menu

Dan Gillmor: Did NY Times Make Major Error Turning To Facebook?

Dan Gillmor: Did NY Times Make Major Error Turning To Facebook?
Mobile

Newspaper's server problems shows that everyone needs a Plan B, independent of third-party hosts.

Dan Gilmor, The Guardian
  • 15 august 2013


Powered by Guardian.co.uk
This article titled “What we can all learn from the New York Times website outage” was written by Dan Gillmor, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 14th August 2013 19.40 UTC

Several hours after the New York Times website and mobile app went offline on Wednesday morning, the paper posted three articles on its Facebook notes page. This was material (beyond witty staff tweets) that the editors urgently wanted to get to their audience. They wrote:

As you may be aware, The Times is experiencing a server issue that has resulted in our website being temporarily unavailable. We expect the site to be restored soon. In the meantime, we are publishing
key news articles in their entirety here on Facebook.

The Times’ impulse to use an alternative platform was laudable. Among the several stories it posted was a detailed update on the horrendous violence in Egypt, written by an expert journalist who did what Times readers have long expected from the organization’s foreign correspondents: a well-reported summary of what we will surely look back on as an important day in Middle East history.

But the venue the paper chose to post its material was ill-advised, for many reasons.

Facebook may have been convenient, but it – not the Times – ultimately controls what appears on its service. Facebook is not hosting this material for the sake of the Times or for people who want quality journalism. Facebook itself is an increasingly threatening competitor to the journalism industry, and it serves its own needs first.

The situation also highlighted a reality all news organizations – and all of us who rely on the web for much of what we read and say – need to understand better. Technology can be fragile. It can be hacked. And we all need a Plan B.

I run several websites. On the rare occasion they’ve gone down, due to problems at my hosting company, I haven’t had much of a Plan B for myself. I’ve tweeted that they’re down and will, I trust, be back up shortly. Meanwhile, I and my hosting provider have backup copies of everything. In a nearly worst-case scenario, I could restore what’s gone missing to another hosting service in a day or so. That has never been necessary, and I hope it never will be.

Web commerce companies have vast and elaborate procedures designed to prevent such failures, and to recover quickly if they do occur. Such cases are rare, but Amazon’s bad outage, a little over a year ago, took down a number of high-profile services, including Reddit and Foursquare; months earlier, an outage had knocked out Netflix streaming on Christmas Eve 2011. Amazon and its customers have learned from these experiences (or should have), and have taken measures to avoid them in future. But we can count on problems to recur, because Murphy’s Law will never expire.

News organizations have a particular issue: what they do is, in large part, about getting information to audiences in a timely way. The Toronto Globe and Mail has used its Tumblr blog when it had to. Its editor, Matt Frehner, tweeted:

I recognize that journalists generally don’t share my belief that promiscuous use of third-party services is much of a problem. I remain convinced, however, that the practice is ultimately bad for their brands when they do it wrong. Services like Twitter and Facebook and Yahoo’s Tumblr (and Google+, to much lesser degree, largely because it’s less widely used) do offer a platform for promotion and, sometimes, conversation.

Certainly, journalists should participate in conversations about what they do wherever people are talking. But to hand over one’s journalism to a competitor strikes me as an error in the long term.

What should they do, instead? The Times and other news organizations should have backup blogs of their own, on domains they control, hosted by services that provide uptime when their own sites are impossible to reach. Then, when an outage occurs, they can use the social networks simply to point readers to the actual journalism. That way, the follow-up conversations take place on sites that don’t feed ever-more information into competitors’ databases.

The Times is back online as I write this. The newspaper has said it believes the outage was caused by glitches during a maintenance update to its servers. (Mentions of possible cyber-attack are purely speculative.) I hope, when the virtual dust settles, that the organization will be more ready for the next time something like this happens.

One thing we all learned in the flurry of online commentary about the outage should hearten the Times’ journalists: what they do is important.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

Trending

Machine Printer Uses Coffee Drips To Create Intricate Portraits

Arts & Culture
Technology Yesterday

Why Nest Doesn't Get The Holidays

PSFK founder reacts to the damaging effects of poor email marketing

Children Yesterday

Robots Could Be Joining Dubai’s Police Force In 2017

The real-life RoboCops can salute, shake hands and collect traffic fines

Trending

Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Retail 2017

See All
Travel Yesterday

Parka Hides And Charges Portable Devices

Bolt is a jacket that lets people carry and charge their various electronics without the need for an outlet

Related Expert

Kevin Allocca

Online Media, Video Tech

Food Yesterday

Yelp's New 'Yelfie' Feature Lets Diners Take Selfies

The update is designed to encourage people to attach a selfie when they share their experiences

Design & Architecture Yesterday

Build Your Own Savory Cheese Advent Calendar

A British food blogger has created a guide to building a different kind of holiday surprise

Fitness & Sport Yesterday

Floating Gym Concept In Paris Is Powered By Your Workout

The proposed design from Carlo Ratti Associati lets passengers ride a stationary bike as they travel through Paris along the Seine River

PSFK LABS REPORT

Future Of Retail 2017
Transformation Strategies For Customer-First Business
NEW

PSFK Op-Ed november 22, 2016

Digital Strategist: Why “Big Sensing” Is Key To Retail’s Future

Bud Caddell, Founder of NOBL, shares why the most capable and useful asset in any retail environment is the workforce

PSFK Labs december 1, 2016

Retail Spotlight: Home Depot Reimagines How Employees Conduct Tasks

The home improvement retailer puts the customer first by initiating local fulfillment centers and simplifying freight-to-shelf inventory management

Syndicated Yesterday

What Does The Future Of Android Look Like In A World With The Pixel?

Google’s decision to make its own phone might have looked like a blow to the likes of Samsung but the reality is much more interesting

Retail Yesterday

Customer Service Expert: Why Offline Retail Has Better Data Than Online Retail

Healey Cypher, Founder and CEO of Oak Labs, shares why we should be thinking about the physical store as an e-commerce site

Fashion Yesterday

Alexander McQueen Designs A 3D-Printed Umbrella

3D-printed fashion arrives in time for the winter season

Work Yesterday

Why Training Associates To Be Advocates Is Key To Retail Success

In our Future of Retail 2017 report, PSFK Labs discusses strategies to prioritize customer service, which begins with associate advocates

Media & Publishing Yesterday

Netflix Creates Binge Candle To Celebrate A New Season Of Gilmore Girls

The streaming service developed a special layered candle that creates candle with episode-specific smells

PSFK LABS REPORT

Future Of Work
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Leaders
NEW

Arts & Culture Yesterday

Interactive Film Tells A Story About Living With Cancer

A moving song written by a father of a cancer patient comes alive in a 3D environment

Automotive Yesterday

Audi And LEGO Exhibit Autonomous Vehicle Installation

The installation at Design Miami explores the 25th hour, which represents bonus productive work or play time

No search results found.