Welcome to Matter Anti-Matter, a site about nerd stuff. By day, I'm Head of Community at Kickstarter.
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Lately I’ve been having vivid dreams about work. I pass out in bed at night, and immediately launch into an extended-cut version of the day. I’m responding to emails that need replies, having phone meetings, discussing how to deal with this situation or that. It’s a bit distressing to be sure, but more so because I worry that my subconscious, in being so consumed, is not saving any space for other thoughts, things that may be in need of additional brain space (bacon, Higgs Boson, Doctor Who).
But really that whole story about my incredibly boring dreams is merely an elaborate set-up for something that has been nagging at me ever since the lightning storm that struck the D.C.-area over the weekend, causing widespread power outages. Somewhere in the D.C.-area lives magical infrastructure that makes it possible for Amazon’s EC2 to run. When EC2 went down, a cascade of web services either experienced intermittent outages or went down altogether.
When you think about the suite of things on the internet you rely on — the services that aren’t just “products” to you, but vital to your daily life, an outage tends to provoke a range of intense emotions. Anger, frustration, confusion, indignation. The expectation is that web-based services need to be available every single day, 24-hours a day. There are no business hours in the world of internet services. All hours are business hours.
It is both the curse and the reward of being a web-based service. You’ve got a huge, passionate community of users who support you, defend you when people misunderstand you, protect you when somebody tries to hurt you. They make your site a wonderful place to be. So when a site goes down, that same community feels that something fundamental has been taken away from them, and they want it back. Now.
Let’s return to D.C. last weekend. You’re at home, and a crazy lightning storm is raging outside. The power’s out, and you’re scared to go outside. As the storm passes, you suddenly get a real hankering for a candy bar. It is 2am. You get in your car and drive to the nearest 7-Eleven, only to find a sign on the door that says “Due to the power outage, we are closed until further notice.” You turn around and go home.
When you work for the internet, nobody turns around and goes home. Heck, you are their home, and they can’t figure out why you won’t let them in. It’s a delicate balance, managing the expectations of a community that not only believes in you, but believes you are impervious. By running smoothly 99.9% of the time, you effectively render your own infrastructure invisible. Any minor crack in the facade is amplified a hundred times by virtue of its mere existence.
So the next time your favorite site experiences technical difficulties, know that we’re working on it, always.