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Gmail outage afflicts some users

'Tis the season for flaky Webmail. A Gmail outage Thursday follows Yahoo and Microsoft problems last week.

Updated at 6:44 p.m. PDT with second Twitter hashtag, at 7:53 p.m. with continuing outage information, and at 12:06 p.m. PDT April 17 with user commentary and further details comment from Google.

Google's e-mail service went on the blink for a "small subset" of users, Google said Thursday, but Google said it's on the mend.

"We're aware of a problem with Google Mail affecting a small subset of users. The affected users are unable to access Google Mail," Google said in a status message (click on events on 4/16/09) at 2:16 p.m. PDT Thursday. By 3:29 p.m., the company said, "Google Mail service has already been restored for some users, and we expect a resolution for all users within the next 1 hour."

It looks like Google is having a harder time than it expected getting this problem licked, though.

Its post at 3:29 p.m. said it expected a resolution for all users within 1 hour, though Google cautioned that was only an estimate, proved highly optimistic. At 4:43 p.m., Google said again it expected a fix within an hour. At 5:42 p.m., it gave itself another two hours. And at 7:43 p.m., it estimated a fix by 8:43 p.m. for all users.

At 8:44 p.m., Google said it fixed the problem. "We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience and continued support," the company said in its online note.

Google also said in a statement to CNET News that although the outage lasted a long time overall, individuals generally weren't affected for the duration. "We were able to restore normal access to the vast majority of users in about an hour. The remaining group of affected users after our second post on the Status Dashboard was much smaller in size. It's also worth noting that the nature of this issue was rolling, such that individual users were generally not affected for very long," Google said.

Twitter users, often an indicator of the latest waves propagating across the Internet, griped about the problem with the tweets using the #gmaildown and #gmailfail hashtags.

'Tis the season for flaky Webmail. Already this month, outages and problems have surfaced at Comcast, Yahoo Mail, and Microsoft's Hotmail.

It can be frustrating or worse when e-mail access vanishes. Abby Snyder, who's been using Gmail since 2006, lost access to her account Friday morning through a problem Google believes is unrelated. Even if her problem is separate, though, she has a complaint that is shared by many others.

"I have been doing everything I can think of to try to fix my problem, but as the office joke of the day says, 'You can't just call Google,'" Snyder said. "It poses an interesting question as to why Google does not have an actual customer support team, and simply a system of automated e-mails."

Google thinks that its e-mail support system is "robust" for a free service. "Generally, our online support options enable us to process and analyze requests more efficiently than other methods," the company said in a statement.