Videoconferencing tool Zoom experienced widespread outages on Monday, frustrating teachers and students as many school districts were trying to ramp up return-to-school remote learning. It’s yet another sign that we’re living on Covid-19 time right now. While schools spent all summer developing backup plans in case they couldn’t offer in-person learning this fall — videoconferencing was always plan B – I suspect few prepared backup plans for a Zoom failure.
Thousands of American schools have come to rely on this private company’s servers as a lifeline to American children — in some ways, more important than books and teachers to our national education system. That set the company, and the country, up for such a failure. The outage, even if short-lived, is a reminder of just how fragile our jerry-rigged education system is. Zoom is essentially critical infrastructure right now. Many teachers and students pay nothing, or next to nothing, for it.
After months of preparations, meetings, protests, and social media haranguing, Zoom just couldn’t handle the crush of traffic that arrived this late August Monday. It’s a day that many schools “opened” their virtual doors to students for the first time, while others began teacher preparation meetings in earnest. Zoom has not yet confirmed that busy schools were the cause of the outage, but that seems the likely explanation.
“We have received reports of users being unable to start and join Zoom Meetings and Webinars,” a Zoom spokesperson told Gizmodo. “We are currently investigating and will provide updates as we have them. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience.”
A glance at the website DownDetector gives you some sense of the panic caused by Zoom’s troubles: “Down in Wilmington, DE,” “Down in West Central Ohio,” “Down in Philly,” ” Down in Texas.” Some users swap suggestions, such as clearing cookies or using a different version of Zoom’s software, but there seems no easy solution. Some suggest the problem is with Zoom’s account management systems, as many errors seem to reference Zoom’s Zuora’s login system.
Are you having Zoom trouble? Let me know. But more important, let me know what your school’s plan is for the next Zoom outage.