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Downdetector.com scours Twittersphere to detect service outages faster

The company analyzes social media to give consumers better information about online service disruptions

By Zach Miners, IDG News Service
May 07, 2013 10:05 PM ET

IDG News Service - A Dutch startup has launched a service that studies data from social networks to quickly identify online service outages -- sometimes, it says, before the service providers know about the outages themselves.

[ALSO: Learn to fail and avoid the next outage]

Downdetector.com, which rolled out in the U.S. last month, sees itself as "the weatherman for the digital world," by detecting outages and interruptions on cellphone networks, banking services, social networks like Facebook and Twitter, and business services such as Salesforce.com.

By analyzing data from tweets and other sources, Downdetector says it can detect outages almost as soon as they happen. It plots the problems on graphs that consumers can view for free online, and for a fee provides email alerts about the outages aimed at journalists, industry analysts and the service providers themselves.

The site can be particularly useful for journalists. Often when outages occur, the reporter receives a tip, calls the service provider to confirm the problem, and by the time the company calls back the problem has been fixed and there is no story, said Downdetector cofounder Tom Sanders .

"There's a better way to do this," said Sanders, a former journalist himself.

Also, consumers get frustrated and upset when services aren't working, he said, adding that "we want to offer the information [that] providers are unable or unwilling to provide."

The Downdetector site provides status pages for various companies, complete with charts that plot the volume of problems the site has picked up. Visitors can post comments and see the latest tweets Downdetector's software has flagged related to the problems.

Downdetector launched last year in the Netherlands, where it tracks some 200 services ranging from online banking and landline providers to Internet services and social networks like YouTube, and public utilities and transportation providers.

The .com site started tracking service providers in the U.S. last month, with a focus on major telecommunications outlets and online financial services, as well as social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Spotify and the WhatsApp messenger service.

The company declined to disclose the other sources it tracks besides Twitter, for competitive reasons and to prevent people from attempting to game its services.

Downdetector receives and analyzes reports 24/7, but not every report indicates there is an outage. "If the current number of reports is significantly higher than the regular number, our system automatically determines that there is an outage," Sanders said.

The system isn't perfect. "We can't guarantee that false positives aren't displayed," the company said. For the first 12 months, therefore, Downdetector manually verified every outage before posting it to its site, which gave its developers "a pretty good feeling" of where they needed to improve the software, Sanders said. The service currently has a number of checks built in, like looking at the frequency of certain reports, to help keep its detection accurate.

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