Chat Failure Leaves Many Google Customers Wondering What's Wrong

Most writers for DailyFinance and its sister sites communicate using tools that integrate Gmail's Gtalk chat function and Aol Instant Messenger, and we've been having trouble connecting this week -- literally and figuratively. Sometime Sunday night or Monday morning, we began to receive a message in our Chat window: "Unable to connect to AIM. Retrying..."

Despite all the trying and retrying, by late Tuesday few of us had been able to connect, and we were left with no tools other than (gasp!) email to reach colleagues who chat using one of Aol's proprietary messenger clients. One frustrated user was left complaining to Twitter when she could not find a way to complain via Gmail.

Having become accustomed to the candor and ease with which Twitter confesses its mistakes through its support blog, we looked to Google's blog for answers, and found... none. By Tuesday morning, a number of users had posted about their connection problems in the Gmail help forums, but they received no response other than solidarity from other users experiencing the same glitch. Users on Twitter complained, too, tagging @googlechat and @google with complaints -- to no response.

While technical issues between Gtalk and AIM are common, this was the first such prolonged snag we recall after nearly three years of integration, and Google's silence on the service interruption felt eerie. A Google representative emailed a few hours after our inquiry, saying "I'm looking into this with the Gmail team," but ended up without a concrete answer, telling me that the problem had been resolved. (Indeed, by the end of the business day on Tuesday, the service was again working.) Users without access to Google media representatives could only do as most Google customers do: wait, hope, and complain to Twitter.

As Google has, over the past decade, expanded from useful-but-noncritical tools (internet search) to providing many individuals and organizations with critical pieces of technology infrastructure upon which their business and avocations depend -- documents, chat, email, marketing tools, community support, maps, entertainment, and even, lately, phone service -- the company's infamously famous lack of customer support has become a source of great anxiety to many Google users. Personally,I have watched, shivering, as friends have lost a half-decade of Gmail email archives (although the archive was eventually restored), or been locked out of communication and unable to do work for several hours, or days.

Updated: Late Tuesday evening, a Google spokesperson released this statement: "This morning we identified a bug that prevented Google Talk from consistently connecting to AOL instant messenger in Gmail and affected less than 0.05% of Gmail users. The issue was resolved around noon PST."

Google has become a singular technology titan, but communicating with the exalted company can feel as frustrating as asking God, Why? How? When? The Almighty is the ultimate authority, but answers -- when and if they arrive -- are not always what you expect.

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