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Can You Depend on the Big Sites to Run Your Business?

Just this week, as the dust settles after that huge service interruption at Skype, we hear that the Blogger and Blogspot features at Google, where blogs are hosted for hundreds and hundreds of thousands of users, also had a service interruption, after lots of lots of lesser glitches.

Why this happens may not be especially important in the scheme of things, but it’s worth mentioning. After first blaming Microsoft for the constant PC restarts occasioned by one of their Tuesday security updates affecting the login process, Skype attributed their problems to a “perfect storm,” where some software algorithm issue prevented millions of users connecting late last week.

Now it’s fair to say that Blogger users are getting their service free of charge. With Skype, you only pay when you make and receive calls beyond the boundaries of its PC to PC service, and then the prices are fairly modest. But these aren’t the first nor the last problems folks have had to endure.

Consider the stability issues with email at Hotmail — or whatever Microsoft calls it these days — and other services of that type, such as Google’s Gmail, Yahoo and others.

Of course, if you aren’t paying for a service in the first place, perhaps you should cut them some slack and accept the situation. After all, what should you expect to get for free? But it’s not that simple, because all these services attract millions of users, some of whom use them for business purposes. More to the point, there are value-added extras, which do carry price tags.

Add to this Apple’s .Mac, which was recently refreshed with extra storage and bandwidth, and now competes in many respect with lower-cost Web hosting services for your dollars — or whatever means of currency you use in your country. However, as many of you with mac.com addresses will tell me, you have found less than industrial-strength reliability there too, with occasional outages of varying periods.

I dare say that a lot of the people who write me for personal and business reasons provide email address identifying the above providers. On the surface at least, it seems like a good idea, because you are not tethered to the limits of your own ISP and can send and receive mail from around the world without having to switch outgoing (SMTP) settings and so on and so forth. If you decide to go to another ISP, you don’t have to send change of address notices to your contact list.

Indeed, I also seldom use my ISP for email, but in my case, my mailboxes are all hosted at our sites, and I have full control over spam filtering, mailbox size and access. Of course, I also pay more than you would at any of the above services for these privileges. At the same time, email is a critical part of my company’s business, and it needs to be as reliable as possible.

To be sure, perhaps you should move your business mail to a professional email or Web host that provides professional service for these features. It’s not that the costs are high. Many of these firms charge less than $4.00 to host your custom domain, email and whatever personal or business sites you wish to create. As your business needs expand, you can upgrade to virtual or regular dedicated servers.

It all comes down to this: Google and Yahoo and other huge Web portals want your traffic as a means to sell ads. That’s where they really earn their incomes, and even if you opt for a few paid services along the way, that’s not going to impact their bottom lines all that much. It’s somewhat different for the 1.7 million members of Apple’s .Mac, who pay $99 per year, or perhaps more for family packages and extra storage and bandwidth. That’s a pretty sizable amount of money, and it ought to be sufficient to enture superior reliability.

Of course, when it comes to Apple, .Mac is also a value-added product that integrates its hardware and software in a simple, unified fashion that are supposed to “just work,” although some would question the accuracy of that phrase. While still a consumer-oriented tool, you have a right to expect minimal service interruptions.

Skype also serves a business function, as part of the eBay empire, and it was purchased to provide businesses with a way to communicate with their customers as part of the auction and sales process. To be fair to Skype, service interruptions are quite rare, and the more common symptoms are sudden disconnects or perhaps distorted sound, which usually clears up when you reconnect.

I use Skype for business as well, as a networking tool to conduct interviews for my two radio shows. I also pay to make and receive calls from regular phones, and I expect high quality.

To be fair, even the dedicated Web host may run into network and server troubles on occasion. That’s the nature of the beast. In the end, it’s quite possible to get good service from the big companies, even if email, telephony and hosting aren’t their main businesses. But there are lots and lots of options out there, and if the company you’re using isn’t performing to your expectations, just take your business elsewhere.