1-800-Flowers Site Reported Down For 65 Hours. The Reality, Though, Was Quite Different

Having long grown comfortable with using uptime monitoring services to check their own site's ongoing performance, many retailers are toying with using such services to watch for problems with direct rivals. And they have customized E-mail blasts ready to launch at the first sign of trouble.

But an incident this week involving 1-800-Flowers—which the retail chain may have been utterly unaware of—illustrates one of the dangers of using Web monitoring services to track sites other than your own.

One site monitoring company this week reported that the 1-800-Flowers.com E-Commerce site was down for a whopping 65 hours and 26 minutes. The flower company didn't respond to our inquiries, but a fairly perplexed representative of the monitoring firm did.

"To be honest, this is one of those rare cases where I’m not entirely sure if this is legitimate downtime, that is, downtime that regular human Web site visitors would notice," he said.

The representative said his system's request was redirected in a loop in the vendor site and was "bounced between two servers indefinitely" until the monitoring software gave up. "What could be happening is that they, for some reason, try to set a cookie on our end and that the server it redirects to depends on that cookie (our system doesn’t allow cookies) and, therefore, when it can’t find a cookie, sends back the request and so on. On the other hand, if that’s the case, I don’t know why it isn’t broken all the time."

Peter Alguacil, a Web analyst for site monitoring company Pingdom, said site monitors are primarily designed for use by site owners who know their sites inside and out.

"When you monitor your own site, you know all the idiosyncrasies from the backend," Alguacil said. "If you for some reason are monitoring others' sites, then you need to be aware that they may have some idiosyncrasies that kick in at some point."

Alguacil said site monitoring companies rely on software that emulates Web browsers, a practice that usually works fine but can, on rare occasions, report errors real browsers would forgive.