As Facebook Service Goes, So Goes the Internet

Facebook has insinuated itself into so much of the Internet that its performance can affect all of cyberspace.

That became apparent this week when service disruptions at the social network rippled throughout the Net, according to Compuware APM, a company that tracks website performance across cybespace.

"This outage had an impact across many other sites," Compuware CTO Steve Tack told PCWorld. "It affected sites around the globe."

"What we're seeing here is the impact of how interconnected the Web is," he added. "We're seeing the difference between the old Web, where your outage would only affect your company, and now, where when large services go down, it has a cascading impact on people who integrate with those companies."

For example, the Facebook "like" button is on countless websites on the Net. "That not being available and not performing well caused slowdowns at news and media companies and retail companies and anyone else who takes advantage of that service," Tack explained.

That was evident in data from Compuware's analysis of the Facebook event released Friday. That data showed performance slowdowns at the top 20 news and top 60 retail sites on the Web at the same time Facebook was experiencing service problems.

Load times for web pages at the news sites -- typically in the five to 7.5 second range -- jumped to a sluggish 12.5 seconds at the height of the Facebook event. Load times at the retail sites more than doubled, to 5.7 seconds from around 2.2 seconds.

Torpid load times were accompanied by performance hits at many websites. At one media site with typical response times in the three to four second range, Compuware showed that the Facebook event caused those times to spike to more than 32 seconds on May 31 and about 15 seconds on June 1.

Similar sluggishness was discovered by Compuware at a major U.S. retail site that typically has response times of two seconds or less. During the Facebook event, those times climbed to 29 seconds on May 31 and to 11.6 and more than 5.8 seconds on June 1.

Those kinds of performance hits can cost a Web enterprise money because they become lost eyeballs. "Our research shows that abandonment and people's tolerance for a slow site increases around eight seconds," Tack said. "After that, people go to a competitor or elsewhere."

He noted that some websites are aware of the potential performance issues that can arise from integrating a third-party widget such as the "like" button on their sites. "If it's not performing well, they'll turn it off so it doesn't impact their site's performance," he explained.

There are also third-party browser plug-ins that allow consumers to the same thing as they surf the Web.

When news of the Facebook service hang-ups first broke, it was reported that the hacker collective Anonymous was claiming responsibility for the event. Late Friday afternoon, Anonymous disavowed any connection to the service disruptions. "Not only did Anonymous NOT attack Facebook, but there was no attack at all," it said in a statement. "Facebook IT's [sic] were just having a bad day."

Follow freelance technology writer John P. Mello Jr. and Today@PCWorld on Twitter.

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