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​Facebook outages caused by failed software updates

The details stay shrouded in mystery, but Facebook has admitted that September's three outages were caused by code updates gone wrong.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Facebook going down for even a few minutes isn't just annoying to your aunt Jean who wants to see the latest baby pictures. It can cost businesses that rely on Facebook for authentication and advertising millions. So, when Facebook went down for the third time in one month on September 28, businesses and people were not happy.

Facebook's own software patching led to three service failures in September.
Facebook has declined to explain what happened. Pedro Canahuati, Facebook's director of production engineering and site reliability, did finally tell the Wall Street Journal, "Each unrelated issue began as a planned code change that had unintended consequences in our ability to respond to server requests."

What were these changes? We don't know.

We may never know. Sometimes Facebook reports, after the fact, what went wrong. For example, in January, Facebook explained that the social network had gone off-line for an hour because of a change in Facebook application programming interface (API) configuration. Sometimes they don't.

Regardless of what causes the outages, Facebook keeping silent about them can only make businesses reluctant to rely on it. A company that relies on Facebook for customers or business services is relying on a black box. They can only hope that Facebook won't go down too often or for too long.

It's not just technical problems that can trouble companies that rely on Facebook. Changes in Facebook policies can cut a business off at the knees.

In 2014, for example, the social news site ViralNova, which carried popular viral stories ala BuzzFeed and UpWorthy, had grown to 100-million monthly visits. 90 percent of that traffic came from Facebook.

Then, Facebook changed its news-feed algorithms and ViralNova traffic crashed. ViralNova's founder , Scott DeLong, said he was considering selling out. He tweeted, "Running a business on FB is like opening a McDonald's on an active volcano."

In June 2015, DeLong sold ViralNova out. In 2015 alone, ViralNova's unique users dropped from 37 million people to 17.6 million unique users in May.

In short, for both technical and policy reasons, relying on Facebook for your business's foundation can be dangerous to its health.

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