Facebook Outage Points to Importance of ‘Dark Social’

IMs, emails and office conversations also drive visitors to websites

Depending on which metrics one considers, the two-hour Facebook outage on Aug. 1 signaled a potential disaster for other websites or survivable inconvenience.

With a tweet (see below), Chartbeat chief data scientist Josh Schwartz demonstrated that news websites saw traffic drop by a total 3 percent during the outage. Much of the temporary decline can be attributed to people’s inability to share and clickthrough links via Facebook’s smartphone app. A deeper analysis of social media referrals to all websites, however, painted a more complicated picture.

In a blog post, Schwartz shared different messages, drawn in part by focusing on how both computer and mobile users continued finding sites through so-called "dark social." Direct http links passed along in email or instant messages, apps that take visitors to sites and face-to-face discussions also drive considerable Web traffic to sites that depend on high load rates.

After presenting a real-time graph of site referrals during the period when users could not access Facebook at all, Schwartz wrote that “dark social traffic just before the outage was only 11 percent higher than at its low point during the outage. Since 70 percent of Facebook traffic dropped off, that would imply that at most 16 percent (11 percent/70 percent) of traffic could’ve been directly attributable to Facebook.”

“Significantly less news was consumed on phones, slightly more homepages were visited on desktops, and 30 minutes later, when Facebook came back online, traffic returned to normal,” Schwarz said, looking also at platform variables.

Facebook is mum on why its main site went down. A series of emails sent to GeekWire by a Facebook spokesman opened with the social platform saying “some people are currently having trouble accessing Facebook.” That message occurred at 12:45 p.m. ET.

At 2:30 p.m. ET, the rep emailed again, stating, "We quickly investigated and have fully restored service for everyone. We’re sorry for the inconvenience."

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