Google has finally solved a technical glitch on its Personalised Home Page service that rattled an undetermined number of users.
Anecdotal evidence gathered from discussion forums indicates that Google began rolling out a fix to the problem at around 3 am ET on Friday, almost 24 hours after the problem erupted, although the glitch seems to still be affecting some users at press time early Friday afternoon ET.
The company didn't declare the problem solved until almost 2 pm ET Friday, about 32 hours after the first problem reports started surfacing. "A number of Google users had difficulty accessing their settings and preferences on the personalised version of their homepages over the past day," a spokeswoman wrote via email. "Users should have their personalised homepages restored at this time. We apologise for the inconvenience this may have caused our users. We know how important Google Personalised Homepage is to our users, so we take issues like this very seriously."
In the statement, Google didn't disclose how many users were affected, nor did it offer an explanation of what happened. "This affected a relatively small group of users, and we believe this to be an isolated incident," the spokeswoman wrote.
Personalised Home Page is a free service that lets users turn Google.com into a customised portal by adding to it syndicated content feeds, as well as "gadget" applications, turning it into a user's hub for web content, online services and applications.
Florian Brunner, a student at HTL Leonding technical and vocational college in Leonding, Austria, was among those affected and said the problem was more annoying than disruptive. "I can work without the page, but I can't live without it. All my important information is on one site. Fast and simple," Brunner wrote in an email interview. With the Personalised Home Page, Brunner can access multiple Google services without going to their individual sites.
The problem, of apparently significant proportions, erupted at around 6 am ET on Thursday, when angry users began flocking to discussion forums to report that their home pages had either reverted to old versions or to their original default settings.
Users complained about lost productivity and missing data, but throughout Friday morning many reported in discussion forums that their Google home pages had been restored, although some said the problem hadn't been fixed for them as late as 1:14 pm ET.
In a number of forum postings, users called on Google to offer an explanation for the problem and to let them save their Personalised Home Page settings to their PCs, so that the settings can be restored even if they get wiped out on Google servers.
Episodes such as this one have affected other Google services recently, leading some to question the company's ability to provide robust availability for its online services, particularly for those for which it offers uptime guarantees, like the paid version of Google Apps, the suite of hosted communication and collaboration applications for businesses of all sizes.
Last week, Google backtracked on a plan to do a 13-hour upgrade to its Google Calendar service, which is part of Google Apps, apparently after a significant number of Google Apps administrators expressed deep concern at the possible impact of the maintenance work on the service's availability during a weekday and during US work hours.
Incidents like the one affecting Personalised Home Page also weaken the position of backers of delivering applications as hosted services. Google is one of the most vocal proponents of the software-as-a-service model, which rivals the traditional approach of having users install applications on their own PCs and servers, of which Microsoft is a clear example.
In March, the Gmail portion of Google Apps suffered three major outages, affecting even subscribers who have signed up for the fee-based version of the suite, which guarantees 99.9% uptime.