In a painful twist of fate, the systems went down just as Google's crack site-reliability team was preparing for a live question'n'answer session on Reddit. And it came after strangers' email addresses started appearing in Google search result links for "gmail".
Today's outage kicked off around about 1110 PST, 1910 UTC, and appeared to be worldwide. Other services, such as Google Groups and Blogger, were performing slowly or were simply inaccessible. The ad giant's App Status Dashboard initially reported business as usual – but visiting the Gmail site told us this:
Temporary Error (500)
We’re sorry, but your Gmail account is temporarily unavailable. We apologize for the inconvenience and suggest trying again in a few minutes. You can view the Apps Status Dashboard for the current status of the service.
If the issue persists, please visit the Gmail Help Center.
Technical Info Numeric Code: 93
The status dashboard updated as The Register was going to press to confirm the Gmail service was reportedly under the weather:
We're investigating reports of an issue with Gmail. We will provide more information shortly.
Naturally, Yahoo! which runs a rival webmail service, couldn't resist poking Google in the eye in a tweet on its official Twitter feed – although one wonders what Yahoo! is doing revealing that it too, perhaps, uses Gmail. The Google rival deleted its post soon after.
Updated to add at 1300 PST, 2100 UTC Jan 24
Coffee break time is over: the webmail service is gradually getting back on its feet. Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides, Google Drawings, Google Sites, Google Groups and Google+ Hangouts were confirmed as suffering from "service disruption" by the web goliath after publication of this article.
Final update at 1700 PST Jan 24, 0100 UTC Jan 25
When Gmail returned to life, it emerged that searching for "gmail" in Google brought up a link, titled "Email", tucked under the first search result that, when clicked on, opened up a new blank message addressed to a random stranger.
A chap called David S. Peck in Fresno, California, whose Hotmail addy was exposed by this weird bug, apparently received thousands of messages in his inbox as a result. And he wasn't the only one whose address was unexpectedly exposed in the search results.
It's understood this oddity came to light at the start of the week, and a Google spokesman assured The Reg it was unrelated to today's downtime. Instead, it appears to be a now-squashed flaw in Google's search algorithms.
“Due to a technical glitch, some email addresses on public webpages appeared too prominently in search results. We’ve fixed the issue and are sorry for any inconvenience caused,” he told us.
Google, meanwhile, blamed today's outage on a programming error in its software that misconfigured its own servers. ®