Tech Advice

Facebook, the Open Web, and why you need your own space online

So, unless you have been taking a sabbatical from social media, or are in a country where you were asleep at 15:51 UTC (16:51 British Summer Time) on Monday 4th October 2021, you will have noticed that Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp all went down. After hours of investigating, it turned out that the problem was due to a configuration on the routers that communicate between their multiple data centres around the globe, and service resumed accordingly. While that change meant that their internal services took a hit, it also shows how important it is to not tie everything to one point of failure.

Outside of that, according to Cloudflare, there were some DNS problems, as well as BGP problems. BGP – or Border Gateway Protocol – helps you to find the fastest and most efficient route to transfer data requests across the Internet. Cloudflare also talks about BGP on their Learning platform. I recommend reading Cloudflare’s post on the problems since it goes into a lot of detail about what the problems mean technically. While some of the language used there looks like a load of technical jibberish, they do a good job of explaining what happens and what impact certain things had.

Of course, memes were plenty. People rushed to other social networks to complain, but people also took to Twitter to post about the outage and guffaw at the disaster that was the Facebook infrastructure.

One such account was Twitter, which simply tweeted:

But the truth is, as Facebook acknowledged in their announcement, this outage meant a lot of businesses suffered. A lot of businesses still use Facebook and Instagram as their primary online portals and rely on Messenger and WhatsApp to communicate with employees and customers. Given that Facebook owns all of those networks, an outage in one place can impact the other locations, since Facebook integrated the services with one another rather than keeping them separate entities entirely. Facebook depends on Instagram and WhatsApp to work. Instagram depends on Facebook and WhatsApp to work. WhatsApp depends on Instagram and Facebook to work. They all depend on one another, so when one goes down for even an hour, they all suffer.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, seen here talking in 2019 about a wild and crazy concept that he still cannot understand. Source: Wikimedia

I used to be of the mindset that said you needed to have a website in order to be seen online. I then moved to the camp that said you just needed a web presence, whether it be a website, or a Facebook page, or an Instagram feed, or even a listing on Google My Business or Yellow Pages. Which, yes, still exists. Just not in paper form. But given that such outages with services like Facebook are proving to be so disastrous, what would someone like me advise? Is a profile on Facebook still enough these days? Do I need to do more?

One of the problems is that Facebook’s services are so interconnected and reliant on one another in order to function. This closes off a lot of the web and limits people to certain services in order to promote their businesses. Now, one could make the case that we’ve made it easy for them, and I would be inclined to agree. We certainly haven’t done all that much to stop Facebook from steamrolling over our marketing strategies and eating up the biggest networks available. If anything, our use of their services has made them almost integral and essential to any marketing portfolio. But when they go down, we go down too.

People like me are lucky. I have a website – two, to be honest – and I am on multiple networks. My social channels are more an outlet for me to muck about or share something that I plan to put online or have already put online elsewhere, and while I can share content across multiple platforms, I can use them independently of one another, and if they fail, I still have my website. Unless something happens to take down half the Internet, which would totally never happen, I will still have one outlet somewhere that I can rely on at any given time.

If you are serious about your marketing or promotion strategy, or if you are in the communication business (be it science communication, tech communication, beauty education, or anything), make sure you have a platform you can fall back on. I’m not going to take advantage of this to hock my services as a website developer, but times like this serve as a reminder that losing your sole creative outlet can be punishing for a business. If Instagram goes down, you will need another network to fall back on and there are few photo-focussed networked available. If Facebook goes down, Twitter may be able to push out small updates, but it isn’t capable of handling the long-form content that Facebook can. If Messenger and WhatsApp go down, how can you collect messages from your website or your online platforms?

In most circumstances, having your own website fixes a lot of this, and thanks to site builders and content management systems like Wix, Squarespace, Google Sites, or even my old favourite WordPress, it is easier than ever to get a website. Domains can cost a few quid a year as well so can promote it far and wide, and a simple and professional brochure site can take just a couple of hours to put together from pre-made templates. If you want something completely custom-designed, you can indeed hire someone like myself and we can spend our time building a website just for you. From there, you can link to your multiple social media profiles and connect them to automatically post from one to the other, and you can set up a strategy to be able to share appropriate content across your networks.

It is more work, it does take more time, and it requires you to be aware of what you’re doing, but it works out to be worth it in the end. Not only do you have a backup network if one goes down, but you can offer things on one network to generate leads on your website from, say, a Facebook page. If you integrate it with other services, you can save lead data to a customer relationship manager. You can also have a chatbot facility that can automatically answer queries on your behalf. That initial investment can make running your business and your online presence much easier and prove more beneficial and fruitful than just having a social profile like Facebook or Instagram.

If you want to find out how a website can help you, you can always get in touch with me or find me on one of my social networks. Alternatively, comment below with how you survived the latest Facebook outage, or indeed if you did.

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