A Different Way of Thinking

I thought this was an interesting difference in how people think.

For background, Cloudflare was down for a while Tuesday. That meant a substantial chunk of the Internet was down, because Cloudflare is, in essence, a provider of web capacity. When you make a request for a web page from a site that uses their services, the request goes first to Cloudflare. If they have a local copy of the page–they pass it to your browser. If not, they request it from the original site, give it to you, and keep a copy to fulfil future requests*. It’s all transparent to you and your web browser and it protects your favorite web sites against denial of service attacks.

* There’s more to it than that, naturally. Controls to ensure that Cloudflare doesn’t keep pages containing personal information and serve them up to others, for example.

Everything is fine and the Internet is a happy place until Cloudflare itself runs into problems.

When that happens, they generally send your browser an error message, most commonly one in the 500 range. (400-type errors are indicative of problems on your end; for example, most people are familiar with the 404 error, meaning you–or your browser–asked for a page that doesn’t exist.) 500 errors are for trouble at the other end of the connection: the server crashed, can’t handle the volume of traffic it’s getting, can’t contact the site it’s trying to be a front end for, and so on.

And most of Cloudflare’s 500-type error messages identify Cloudflare as the location where the problem occurred and make a recommendation: click a link to try to contact the original site directly, try again later, etc.

As I write this on Tuesday afternoon, Cloudflare is back up and the Internet is running as smoothly as it ever does. And, naturally, people what to know what went wrong.

According to Google’s trending searches list, the Number One search in Japan, by a significant margin, is for “Cloudflare”. (I find it vaguely amusing that this is the only English language search term on the list.)

In the UK, “Cloudflare” is the third most common search, trending well behind “Xavier Musk” and “Tom Mann”. Makes sense, right? Get your popular culture news first, then go learn why you couldn’t get the news earlier.

Then there’s the US. “Cloudflare” didn’t even make the list. Instead, there was a mass of searches for “500 error”. Google helpfully directed them to a random web page that promised to explain what they are (reasonable) and how to fix them (you can’t; see above).

Americans, it seems, are more interested in fixing a problem than in fixing responsibility. Elsewhere, there appears to be some recognition that many problems are transient, and once they’re resolved, it might be a good idea to take a look at who caused them.

Think I’m reading too much into this? Long-time readers will remember the Bay Bridge Bolt Botch. Lots of energy around the bolts, determining how many were failing, what the effects of failure would be, and on and on. Zero desire to determine who was responsible for a design that included bolts that might not have been needed, who specced the wrong bolts, who signed off on their installation, who may have tested them improperly (or not tested them at all, according to some reports).

It gives one to think, doesn’t it? Because, after all, if nobody knows who’s responsible, it could be anyone–Saudi Arabia! The President! Bill Gates! Joe Shlabotnik!

Or even nobody at all: Natural cycles! Sunspots! UFOs!

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