Abe Down

- by Michael Stillman

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AbeBooks notifies its patrons that the site is down.

You might have thought the world had come to an end. Comments from some booksellers that appeared on the internet expressed such dire sentiments, at least in regards to their livelihoods. Abe was down. The AbeBooks website went dark, and for many, their primary means of selling books came to a halt. What's more, no one, not even management, seemed to have any idea when service would be restored.

 

The outage came shortly after Hurricane Harvey knocked out power for extended periods, and destroyed much equipment in Texas. Such downtime by Abe was hardly a major issue on a grander scale at the time. However, AbeBooks is located in British Columbia, Canada. It wasn't Harvey's fault. The timing was coincidental.

 

AbeBooks response was brief. They posted only that "we are experiencing a hardware issue which is causing all AbeBooks sites and services to be unavailable." They went on to say they were "working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible," did not have an estimated time as to when it would be resolved, but that all buyer and seller information was secure and not at risk.

 

AbeBooks never provided any great details beyond the initial description of a hardware failure. Nor did they have any updates during the time the site was down. It went dark on Friday, September 1, and two days later, on Sunday, it came back. With similar brevity, Abe announced, "Good news. Our websites and services have been restored. We’re really sorry for all the inconvenience."

 

There is something a bit ironic in AbeBooks having an issue with its hardware. Perhaps they should consider farming out their servers to Amazon. After all, AbeBooks is owned by Amazon. Many websites these days are hosted on Amazon's servers. For instance, this site is hosted on Amazon's servers. It is much less expensive, and far less demanding, to have the experts at Amazon and their massive server farms host your website than do it yourself. They undoubtedly have many IT (information technology) experts on staff ready to jump on such a problem at a moment's notice.

 

Not that even Amazon is perfect, which leads me to be sympathetic for the predicament in which AbeBooks found itself. We have all become accustomed to a highly efficient electronic world where things unimaginable a generation ago are expected and demanded by all of us today. Earlier this year, Amazon had an outage that affected many, though not all of its customers. We were one. For four hours, our site was down. Customers notice. Never mind that access to such vast quantities of information, 24/7, from a screen inside your own home, would have been beyond the dreams of your grandparents when they were young. My grandparents marveled at the invention of radio, scratchy, barely audible sounds supernaturally brought through the air to a crude crystal set. Today, lose access to any of these incredible modern wonders for a few hours and people are upset. They will contact you and let you know they are displeased. Our customers let us know, and I can only imagine what people at AbeBooks were experiencing with their much larger audience.

 

Of course, while making fun of others' dependence on an electronic, technological world, I am no better when placed on the other side of the equation. Being on the fringe of Harvey's swath myself, an exile who returned home from evacuation to find the electricity restored but internet and television access down for another day, I was helpless. I could not work. I could not be entertained. I could not buy anything on AbeBooks. I suppose there were still some old technology devices around that still worked, like books, but how can one concentrate on reading a book in such distressing circumstances? Worse yet, we did lose power a few nights later. Now I found myself reduced to groping around in the eerie light of a couple of scented candles, which give off a stench some people mysteriously find pleasing. I huddled up in a corner with a smart phone, my last connection to the outside world. Our expectations are outrageous, but we expect them anyway. Hopefully, the good people at AbeBooks, for whatever battering they took during the two days they were down, at least realize it proved the old adage, "absence makes the heart grow fonder."