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Web 2.0: Why Has Web Testing Failed Us?

Customers have become the digital equivalent of 'Test Crash Dummies'

Last February on a business trip to London, I had a typical day that included several calls back to the U.S. and India. Instead of using my mobile phone or an expensive hotel landline to make the calls, I decided to use my Skype account. Although (at times) not the greatest quality, this web service has proven to save a lot of money on my overseas calls. However, on this particular day when I attempted to log into Skype I experienced some technical issues that would not allow me to access my account. When I finally went to Skype's web site to see if there was a problem, I found the following message:

"Some of you may be having problems logging into Skype. Our engineering team has determined that it's a software issue. We expect this to be resolved within 12 to 24 hours"
-Skype web site on Feb. 18, 2008

Twelve-24 hours to fix the problem! Now that has to be the definition of every IT professional's worst nightmare. To have something as simple as a software bug, or perhaps a poorly handled connection, or even a database setting that was set improperly, that then causes over 300 million people to go without their communication service for a whole day just doesn't seem possible in this day and age. It also meant that Skype had been treating its users as virtual "Test Crash Dummies." Maintaining the performance of today's web applications is a breathtaking responsibility for all IT professionals. I could only imagine the chaos that ensued inside Skype's IT department that day as they poured through log files and enormous lines of code in an attempt to track down the source of their service problem. The "12-24 hours" timeline to find and fix the problem only further highlights the complexity and repercussions of this challenge.

Ever since the Web became available worldwide, individuals and corporations have used it extensively for both leisure and work. Its use has moved from a convenient option to something so endemic that, whenever one has a question to be answered or purchase to be made, we default to "Google" or similar sites rather than turn to traditional offline resources even if they are readily available. Because of the Web our expectations for productivity have become much higher. We want the latest updates and headlines, the best sources, and the most answers in the shortest time possible, and with the least amount effort and constraint. This dependency does not allow for downtime or outages as we have become increasingly dependent on web services being up and running at all times.

Even after the sources of these types of problems have been detected and fixed, the ramifications to brands can be pretty severe and long lasting. Take Twitter as an example. Even now it is rare to have a conversation regarding Twitter without someone bringing up their well-publicized service problems in 2007. Skype's own web site crash made headlines in the Wall Street Journal and was the talk of the market for several months.

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Most Recent Comments
J.A. Watson 01/09/09 01:00:08 PM EST

You should not be surprised that Skype service was unavailable for 12-24 hours without explanations. In August 2007 it was unavailable worldwide for serveral DAYS, and they have never bothered to give an explanation of that. The Skype program crashes, hangs, and freezes video, and they don't bother to provide any rational customer support. They block customer accounts and freeze prepaid funds, without bothering to answer queries as to why it was done, or how to rectify it. User accounts are hacked, and money is stolen, and all Skype does is blame the users for not being careful enough.

The only thing that works well at Skype is their propaganda machine, as is evidenced by the number of Skype users cited in your article. Skype has nothing even remotely approaching 300 million users, although they insist on constantly citing that number. That is the total number of user accounts that has ever been registered at Skype, since the very first day, and it includes millions and millions of accounts that are abandoned, inactive, have never been used, or have been created for the innumerable spammers and pornographers who infest Skype space today. The best estimates of real Skype users are about 10% of that number.

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