A workplace without Google

Posted in: Work stories

Maybe it's just me, but I often wonder what life would be like without the major internet services or websites I've come to rely upon - services like everything Google does, Dropbox; and websites like Facebook, Twitter.

The websites I believe I can get by without: Twitter is just me shouting short sentences into the electronic ether, and Facebook is where I go to listen to other people and my favourite bands shouting their words at me. The shouting I can do less of, and it'll probably be better for my health too, whereas with Facebook I have alternatives such as meeting said friends to get the latest news, or going to the band's website (or, heaven forbid, their MySpace) and finding out what's happening with them there. I've also accidentally subscribed to the e-mail newsletters of most of those bands (damn you price-of-entry for legitimate free downloads!) so like it or not, I happen to know that their latest tours are coming nowhere near my little country.

The services might be a bit harder to go without. What I was doing before Dropbox was carrying a USB flash drive with me between work and home to make sure I kept some work/home files in sync. I could easily go back to doing that (I still carry the USB stick), though it'll be annoying as hell. I imagine it'll be like going back to dial-up after having used DSL or other broadband options for so long, or, using a recent example my brother had, experiencing the speed of an solid-state drive, then having to go back to the lowly speeds of a traditional hard drive.

Once you've tasted the fruit, it's hard to go back.

Mixed fruit
Much healthier than dial-up

The loss of services like those of Google or Amazon would be much harder to shake. Many companies around the world have felt the impact of lost productivity when Gmail goes down, even if for just a few hours. And the more recent Amazon EC2 outages can cause all sorts of trouble, taking down seemingly unrelated websites left and right and making you start to think there's something wrong with your own internet connection.

But to lose all of Google's services? Would the internet even still be working if that happened? Unfortunately for my workmates and I, our entire building, and maybe even all our NZ offices, are currently experiencing massive Google withdrawal.

Google itself isn't down. If it was it'd be front-page news and everyone including your mom would know about it. What I think has happened to us is that the internet proxy that all of our work computers have to go through to get to the internet, for some odd reason, cannot resolve google.com.

We've been 'without Google' for the last 2 days, and I don't expect things to get fixed any time soon. The internet proxy of our network is very very slow to update, and it's stupid cache is even slower such that it still serves weeks-old CSS files on this website alone.

The biggest problem isn't that I've lost the use of Google's services - I've been begrudingly using Bing for the last couple of days, and can still use my phone to access anything else like Gmail or Google Reader - but that other sites I rely on, which in turn rely on the google.com address, are falling over because they just happen to use a file that is on the google.com address.

For example, just this morning I've been trying to download a version of Eclipse to help troubleshoot a problem some people are getting with the Thymeleaf Eclipse Plugin I released recently. The Eclipse website uses a Google-powered Search box on their website, which downloads a JavaScript file from a google.com address. Web developers can already see where this is going: in pretty much every browser, the retrieval of JavaScript files causes the rendering of the entire page to wait on that file. Because I can't get that file, I can't get the page. Well, that's not the whole truth: I do get the page, but only up to the search box, which just happens to be near the top, before all the important content that I'm actually after. This little browser quirk is why you sometimes see advice to have <script> tags (the tags that reference JavaScript files) right at the end of the page - so that the rest of the page has the chance to load, even if that JavaScript file doesn't.

It also doesn't help that I've had to look up Android development pages quite a lot this passed week too as I attempt to fix some Android-related issues at work. As you'd expect, the Android pages rely heavily on the google.com address.

There's no conclusion to this blog post. I'm just frustrated as hell, my workmates are too, and it's impacting the amount of stuff any of us can get done. So why not vent that frustration in a blog post? I've suddenly got a lot of free time to kill.