BBC website goes offline – Twitter community all a flapper

By Matt Cornock

Arguably the worlds largest and most visited website (ignoring search engines and other major internet portals), bbc.co.uk, went offline tonight around 10.44pm (BST). At the time of writing it is still unavailable. Shockingly 30 minutes has gone by…

Not only is this affecting the main BBC site, but subdomains like news.bbc.co.uk (which now directs to bbc.co.uk/news) – practically all BBC web material. Such a catastophic failure could only be pinned down to a major DNS flaw (DNS stands for domain name service, which translates our typing in ‘bbc.co.uk’ into an IP address, which points our computers in the right direction of an actual server hosting the BBC webpages). The reason I say this, is that such big websites have multiple locaiton redundancy if one server goes down. Therefore the weak point is, theoretically, the DNS. Happy to be proven wrong – though I hope it wasn’t something silly like ‘rat ate the power cable’ or ‘the intern turned off the server instead of the light.’

Twitter reaction

More fascinating though is the Twitter reaction, and the lack of any clear news from the BBC so far:

http://twitter.com/#search?q=bbc

In the first few minutes of the site going offline, over 300 tweets were posted (and continue to be posted, now over 2000). Why is this interesting? Well it’s a mechanism for people to check whether the problem is at their end, or at the BBC – and hence acting surprised when it’s the BBC’s fault. Twitter has provided users of the website a way to support each other and test their theories:

@_nige: Oops! Google Chrome could not find www.bbc.co.uk Firefox can’t find the server at www.bbc.co.uk.

@Hacint0sh: Is the BBC website down for anybody else?

@psheppardwales: WTF… No routes to any of the 4 nameservers responsible for DNS for bbc.co.uk??? Serious #bbc #fail here!

Instead of me worrying if my ISP was down, or my computer playing up, Twitter helpfully showed me the information I was looking for. This is the power of Web 2.0, and Twitter in particular – knowledge is shared, and shared quickly too. Just like these people have noted:

@RoeDent: When the BBC goes down, everyone gathers at the emergency assembly point that is Twitter.

@Destro7000: Haha, bbc.co.uk is down …cool how you can check with Twitter search to see if everyone else is getting the same issue.

Significance of online brands to online communities

So here are a few snippets from Twitter which really demonstrate how an online community can react to what is in the grand scheme of things, quite an insignificant event, but with websites such as the BBC having a sense of belonging to its users, you start to understand why people feel the need to ‘breathe into a paper bag’ and ‘panic’. The community of users can overexaggerate the importance of a single website but this reaction act as a subtle reflection of how the BBC brand is a key feature in people’s online activity:

@adamnieman: bbc.co.uk is down – DNS failure – but R4 on DAB reassures me that the world isn’t about to end.

@buledy: bbc is down humanity set to follow …..

@jaggeree: it’s all gone a bit Blitz Spirit round here tonight. who’s for a good old sing song round the old joanna while the BBC news site is down

Satirists are quick to tweet:

@evibenstein: Can’t help thinking these BBC cuts have gone a bit far.

@gedrobinson: Has the Government cut the funding for the BBC Website?

@JHepplestone: The BBC website us down? I guess Rupert Murdoch finally figured out how to work the internet…

And for those whose primary up-to-date news source IS the BBC:

@mjrobbins: If the BBC website is down, is news still *happening*?

@thegawa: BBC website being down will make worldwide headlines! Pitty I use the BBC for my news 🙁

Of course, such a common topic of interest means that many will be searching for ‘BBC’ on Twitter. This gives rise for the brave among us to do a little bit of subversive marketing:

@radiosonar: can’t get on to bbc.co.uk? Never mind, tune into us instead! www.radiosonar.co.uk

@martinlewismse: It seems BBC site is down – perfect moment to spread the word about saving money with the MSE weekly email http://bit.ly/OO1Of #opportunist

BBC missed opportunity

However, when you consider that the @BBC Twitter account is probably the most over-followed account with practically no relevant or updated content whatsoever, you get the sense of a missed opportunity to save a brand. Instead, the BBC has a plethora of mini tweet acounts targetting a niche audience. However, with the main website down completely, clearly the BBC’s other channels (aside from the traditional broadcast) should have been jumped upon to let the people know what’s happening – and through the viral effect of Twitter, their message of goodwill would have been retweeted and spread. Otherwise, bring on the mocking from the likes of ITV and Sky…

Latest

Website back online just after 11.35pm.

Number of @BBC followers – grew by a few thousand.

Only BBC tweet of interest – @jeremyhillman: We are trying to fix the BBC website, we believe a serious technical fault rather than a DOS attack but too early to confirm 

See also: Official BBC News story on this problem

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.