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Gmail problems... again?

Seems like every couple of months reports surface about outages with Gmail (and Yahoo Mail too). Lately reports about Gmail accounts being disabled and people being unable to access their mail for hours, if not days, have been heating up. Google says it has received feedback from some Gmail users who were having trouble accessing their accounts but that the incidents were isolated and have been fixed. The causes were "user-specific (i.e., a local server issue)," a Google representative said in an e-mail Thursday. "Nonetheless, the actual errors and problems that users have experienced are things that we take very seriously, and we are continually working to offer the most reliable e-mail service to our users," the e-mail said.

Problems like these, even sporadic and eventually fixed, can damage the reputation of any Internet service provider, but particularly one that's increasingly marketing itself as the go-to company for hosted applications aimed at consumers and businesses. People are putting more and more of their lives--the data and communications they rely on for work and play--on to the Internet. Having that link severed, even briefly, can lead to immeasurable inconvenience and even financial loss.

CNET interviewed a Gmail user who said his wife's account was inaccessible for up to two days this week and received an e-mail from a reader who complained that his account was disabled for about three days as of Friday. This ZDNet UK article includes information from several people who have had problems recently, including someone who said he lost access to his Gmail for about a week. Reports of Gmail problems have been circulating on blogs and forums for much of this month, according to the article.

And in these blog postings this week you can hear the desperation of Gmail users:

• "Has Gmail REALLY been down for more than twenty-four hours, or is it up and down and I just keep missing it when it's up? I'm starting to twitch here. Get your SHIT together, Google!" wrote a blogger using the alias "Chef Troy".

• "What is the deal with Gmail? It seems to be down three-fourths of the time, and when I do manage to access my inbox, only half my LJ notifications are there. Grrrr. Don't make me switch back to Yahoo Mail for my primary," wrote "Hannasus" on his blog.

• "Current Mood: Distressed. Gmail's Down. Is anyone else with a Gmail account having trouble getting in over the last 24 hours? I'm starting to feel like my supply of oxygen has been cut off," wrote Baron Von Reed on his blog.

• "OK, this is pissing me off. I haven't been able to check my e-mail all day. Google's been mostly down since last night, and I wish they'd hurry up and fix whatever went wrong. I have eight unread messages, according to my Gmail notifier, and it's really bugging me that I can't read them, especially since a few of them are important and/or work-related *sigh,*" wrote a blogger named Claire.

• So, dude. Gmail's not, um, giving me my mail," wrote a more calm blogger named Baffled King on his site.

Though it's a good idea, users can't be expected to back up all their e-mail. And arguments that users of a free e-mail service shouldn't expect to be able to depend on the availability and integrity of the service don't wash, particularly when Google is serving users ads to get a revenue stream. Google says it takes the matter very seriously. "Providing a superior and dependable service is our top priority," the representative's e-mail said. Let's hope Google really is listening.