What Happens When Facebook Goes Down?

More Than a Million Linked Sites Feel Pain When Social Network Hiccups

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- More than a million websites around the web are looped into the world's largest social network via Facebook Connect. Its social plug-in -- the increasingly ubiquitous "Like" button -- generates at least 3 billion clicks a day. And for many brands, a Facebook presence has outstripped their own web sites. With Facebook providing sharing tools, authentication, and even commerce for so many sites and brands, what happens when Facebook goes down, as it did on Sept. 22 for more than two hours?

A Facebook outage cannot crash the web, but it could be a real pain.

Think of Facebook as the phone line going into your house. If the phone line is down, the rest of your house is still operating -- you can still take a shower, cook a meal, take a nap, mow your lawn. Everything but make a landline phone call.

If you've incorporated Facebook into your web presence, "there will be a big hole in your website," said Michael Lazerow, CEO of Buddy Media, a company that provides social-media marketing services to clients like the National Hockey League. "That will happen to some of our clients, like NHL.com."

Mr. Lazerow said that while these Facebook assets are down, the site around it could be slow to load and operate and advertisers can't get full credits for their ad served. And, no, you can't us the "like" button.

That's exactly what happened on CNN.com's front page for two and a half hours -- users simply couldn't log in through Facebook Connect to comment, like and share articles with friends. The Facebook connect box stared back at them empty, waiting to be filled in with information while Facebook fixed itself.

Other non-Facebook social-graph indicators, like the CNN Newspulse, which lists the 10 most-viewed stories on the site, continued to function during the outage as did the rest of the CNN site, CNN's own registration function and other Turner properties.

"The ideal scenario is that our two systems are segregated enough that when Facebook goes down, there is no impact on the front end of our site," said Dermot Waters, senior director of product development at CNN.

But a slow load or a blank box is not a company's only problem if its site doesn't just use the Facebook API for simple registration or personalization purposes, but rather builds its entire functionality on top of it. Consider a company like Zynga, creator of Farmville and Mafia Wars, with 360 million monthly active users. About 90% of Zynga activity takes place inside of Facebook.

"Every minute that Facebook is down probably costs Zynga $10,000," said Seth Goldstein, founder of StickyBits. "But there's nothing you can do, it's the way of the world. There's no such thing as API insurance, though there probably should be." A Zynga representative declined to comment for this story.

Most developers and technologists are quick to forgive Facebook for their glitches. "When Facebook goes down, it's a bummer, but if you were scaling to 500 million, you'd have your issues too," said Mr. Goldstein. Other companies who have scaled quickly, like Twitter, have far more outages than Facebook and far less usable developer tools.

Inigral.com co-founder Joseph Sofaer's went all-in and built his company's biggest product -- Schools, which creates mini social networks for admitted college students -- completely inside of Facebook. "Outages are something that you have to be aware of," Mr. Sofaer said, "But the other option is to build something that would see much less usage and is less interesting and engaging."

As a tech guy, Mr. Sofaer said that Facebook.com goes down very rarely -- in fact, Sept. 22's outage was the first in four years.

But for a Facebook product like FB Connect to be used by a million websites -- that's a drop in the bucket. Who knows what could happen as those tentacles reach further and deeper into more and more crevices on the net? Peter Relan, chairman of CrowdStar, had this to say: "As Facebook and FB Connect become integrated into the fabric of the social web, Facebook outages will be more noticeable -- sort of a double-edged sword for a web brand."

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