On Sept. 28, 2015, beginning at around 3 pm EST, Facebook started experiencing intermittent outages around the globe for the second time this week due to what the company called a “configuration issue.” And over the course of the next 90 minutes, as the outages became increasingly prevalent, users flocked to a variety of other social networks to complain about the problem.
But as we’ve seen many times before, the effects were not limited to just people who were unable to log directly onto Facebook. Due to the social media giant’s increasingly large footprint throughout the web, the availability issues sent ripple effects throughout the web and were felt by many different sites that use Facebook for login capabilities, chat features, and ad serving.
As you can see, the webpage load times for a wide range of retail sites were directly impacted by Facebook elements failing to load. In some cases this was due to a pixel that experienced connection failures, and others had the problem compounded by a second connect.facebook.net request later on in the rendering. Most of the sites that we inspected behaved that way, while others had Facebook pixels completely blocking the onload event from occurring, potentially resulting in a poor user experience. In Facebook’s case, we clearly saw that some sites were impacted. This resulted in the spinning wheel for end users (or other signs that page still loading), and a potential delay of page assets loading. And from a business standpoint, third party tags like analytics and profiling might have been delayed, or not load at all.
As such, the degree of impact that the Facebook outage had on other sites is a direct result of how those sites’ load the Facebook tags. Any third party widget such as social sharing, commenting, etc. should always be loaded asynchronously to avoid it becoming a single point of failure (SPOF) that blocks the other elements on the page from loading as well. However, even that may not always be enough to protect you, as sometimes a tag that’s loaded asynchronously can still block the onload event from occurring depending on the tag’s vendor.
That’s why the most important step to take is protecting yourself; any site that contains elements hosted by Facebook (or any other third party provider for that matter) should have strict Service Level Agreements in place to protect any revenue streams that might be negatively affected by a poor-performing element on the page. All third parties – whether they’re data centers, SaaS tools, ad serving networks, or social media platforms – have to be held accountable for their performance through legally binding contracts.
Adding another wrinkle to this story is that Facebook’s rough week comes at the same time that it’s positioning itself to be a major player in the online advertising industry. With the rise of adblock tools, Facebook is uniquely positioned to grab a major share of the ad serving market through its news feed ads as well as the expansion of Instant Articles. And while a few hours of downtime in a week is highly unlikely to have a major impact on Facebook’s reputation, it’s still an unfortunate piece of timing for the social site to experience significant performance problems while simultaneously trying to show that they can deliver a consistently superior user experience than their competitors in these industries.