The attack that knocked Twitter offline and slowed access to Facebook Thursday morning offered a quick lesson in how dependent millions of people have become on social networking sites.
A distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack took the microblogging site Twitter offline for about two hours yesterday morning. The same attack also hit Facebook and a few Google sites, but they didn't collapse as Twitter did. Facebook reported a slowdown and a spokesman for Google said that while Google search, Gmail and docs were unaffected, some users experienced problems with custom URL redirects in both the Google Blogger and the Google Sites wiki.
While security experts today are working to figure out who was behind the widespread attack, other analysts are calculating the effect the downtime had on social networking users.
While the level of damage varied from site to site, the online uproar over the attacks was palpable. When users couldn't get on Twitter, a lot of them immediately went to their Facebook pages to vent their frustrations about not being able to Twitter.
And the slow connections they suffered there just increased their frustrations.
"It was kind of shocking. It was a lights-out kind of moment," said Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics and a blog of the same name. "Yesterday showed that people are addicted...to the social media crack. You shut this thing down and it shows you, by the way people reacted, that there's been a fundamental shift in the way people communicate. People have carved out time in their day, their hours, for this."
When Twitter went offline yesterday, 45 million users -- including a growing number of older users -- were affected. And they were vocal about their feelings about it. One Facebook user noted, "Suffering tweet withdrawal." Another posted, "Wanting Twitter - NOW."
Qualman said he's actually a bit happy that social networking hiccuped yesterday. Now, it'll be easier for him to explain to people just how important sites like Facebook and Twitter have become.
"Maybe it illuminates naysayers who think it's a fad with people talking about their cat rolling over," he added. "Hopefully, people will see that people are up in arms about this and that it's bigger than [they] thought.... If it had gone down and there was no news about it, then it would have shown that people don't care."