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Monday, August 19, 2013

Web Site Down? How Dare You!

SEATTLE â€" On occasion, I visit a small store in my neighborhood only to find a sign saying the store is closed for an hour or so. It’s mildly irritating, but it has never occurred to me that those moments are worth freaking out over.

Such restraint was not universally exercised on Monday, when people ran to social media to voice outrage about a rare Amazon service hiccup.

That followed a pattern that we have come to expect now, after a week in which several of the Internet’s biggest companies went dark for a time. Google did not work for five minutes the other day, while parts of Microsoft’s Outlook.com Web mail service were out of commission for several days last week. A problem during regular site maintenance knocked the Web site of The New York Times offline for a couple of hours last week, too.

Of course, the downtime presents some sort of financial consequences for these companies. BuzzFeed took out its calculator and decided that Amazon could lose $1,104 in sales for every second its American site was down.

If you’re like me, you simply went back when the site resumed service and made your purchase then. Around the time Amazon went dark, I was about to buy an air mattress for some house guests coming to visit. Once the short shutdown was over, I made my order, and I have the utmost confidence my mattress is being stuffed into a corrugated cardboard box at an Amazon warehouse.

Some Web breakdowns are, of course, more serious. EBay had a well-known one that lasted nearly a full day back in 1999, when people were just beginning to realize how vexing it could be when always-on dot-com services vanished from their browsers. Investors crushed eBay’s stock back then.

Amazon’s stock closed up slightly on Monday.

Still, there is still impatience when the Web’s favorite sites disappear, as Amazon did Monday. And people let it be known. These microfailures have become a curious new form of entertainment, like a fire drill that forces everyone to empty out an office building.

The Twitter user Pourmecoffee captured the spirit of the moment on Monday with a joke about the primitive state of existence people must revert to in an Amazon blackout: