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Twister takes out DejaNews

When disaster strikes, no one's immune, not even in cyberspace. But when you're on the Net, it's easy to forget that real people run Web sites.

Not everyone was so understanding about a Texas tornado that knocked out DejaNews's Web site for eight hours yesterday.

While DejaNews's 40 employees cowered in the darkened stairwell, listening to the sounds of the devastation all around them, at least one customer was busily trying to search the news service.

"He called and said, 'Hey you guys are off the Net,'" recalled Humphrey Marr, a spokesman for DejaNews. Marr knew the customer knew what was happening, and asked, "Did you notice half of Austin's power is gone?" But the customer answered, "Well I need you to get back up."

When disaster strikes, no one's immune, not even in cyberspace. But when you're on the Net, it's easy to forget that real people run real sites.

And real sites have real outages when disaster hits. "It would be nice to have a mirror site somewhere in Montana, but it's expensive," Marr said.

Marr said employees at DejaNews tracked the storm by watching Doppler radar on the Net. They saw it getting closer and closer: "They were showing the path, and it was coming down the highway at you."

That's when they ran to the stairwell.

When the tornado passed, the power still was on, but the storm following the tornado took it out, and the site along with it. For people who depend on DejaNews to troll newsgroups, that's a big deal.

After all, eight hours down on Internet time must be at least the equivalent of one day off. But Marr said relative to what others went through, it was no big deal.

"These things happen. The magnitude of what happened here pales in comparison to what happened overall," he said.