Facebook went down yesterday.
On the one hand, any social network going down for any period of time is usually a good thing. It demonstrates for many just how personally dependent we are on the service and can be a wake-up call for those with Internet addiction. Considering the number of people who called 911 to report the outage, our society definitely has a problem.
Facebook's outage also demonstrated another key issue with the Internet - the difficulty we have with interconnected services.
If you've been around here for long, you know how important I consider comments on websites. You also know how much I think the built-in commenting system for WordPress needs work. Many larger WordPress sites have begun using third-party commenting systems to get around the issues they have with native comments.
TechCrunch is one of those sites. They happen to use Facebook for comments.
For almost two hours yesterday, none of TechCrunch's content was interactive. You could read articles, but you couldn't comment. You could (sometimes) load comments on an article, but couldn't respond.
I personally noticed the service outage while trying to follow up on questions about TechCrunch's recent open-sourcing of a project with which I was involved. I wasn't necessarily trying to correct anyone; just trying to be involved in the conversation. Being unable to respond (or at times even see the conversation) was hugely frustrating.
Many sites began implementing a "Log in with Facebook" feature using OAuth some time ago. On the one hand, this saves visitors from needing to manage several separate accounts for their online activity.
On the other hand, it means your customers cannot conduct business with you if/when Facebook is unavailable.
I've been trying to register for a particular athletic event with a friend for four years now. Tickets go on sale every year at 8am on August 1, and they usually sell out within minutes. Unfortunately, we both work and often have meetings at 8, so our chances of making it to the event are slim.
Yesterday, my friend texted me at 9:30 to see if I'd signed up yet. Again, meetings had gotten in the way and we both assumed we'd missed out; we went to the site anyway to try to sign up.
As it turns out, the primary login for the registration site is through Facebook. Since the site was essentially down all morning, no one had been able to log in to purchase tickets. I clicked a subtle "or create a new account" link and logged in manually. For the first time, we'll both be attending!
Tying your site to any service outside your control is usually a bad idea. Unless you want to spin up your own hardware, you're already dependent on a third-party host somewhere. Unless you're working with a highly tech-savvy audience who understands IP routing, you're also dependent on a domain registrar and DNS host somewhere.
Adding any dependencies beyond this merely sets up additional points of potential failure for your visitors' access. Potential points of failure within your sales funnel. When services like Facebook go down, there isn't a customer support line you can call to get things fixed.
Facebook is free - they owe you nothing in terms of support, response time, or even guaranteed availability. Don't take their presence for granted, or your site will suffer the consequences.