Griffin's Tech Blog
Peter Griffin on the tech universe

When the system fails, who pays?


As Xtra users recover from the XtraYahoo Bubble disaster of the weekend, the cause of a much bigger outage, that of the Skype free internet telephony services, is being blamed on millions of Skype users rebooting their computers to install a Windows Update patch.
In doing so they created a flood of log-ins to Skype when their systems had restarted, bringing to its knees the peer to peer network on which Skype relies. Skype itself admits the two day outage was "unprecedented in terms of its impact and scope".
"Normally Skype's peer-to-peer network has an inbuilt ability to self-heal, however, this event revealed a previously unseen software bug within the network resource allocation algorithm which prevented the self-healing function from working quickly," a statement on its website read.
"We would like to point out that very few technologies or communications networks today are guaranteed to operate without interruptions," it added.
That may be the case. But what about compensation for customers when the system fails? Apparently, around 30 per cent of Skype's users are now business users, flocking to the telephony service to save money on long distance calls.
Sure, Skype is a free "best-efforts" service, but many people buy Skype Out and Skype In credits. Should they be compensated for having to make calls via the regular phone network while Skype is down?
The case for compensation would appear to be much stronger for Xtra customers caught in the Xtra email debacle. They pay a monthly fee for access to Xtra email and many of them were greatly inconvenienced by the disruption to mail that flowed over from the weekend into the working week.

Should Telecom have to pay for that loss of productivity?
Ultimately, neither Skype or Telecom are going to offer to do so, as the approach to quality of service problems among technology companies that drop the ball is generally to try and fix the problem as quickly as possible, apologize and move on.
But as we rely more and more on email, internet access and VoIP services to communicate, entertain ourselves and do business, the quality of service (QoS) issue is likely to become much more acute.
Just because some of these mass market services are offered free, doesn't mean the providers aren't making money from us - Google is a good example here. So if Gmail is down for two days, why shouldn't I receive compensation - a credit to buy extra storage or something similar?
Is it unrealistic to expect these companies to cough up when things go wrong? Are these types of outages still rare enough to be forgiven? How mouch does QoS mean to you?

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