If you’re running a hosted service, a web application or indeed any standard website it’s likely that sooner or later, you’re going to experience ‘downtime’. It is an occurrence were seeing more and more of recently, as some social networks and filesharing communities struggle to keep pace with their own popularity. Whether its a planned design tweak or an unforeseen ‘wrong plug’ moment, there are ways of softening the blow felt by your visitors so that you don’t end up with an angry mob on your hands when the lights finally come back on.

Lets have a look at how some of the big boys deal with flicking the off switch.

  • Youtube opt for a tongue-in-cheek approach, showing a graphic of a mad scientist to illustrate the fact that they’re cooking up some new features.
  • When the hosted blogging service typepad suffered a server crash, they offered free accounts to anyone who felt they had been affacted by the loss of service. This was a clever way to show their customers that they were valued and trusted to make their own judgment (plus a little monetary bribe goes a long way). I wonder how many opted for “no thanks” when presented with the screen?
  • After a brief glitch in the popular flickr photo sharing service, visitors to the site were offered the chance to win a free pro account by printing the page and spinning it into something creative.
  • Digg have experienced a few ‘offline’ moments due to various upgrades and redesigns, most of which have been met with a light-hearted joke and a list of suggested links to visit in the meantime. Some were a little less inspiring…

The important thing to remember is if you offer a valuable service, especially one which becomes popular then change is inevitable. There will be times when you need to reboot, and there’s always the ‘human error factor’ which will guarantee mistakes. If you counter the problems with the right attitude, your visitors will forgive you. Theres even some who argue that they’ll be happier about the way you solved the problem than they would if the problem never occurred in the first place!