outline Google's long term strategic plan. Keep driving ad click through rates up by showing more and more custom ads to everyone.

I don't understand a word you are saying.


Are there offline reviews that are better? Do you trust the information of a salesperson better? I think there are definitely problems with a selection bias of who leaves reviews, but sites like Amazon have implemented a number of features to improve upon them like rating distributions (how many 5, 4, 3 ,2, and 1s), the vine program, reviewer rankings, verified purchases, large volumes etc.

Consumer Reports is actually pretty damn good for most things, especially in terms of reliability ratings. Good reviews is one of the things I'm happy to pay for, since the web doesn't seem to have spawned a good free alternative.

PSA: Some libraries have free access to Consumer Reports. Check with your local library to see if they have a membership.

For cooking stuff, Cook's Illustrated is the reference. Are there better recipes and cooking equipment reviews out there? Definitely. But it's generally of very high quality.

Ah, that convinced me to actually buy membership. Thanks for spreading the word.

Yeah, it's really a great publication. I really enjoy that they've taken an ideological stance to never take advertising so that they never have a conflict of interest, in stark contrast to almost every review site on the internet. When testing cars, they have plainclothes buyers to buy the cars, as well (partly so that they're not subject to keeping companies happy to keep the review samples flowing). They seem to also have pretty involved testing methodologies. All of this takes money, and I imagine that the rise of the internet hasn't been kind to their cashflow, so I'm happy to chip in to keep this sort of independent testing organization alive.

I trust some reviews of some products by some people. I differentiate. For example, for car reviews I read Edmunds reviews but don't trust all of their opinions. They don't try to do anything with car reliability which really sucks, but they can't. You don't know what's what until you've owned the car for 10 years, and they are reviewing new cars. I trust my mechanic friend much more here since he can actually look under the hood and tell me if the type of car has a transmission that's prone to go bad, or an engine that's going to burn oil. It's possible that he's pulling his opinions out of his own biases, but what he says usually makes internal sense so I feel better if he tells me something is good or bad.

I don't trust good restaurant reviews, and only trust bad ones if they cite specific issues, like using wrong ingredients, etc. I trust my friends and family when they say a place is good or bad much more because I know their tastes and I can ask followup questions.

For electronics, I pretty much don't trust anyone with anything unless something is backed by the manufacturer. I only trust Apple products because of Apple Care. Everyone has had a bad experience with a laptop, a phone, a tablet, a mouse, a USB cable, etc. It's not worth listening to most times since it's usually a horror story from 10 years ago about a company that who's had their entire manufacturing line re-tooled since.

On Amazon for a generic product, the biggest indication to me is if there are lots of reviews. That means lots of people own the product. If most of the reviews are one star, it's a crappy product. If not, it could be good or bad and I personally find very little correlation between the way I perceive a product and its Amazon reviews.

An impartial third party with a high level of experience and expertise in the area of review. Especially good if they can compare the product side-by-side to its competitors.

This can provide its own bias. For instance, your average film critic has seen so many versions of stupid action movie that they find those movies pretty tiresome.

My favorite reviews are currently from America's Test Kitchen. Their equipment reviews are especially insightful and well written to provide a thorough expert opinion on products. Wonderfully, they've found a business model that allows for their independence.

Agreed about online reviews being imperfect. However one way to counteract extreme subjectivity is context. If you know somebody in person, you'll be able to understand their online review a lot better than you would a complete stranger's. Having access to reviews of friends and family and people you choose to follow is why I built http://www.mybema.com

If you want to fix this with me drop me a note. I have an idea, a design and a viable business model.

"The whole online review thing is thoroughly broken."

"Star ratings are completely screwed"

"Long written reviews "...are also extremely subjective."

Totally agree. Here is my analysis and resolution: http://bit.ly/LRSdkJ or

If you want to fix this with me drop me a note. I have an idea, a design and a viable business model. :)

  > For a time, Target used Amazon's website code.
I remember getting the email saying that we no longer had to special case Target stuff in the retail platform. 'Twas a joyous day all around.

I think half the reason people upvote stories about big important sites like gmail being down is because it makes them feel better about any downtime their own sites have had.

I must be terribly naive or hopelessly optimistic. The immediate reason I thought of that would explain why stories like this are upvoted is for a matter of visibility, and in a distant second place, to head off questions like "Is it broken for you, too?" Judging by a cursory review of the comment here, I suspect that reasoning is fairly common.

It strikes me as awfully pessimistic to immediately assume someone's clicking their mouse thinking "Haha, Gmail is down! Take THAT Google! >upvote<" when the result is very real service disruption for a lot of people.

I'm sure it's a mix of reasons. Like I said, my guess is half. Also, it wan't an immediate assumption, I've thought about it for a long time. Lastly, I've not suggested people are glad gmail is down or that people are harmed. That hadn't occurred to me; but now that you mention it, you're right, it probably does happen occasionally.

Oh. My first thought was "Ouch, we're too dependent on Gmail", but sure :)

I think more that people are more likely to communicate when things change rather than when they don't.

"This is your pilot speaking. The engines are currently not on fire and are still attached to the plane. That is all."

> People are more likely to leave a review/comment/upvote if something is not working for them.

Also known as the 3/11 rule. On average people tell 3 others when they have had positive experience. And on average they tell 11 others when they have a negative experience. [proper citation appreciated]

Add the effect of internet, and multiply by Google effect. More recent posts are given higher relevance, and of course more frequent occurrences are given higher relevance.

News agencies and publishers have known this for ages - after all, there's no news like bad news.

isn't that obvious? it's because being down is the exception, it would be pointless commenting that gmail is up since that's the ordinary state.

I wonder if you could utilize this information. Perhaps negative reviews could get more weight if they're from people who have also left positive reviews.

True, everytime we change something on our product, only the people that have something to complain about, say something.

Every productguy/developer should know this. :)

I took off my headphones and asked the office: "anyone else having gmail issues?"

Everyone burst into laughter. They had been talking about it for minutes.

One could argue that you were just being productive and doing your work.

If only HN would go down at the same time so we really could get a ton of work done!

Go to https://news.ycombinator.com/user?id=stephenhuey and change noprocrast to yes.

You fucking changed my life.

Come back in a month and let us know if you still have it enabled.

I've had it on for at least a year. 1 hour on, 2 hours off. It usefully slows me down when I get into a "someone is wrong on the Internet" mood.

I also highly recommend Leechblock [1] for Firefox. On my work machine, I have it set to give me an N second delay when visiting a long list of fun sites. As I watch the N seconds tick down, that's enough time for me to ask myself, "Do I really need to look at Facebook now?" Interestingly, N appears to be somewhat variable depending on circumstance. 10 seconds is enough normally, but when I'm not getting enough exercise or am dealing with work I don't want to do, N goes higher.

I also am currently loving Kanban Flow [2]. It's a Kanban board that has a built-in Pomodoro timer. (Briefly, the Pomodoro method involves working in 30-minute blocks with a mandatory 5-minute break. At the end it asks you if you've been focused; if you are, you get credit for the time.

[1] https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/leechblock/ [2] http://kanbanflow.com/

i endured 2 weeks

I did none of the sort. Whoever invented and implemented this feature did. It's too bad it's hidden in plain site.

Pun intended?

Of course!.. Also what pun?

'plain site' rather than 'plain sight', and this is a website. I guess.

Lack of coffee + autocorrect = typo.

Ha! I never knew about that as well. Just enabled it :)

For the arguments sake, it could also be the other way around if their work mainly involved answering emails.

Note: When I was writing this comment and probably unintentionally DDOSing the Gmail servers together with who knows how many people by pressing F5, it came back to life.

Well it's a selection bias. The many people who did not do something similar are not here to say so.

I quipped "Today must be my last day"...

I terminated a relationship with a consulting client right before the outage and thought,"How the hell did they manage that?"

Then I realized I probably broke Google by dragging their folder from clients to clients/retired.

Sorry about that.

You should be. That was very naughty of you.

I'm about to tar up their folder on Dropbox, so you might want to avoid that for a bit as well. :-)

Well, of course. But it's still amusing.

I didn't notice the outage (since I basically just use it for spam nowadays). But I did notice that gmail had a problem when I scrolled through my fb feed: http://i.imgur.com/mLQQO9t.png

I was surprised, Hangout chat self declares "Gmail is down".

Usually you would expect "not reachable" or something similar. It is like server is returning error msg to client that service is down.

Probably never thought such a thing would happen.

It's back up for me.

Looks like it came back up in the last few minutes.

Let's do a quick head count to make sure everyone made it through alive.

It seems to be back up, but struggling under the load of probably millions of users checking their email.

It was back up for me, but now it's down (as soon as I hit the Send button... boo).

For me too.

I still can't attach files or use my contacts. Seems pretty flaky.

That was the more boring 19 minutes of my life

I'm in Sierra Vista, AZ and I'm getting same error on all gmail accounts right now.

Temporary Error (500)

We’re sorry, but your Gmail account is temporarily unavailable. We apologize for the inconvenience and suggest trying again in a few minutes. You can view the Apps Status Dashboard for the current status of the service.

Hide Detailed Technical Info Numeric Code: 93

Sounds like Google made for one romantic moment.

It makes me feel uneasy how reliant on Google I have become and basically everyone else I know.

If you take a look at your life as see everything else you are reliant on then you might have a full blown panic attack.

I did once, and it scared the hell out of me and made me worry for months. Then I finally got over it, and now I love when someone asks me, what would I do without my computer if the electric grid suddenly went out worldwide - I can go on talking how I'd have bigger worries than my computer, because "you, me and everyone we know would literally die within a week, followed by a significant part (30-50%) of world population".

My bad I apologize to everyone. My botnet gained consciousness, went rogue, and for some reason picked Gmail as the first target to take down.

Not leaving at least one division by zero in code that has a chance to become self aware is a rookie mistake. We are very lucky indeed that Google Self-Defensive Forces took it down with satellite strike so quickly.

At the same time, I feel that the Karma the original uploader of such news gets is kind of, little undeserving.

My coworkers and I... sheesh are we becoming so lazy that we can't use correct grammar ;)


Top of the front page in less than a minute. What does it say about us that our first response is to rush over to HN?

I really like that. It makes the internet feel more like a community; reminds me of old slashdot days.

I agree about the community aspect. The lights go out and you step outside to see if it's the same for the neighbours and the rest of your street.

Took the words out of my mouth.

I suppose that the logic is "hey, I wonder if it's just us... surely someone on HN will complain the instant that things go south, better check there first."

Checking twitter never occurs to me...

I was happy with that. The first thing I did was try from a couple different proxies then try a different gmail account and I was in wtf mode. Google's status indicator was showing everything was fine. I then checked HN and it was at the top. Their status indicator reflected the state of affairs 15 mins later.

Whenever I'm looking for real time information, the first thing I do is type search.twitter.com into chrome, hit tab to autocomplete into a search command, and search some keywords. Highly recommended! Also works if you're curious if an earthquake just occurred in your general area.

I was more,

Someone asked on IRC, I checked - it was down - then I was, It got to be on HN

When I clicked the "status dashboard" button I saw a board of green dots. I didn't trust that so I came here because I figured it'd be the first place I could confirm that gmail was in fact down.

The cynic will say "karma whoring" but I think it's actually because it increases the likelihood that something will happen.

For example, when there were coinbase issues, people wouldn't get responses for weeks. However, once a post about the delays hit the front page, the founders finally responded.

So no, I'm not surprised this happened and I wouldn't be surprised to see a swift response

Do you seriously think upvotes on HN have any impact on Google's motivation to get Gmail back up?

In the specific case of google, clearly no. But I've seen cases, such as with coinbase, where a post on the front page of HN really did lead to action.

My summary: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6932224



I agree: I think the effect of HN commenting on its downtime is nonexistent for high-profile products from a giant company. Maybe if Slashdot picked up on downtime of a Google Labs product in 2004, you'd see an accelerated response, but that Google doesn't exist anymore.

The most I could see is some people from Google commenting here to give some slightly more technical than average canned response in order to flatter potential recruits. (And even that is so unlikely that I wouldn't assume any Google employees commenting here are doing that unless they gave the game away somehow.)

My coming to HN wasn't to see about Gmail, but because I couldn't waste time reading email at the moment.

"What does it say about us that our first response is to rush over to HN?"

Would have to have some statistics to back up that "about us" though, right?

Although I have some gmail accounts for various purposes main mail is actually non gmail. I just happened to browse by and see the link. The question is why did I care to click through? I guess because I was curious what others would say about this or what they knew about it. Not that it mattered to me since as I said it's not my main email source. So what we have is really the same curiosity of when there is a car crash and you end up with a "gaper" delay.

About me it indicates that I am totally dependent on Google for acquiring information about work-state and communication. I think that's OK, since I work here, but I'm not sure.

I think it is a testament to how quickly relevant news for people like us rises here. Hacker News is working as intended and I think it's fantastic.

I came to HN because it is the one place where I knew I might find some intelligent discussion of why it was down.

Fishing for Karma! :)

yep saw 500 ran a search on HN

This actually raises a slightly terrifying reality.

How much would someone have to pay you to never again recover your gMail account? I would demand just an absurd payout to willingly walk away right now, with all those contacts, messages, unread e-mails, organization, etc...

Scary how much faith we put in this free service.

The crazy thing is, the email means less to me than the chat logs. Maybe 60% of the words i've ever said to my wife have been over gchat while we're at work.

Were they the most important words you say to her, though?

Most of humanity has constantly been forgetting most of the conversation they've had with their loved ones. Maybe it is not reasonable to try to hold on to the literal incarnation of daily banalities.

What's important? I guess when I proposed, we were in the middle of Venice, so that wasn't recorded. But when we came up with the name for our dog it was. My mom got hit by a car once, I think I told her over chat. I don't see any emotional difference between chat and in person. But I can understand that some people do.

But I think the point the OP was saying is that until a few years ago no-one saved those moments. And everyone survived just fine.

It's like an extension of everyone photographing every single moment of their life just because they can. Are you really going to look back over the chat log for naming your dog?

Do you actually go back and relive those moments? Do you ever go back and look over the moment when you talked about your mother's accident?

Chat history is useful for me if I was talking to a friend about a technical problem and want to review the conclusion or possible link. I've never personally delved into chat history for any other reason (perhaps a funny photo link). I've had some hilariously fun conversations on chat, but never felt the desire to relive them. I guess I'm saying if you don't actually revisit your chat history, there's really no need to feel so attached.

Not to mention that all that data will come in handy for recreating a virtual copy[1]...

On a more serious note, I also think chat logs and email are important, but I can't understand why people trust all that stuff to a third party? (I do understand why people give up any idea of privacy by giving a third party access to it, I just don't understand why the let that party have what amounts to all the copies and/or use as system that while it can be backed up, can't be replicated (If you copy your gmail via imap, you still loose something wrt. organization -- you won't be (easily) able to resume your workflow without gmail -- in contrast if you use free software you will at least have the option of hosting everything yourself in an equivalent manner).

[1] http://en.battlestarwiki.org/wiki/Resurrection_program

But the point is that it might not be necessary to record those conversations, even though they were large life events. Why do you need to re-read the transcript of you telling your wife that your mom got hit by a car?

You can export them. I did when I stopped using gmail.

Each one of us has the power to do something about it: Perform a Backup.

We should be downloading our mailbox with our contacts on a regular basis. I'm guilty for not doing this, but seems like an area that can use a SaaS.

https://www.backupify.com/ do this for Google Apps - works pretty well.

We use Backupify at TechHub. It works great.

Your contacts' email addresses (or at least most of mine) wouldn't do you much good if everybody left gmail all of a sudden.

You should definitely do backups.

But I'm pretty sure that in the vast majority of outages you'll suffer with gmail you won't have the time to recover you're backup before the service is back up.

That said, you should definitely do backups. It's just that it wouldn't have helped in this case.

I got this error while trying to do a manual backup of a company mailbox :)

One day I'll have the time to write that script manually

Just use IMAP or POP, there's no need for a custom script. Email backs itself up :).

If you have the password. If you're backing up user mailboxes, you don't have their password.

Also, backing up Emails is super simple, just fire up any mail client ...

I could drop it without too much pain, honestly. It wouldn't cost that much for me to delete my gmail accounts.

But I learned to own my data where it matters and not sweat the rest ages ago. (Stopped compulsively "hoarding")

the problem resides on big companies.

I use google apps for email, and it's almost impossible to backup all the mails..


is adequate for me. What's so devastatingly wrong about that feature that makes it "almost impossible" to use?

Does IMAP not work for you?

The most painful thing is to change your e-mail in the services where you used it for sign up. The data export doesn't look hard: http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2013/12/google...

This is exactly why I've abstracted my Gmail accounts behind my own personal domain. If Gmail starts charging/gets shut down/I get tired of it, I can switch over to another email provider that supports custom MX domains.

I (almost [1]) never use my actual Gmail address.

[1] The only time I use it is for Google services (i.e. Adsense) that require a Gmail account.

That's why you use Google Apps for Domain with a domain name you have control over. That way you can switch providers but keep the same email address.

More terrifying is that it's not just email.

While Gmail was down I couldn't view or edit documents in Drive.

And I also lost control of my Google Compute Engine instances, apparently since the gcutil application couldn't authenticate with my Google account.

It's very risky to put all your eggs in one basket. Why not spread stuff around?

There is a trade off between availability (spread it around) and privacy/confidentiality (the more places it is spread the more you are exposed to risks of hacking or insiders at any of the companies). There is no right answer but it depends on the person and the content.

I think you greatly reduce your risk by spreading it around. There cases where people have had a single Google or Apple account compromised and lost everything. That wouldn't have happened if their stuff had been distributed... though you'd still be in trouble with an email account hack, because of password resets and passwords sent in plain text emails.

> I think you greatly reduce your risk by spreading it around.

That only applies if loss of data/access to data is a greater problem for you than exposure of the data. Spreading it into multiple locations/services gives more choices for an attacker to breach to expose it and they only need to get into one of them.

No. It's not the same data, it's about using different sites for different services.

If you have six and one gets hacked, the other five are still secure. If you use the same site for everything, that probably increases the risk of being hacked (because a single site gives your activity more exposure), and when you are hacked, you lose all your data, not just 1/6th.

There's also a tradeoff between availability and the fact that many of Google services are simply an order of magnitude better (both in terms of functionality and user experience) than anything else out there. I happily use DropBox instead of GDrive for syncing files, but I'm yet to see an acceptable replacement for GMail.

Outlook.com is an acceptable replacement for Gmail. Have you tried it recently?

Most comparative reviews find Gmail slightly better, but there's very little in it.

http://www.maximumpc.com/best_email_service_2013 http://mashable.com/2012/08/14/outlook-vs-gmail/ http://www.pcworld.com/article/2010598/gmail-vs-outlook-com-... http://lifehacker.com/5931621/outlook-vs-gmail-a-feature+by+...

Outlook.com is an acceptable replacement for Gmail.

It's not.

I've tried for days to login to Outlook.com, and verification text messages aren't coming through.

I finally had to start the email recovery procedure, which requires a mandatory 30 day waiting period. Sigh.

I haven't; I'll check it out, out of curiosity.

Simple solution: get an Outlook.com account and get it to collect all your Gmail. Use Gmail forwarding to forward all incoming emails to your Outlook.com account, and bcc copies of outgoing mail. You now have an off-site backup.

Install a desktop client and download all your Gmail using IMAP. You now have an on-site backup, and you can use your client to send emails via Outlook.com.

It's not hard. Anybody could do this.

Gmail is just a front end for my domain name and web hosting provider's mail services. I can usually use SquirrelMail to read/respond if for some reason gmail is unreachable.

I also like that I have the option to easily switch to another front end if gmail gets too annoying or NSA-snoopy.

You should always use a backup service, and don't keep files "in the cloud" when you can help it. The goal is to have any single part of your digital life able to vanish, without losing anything important.

Using Gmail is no reason to ignore the necessity of a local backup. I use CloudPull (OS X, payware).

And please note that Gmail is not free for everyone, there are many Google Apps users.

+1 for CloudPull — it's a fantastic product.

Maybe I'm unusual, but I wouldn't be terribly upset if my two gmail accounts (totaling 6gb of stuff) were wiped clean. I'm always at 'inbox zero', so everything is really just an archive. Anyone I have in my contacts whose email address is unavailable to me elsewhere is probably not someone I'm going to be contacting, anyway, and I never, ever look at chat logs.

All in I'd probably let it go for a couple hundred bucks.

I predict that in the year 2032, when Gmail has gone bust and some russian gangster has bought the remains, the new business model of Google will be ransom: you pay us some portion of your net income last year or we publish all your emails.

Joking aside: what happens when companies that are sitting on huge chunks of extremely private data change owners and the new owners are unburdened by conscience?

Seriously, what keeps you people from at least making occasional backups via IMAP? Do you like the risk associated with what you're doing?

I pay backupify.com $5 per month to backup my gmail, gcal, gdocs, etc.

Hm, $60 a year... that would buy you a 500 gig or 1 Tb external drive every year. Google now provides a backup feature so you could download your gmail/contacts/etc as one giant zip, then rsync it off to a couple of external drives and you have one less middleman to worry about leaking your data or going out of business and losing your backups.

Do you trust their security?

Are you comfortable with Google data mining your secrets to sell ads?


Fair point, but unrelated to my question :)


I once talked to someone who woke up one day and all their gmail data was gone.

They called customer service and were informed that Google has no obligation to be dependable since it's a free service.

They called customer service? I thought that was available for paid subscriptions. You should ask that someone what phone number he/she used.

Thanks for reminding me to backup!

I'd say about tree fiddy.

Google Plus is down.

I don't think anyone's noticed yet.

Actually that's how I noticed it was down. I stay in touch with my fantasy league through Hangouts, and was about to post the new 'Bad Lip Reading' NFL version that just came out.


Not true. Google employees are finding it much harder to share pictures with each other.

The one time I posted some pictures to share with some friends of course it's down.

I chuckled

Why is there no alternative webmail of the caliber of gmail? Is it a difficult problem? If there were such an alternative, all they would need to do is wait until gmail fouls up, as they did here. Then they'd have a flood of new users.

I can imagine a few reasons why there currently isn't an alternative, like network effects stemming from your contact list, or the fact that you'd have to change your email address everywhere and forward from your gmail account. But what are the real reasons?

I don't think there are network effects, really. The contact list you can export just fine. I think it's just a good product overall.

- The search is very good, even searches within attachments.

- You can have large attachments.

- Doesn't run out of space and is free.

- Spam detection is flawless. I've rarely had anything important fall into spam. Alternatives like spambayes are not nearly as good.

- The threading is excellent. Most competing products suck at this.

- The keyboard shortcuts are comprehensive and save me tons of time. Most competing products suck at this.

- Labels and filters are super powerful and save me tons of time. Most competing products suck at this.

I don't like any of the non-webmail alternatives, simply because they are not webmail, and you can't get to them from everywhere.

Alternatives seem to be:

- http://roundcube.net/

- https://www.mailpile.is/

- http://www.horde.org/

- http://openwebmail.org/ (pretty bad)

- http://squirrelmail.org/ (also pretty terrible)


Looks like mailpile is closest to what I want, with a open source and modern python stack, super clean and simple UI, focus on the right features. But it's fairly alpha. On the other hand, they seem to have gotten some 160k of crowdfunding, so the main developers seem dedicated.

Fastmail also seems to be the best non-open alternative around, imho.


Somewhat disappointed that mailpile seems to have reinvented the wheel multiple times by not using an existing web framework / search server.

I use roundcube to front-end mail for friends and family.

The problem is that you mention you run your own mail server and even plenty of tech-savvy folks will look at you like you're the Unibomber.

The "killer feature" of Gmail that people generally cite is its spam filtering, and that is hard to replicate, because one reason Google's spam filters are so good is because they have an enormous corpus of messages at hand to train them with. This presents would-be competitors with a chicken-and-egg problem: you need lots of users to be able to pull together a corpus like that, but you can't attract lots of users without your spam filters having that large corpus to learn from.

It's not the interface that's hard to replicate, in other words; it's the backend, the service component. This is pretty consistent with the type of "moats" Google has generally built around its properties, they're almost always more about magic on the backend than magic on the front.

Gmail spam filtering is actually poor, in my experience, because it's so aggressive. Around 30-40% of the mail in my spam folder is legitimate email, and the ratio is sometimes 90%. It would be even worse if I didn't have filters to tag some mail. (Gmail gives you the message it was not sent to spam because filter.)

Outlook.com's spam filtering is at least as good as Gmail's now, probably better. The only significant difference is that it's much less aggressive. Outlook.com will let two or three spams through where Gmail will put four or five legitimate emails in the spam box.

Since most people probably don't check their Gmail spam boxes regularly, Gmail's spam blocking is actually more dangerous.

That sounds like an unusual experience. I just checked through a few days of my spam folder and didn't find a single legitimate email.

That sounds like an unusual experience ;-)

To be fair, I get a lot of press releases, newsletters and bulk mailings. But there's really no excuse for Gmail to keep putting emails from, say, EE Press Office in spam when I take them out every time. (My account was an early beta.)

I don't think so, there are multiple posters here who mention how good the spam filtering is. I don't know anyone else who has any issues with it. 30% seems an implausibly high figure.

I have screen grabs that prove it, though they probably contain other sensitive information. Not sure of a good way round that....

Honestly, my gmail gets a lot more spam (and I mean into my Inbox) than the self-hosted email that I actually use (I rarely touch my gmail).

Also they seem to engage in very spammer-friendly activities such as notifying spammers if and when you read their spam email (if images are turned on by default). Soooo, I can't imagine that competing against their spam filtering is as impossible as people tend to believe.

Now they're caching each image once for all users, which pretty much defeats that.

Not really, now you just have to have a unique image URL for each email you send. How could they possibly tell they are the same image before downloading them?

Exactly; their behaviour is still extremely friendly to the spammers/trackers.

Google used to have spam filtering as a (pay to use) service: http://www.google.com/postini. My e-mail (I don't use gmail) used it before it was shutdown. Now they use http://www.roaringpenguin.com/.

Yes, it is a difficult problem. At least if you want to have enough of a track record of reliability that within a couple minutes of going down you've hit the top slot on Hacker News.

There are many alternatives of the caliber. Fastmail for example. Probably the problem is that you are expecting an alternative that is exactly like Gmail but if that's the way you judge alternatives you will never find one you accept.

+1 for FastMail. Its interface is beautiful and blazingly fast (while GMail is unusably slow on my machine). It integrated trivially with my personal domain, including federated XMPP.

GMail jumped the shark when they forced the new interface on everyone, killing usability in the process. It doesn't deserve my eyeball time any more.

As a long time paid Fastmail user, Fastmail will probably stay as good as it is for longer if we don't tell everyone about it! :)

  Why is there no alternative webmail of the 
  caliber of gmail? Is it a difficult problem? 
Are you serious?

I'm old enough to remember that gmail was largely the creation of one person; a person who was neither a programming god nor business guru. It's tempting to think that we could sit down and make an open source gmail clone.

My brain hurts from contemplating what you wrote.

The point of gmail is that they take the configuration and headache of maintaining a mail server away from you. If you're okay with running your own qmail/sendmail, then there are vastly better open source UI options than gmail. Google didn't invent email. They just run some of the world's largest mail servers as a (mostly) free service.

>there are vastly better open source UI options than gmail.

Really? Because I haven't found a web front-end as good. Otherwise I am happy running my own mail server.

I don't consider a web UI as anything more than a temporary workaround for when I don't have a native mail client around. They all tend to suck. Even gmail's. Try roundcube if you must.

The reasonably slick web interface is the boring part of the service.

Mentioning the original Gmail seems a bit of a red herring.

Surely the community would expect something closer to 2014's Gmail (which is the product of tens of millions of dollars of engineer-hours, even if you skip all of the advertising-enabling gunk that an open-source clone would surely skip) before a theoretical Gmail clone got any kind of traction.

A clone that approaches "modern" Gmail is absolutely possible, of course. My original "Are you serious?" was just a bit of incredulity aimed at the person who asked "Hey, why isn't anybody on this yet? Is it hard?"

Possible? Yes. Hard? Yes.

If you don’t have Paul Buchheit in your list of programming gods, your list must be very short. Anyway, probably the fist version sucked and he used a lot of internal libraries.


Wikipedia credits Paul Buchheit:

> The idea for Gmail was pitched by Rajen Sheth during an interview with Google,[55] and went on to be developed by Paul Buchheit several years before it was announced to the public. Initially the email client was available for use only by Google employees internally. Google announced Gmail to the public on April 1, 2004.

I agree, there is no alternative, there are only other mail services, especially if you use not only Gmail but also Calendar and Contacts.

You know Microsoft still exists, right? They've been dumping buckets of money into their web-based offerings.

Obviously, MS is no less evil than Google. But they exist.

If you don't want to use a tacky old Hotmail.com domain name, you can also register for an MS account at Live.com or Outlook.com - this gets you a web Outlook account which gives you email, contacts, SkyDrive (photos and docs/spreadsheets/powerpoint/etc) and calendar. And they don't have their own analogue to Plus and they've abandoned their old messaging systems, so the only "social layer" tedium is an optional integrated sidebar for Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter.

It's actually pretty nice. I still use my gmail as my primary because there's not enough reason to switch and I like open-source Android, but MS has built a solid thing there.

Quite agreed. Microsoft has done a very nice job updating its offering. The paid versions are also very well done.

Then they'd have a flood of new users.

There are a handful of alternatives each with their own pros and cons but the key problem is lock in, psychological or technological.

Even if Gmail were down for an hour every day, I'd have to think and work hard to migrate away due to (over)-relying on their service and some of the unique features it has.

I've heard terrific things about fastmail.fm's web client. Many people say it's faster and has most of Gmail's cherished features.

Edit: plus, no Google-snooping of course.

No Google-snooping, and there never will be.

A better question is, why isn't there an open source webmail service like gmail that can be run on a server you control? My lab uses Gmail for business, and the outage took us down too.

I just want to be able to run an email server that has conversation features, contacts, XMPP chat, etc, but isn't Microsoft Exchange

So coincidentally I was just looking into this earlier this week. I just got a server to host the blog I've been working on and figured hey, why don't I try self-hosting my email while I'm at it.

Turns out there are plenty of good open source webmail frameworks: Roundcube, Mailpile, Zimbra and RainLoop are all freely available and ridiculously easy to set up.

The issue is that they're all just front-ends for the horribly complex and difficult to configure backend of a modern email server (SMTP/POP3/IMAP). You can configure them to hook into Google/Yahoo/Other smtp servers, but then why bother — you're back where you started.

I had no understanding of how broken email was until I tried to set up a simple SMTP + IMAP server using postfix + courier.

I've been using, and contributing to, Sovereign. It's fantastic. Even if you are only looking for a mail server, you can point it to a VPS and let it do its magic. Zero trouble, self-hosted IMAP/POP3/SMTP/Webmail. https://github.com/al3x/sovereign

I didn't find postfix all that hard to set up. Courier, on the other hand, is a disaster area, which is why my mail server runs dovecot instead; the latter took little effort to configure, and works quite nicely across several devices. The really hard part was finding a halfway decent CalDAV/CardDAV server that didn't require undue suffering to configure; I settled on Baïkal, which works okay, but could be considerably improved upon.

Thanks for the tip on dovecot. I'll give that a shot.

Do; I spent half a day wrestling with courier and lost, and it took me less than an hour to get dovecot up and doing what I wanted.

Thanks for mentioning RainLoop,I was looking at various open source webmails and wasn't happy with them (Mailpile looks promising though), but never before run into RainLoop, looks like a winner.

There's plenty - we chose Roundcube. http://roundcube.net

I think an even better question may be, why isn't there a decentralized approach to email to compete with centralized alternatives like Gmail.

Imagine that you could still use your email when Gmail goes down, but you would lose a lot of features like autocomplete, search, recommended recipients, etc.


You could use Kolab:


Have you tried outlook.com?

Disclosure: I work for Microsoft (not outlook.com team though).

I'm curious about the branding - I still connect to Live.com for my Hotmail account although the header says Outlook... is Microsoft ever going to get this mess settled? And can you actually get an outlook.com email account or is it only Hotmail.com and Live.com? edit: google reveals that yes, you can get an outlook.com account.

My GMail was back up in minutes. It would take a great deal of effort for me to move my years of Google Mail (professional and personal), Contacts, Calendars, and Drive-based documents to some other service.

To their credit Google makes it very easy to get your data out. I was really surprised how easy it was to transition to different services.

Probably not as much effort as you think.... https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7119301

For me, at least, it's a combination of IMAP sucking (and GMail's tag/filter interface improving functionality of mail immensely) and their having the best spam filtering around.

Outlook.com is an alternative and it is the calibre of Gmail. The differences are marginal. See my comment above https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7120745

I use Outlook.com as a backup to Gmail and I use Gmail with my own domain name. I haven't switched, but it wouldn't be a problem if I had to.

Why would an alternative service (or self hosting or whatever) be better at reliability than Google?

Look, if you're looking for an alternative, you might as well go as simple as possible. Otherwise, you're never going to get unhooked from the behemoths of today.

I use Zoho and have nothing negative to say about them. They lack Android integration, but as a mail service (with a web mail) they are totally fine.

Spam filtering works well too.

Happy that the gmail team is having this much success with their product! Don't let the haters get to you, it's inevitable to have some downtime for a product that has gotten so many users. Hoping you guys are back up soon, since our startup has really come to rely on your services. Keep up the good work!

Their app status page says it is up, but for me it is down as well.


It is back up for me as well but saying it's now offline on the status page.

`Last updated: January 24, 2014 2:01:15 PM UTC-5`

I'm also having this problem. Odd.

We’re sorry, but your Gmail account is temporarily unavailable. We apologize for the inconvenience and suggest trying again in a few minutes. You can view the Apps Status Dashboard for the current status of the service.

If the issue persists, please visit the Gmail Help Center »

Technical Info

Numeric Code: 93

Interesting, my numeric code was 151. Are these codes definitively documented anywhere?

Of all things, this happens as Google's Site Reliability Engineering team starts an AMA on Reddit[1].

[1] http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1w1y5m/we_are_the_goog...

Apparently, not the team responsible for GMail.

No Google status update as of the time of the orignal post, but a quick Twitter search suggests this is a widespread problem: https://twitter.com/search?q=gmail

That page appears to be down as well. I guess everyone is checking it at the same time. :)

Google gets access to the restricted Twitter firehose; you'd think they'd add it as another monitoring source.

    Google gets access to the restricted Twitter firehose
This went away in mid 2011: http://searchengineland.com/as-deal-with-twitter-expires-goo...

I'm pretty sure they are aware that there's a problem

Revised statement: "I wonder if Google processes the twitter feed looking for keywords to assist in monitoring their most-used services"

It happened at one point. Turns out it's kind of superfluous, and a fairly noisy data source.

Mine is down also. This is actually slightly terrifying. What's standard operating procedure for recovering from a lost gmail account? And I don't mean getting the account back--I mean, your account is lost forever.

Your whole account or just the email part? If you have a real email client, you could rescue your email from it even if your account is toast. If just the webmail part goes down permanently, you can download your mailbox from https://www.google.com/settings/takeout

Creating the archive takes some time and is it working during a Gmail outage anyway?

For OS X users, CloudPull (payware) is a good solution for a continuous Gmail backup. It's developed by Golden Hill Software:


No Takeout was affected by the outage as well unfortunately.

Thanks, good to know!

I still have my Gmail account hooked into Thunderbird. I don't actually use it to check my mail, but it keeps pulling it all down, so if Google's servers all catch fire, I lose nothing.

Occasionally download a complete backup from https://www.google.com/settings/datatools to your harddrive.

There are a million "it is down for me" but is it actually up for anyone? A few text messages to friends around the US show they are all affected.

Edit: back for me in California, too.

Google Music is also having some trouble. Does this affect other services as well?

Can confirm, G+ too for what it's worth.

Same, weirdly I can listen to radio but cannot load my playlists.

I can load some music from my playlists, but in the same playlist I am seeing it retry a song several times and then skipping it, so I think it is reasonable to assume it is affecting some servers but not others.

I'm not seeing any red on that status page, but the service is definitely down for me.

It is a firm reminder that Google is not bullet-proof.

Confirmed by my own email not working.... Probably limited to a small subset of users though.

Count me in. However, the Apps Status Dashboard shows that Gmail should be working, so probably you're right with the small subset affected.

I'm not sure it's a really a small subset of users. My personal gmail is down as are all accounts in two different Google Apps organizations I belong to.

The App Status Dashboard also shows that it should be working for me, however I get the server error.

West Coast, US.

The dashboard is probably manually updated.

not if Twitter has anything to say about it

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