Over the weekend, 150,000 Gmail users came face to face with a nightmare to end all nightmares: Their inboxes were wiped clean. No e-mails, no themes, no folders, no labels. Nothing. 

Google owned up to the mishap yesterday evening, though since then they've changed a few facts. While the Internet giant initially said that the problem “affects less than .29% of the Google Mail userbase,” the number was later reduced.

"Yesterday a very small number of users started having difficulty accessing their Gmail accounts, and in some cases once they got in, trouble viewing e-mails," a company spokesperson said in an e-mailed statement. "This is affecting less than 0.08% of our Gmail user base, and we've already fixed the problem for some individuals. Our engineers are working as quickly as possible and we hope to have everything back to normal soon. We're very sorry for the inconvenience to our customers."

While some accounts have reportedly been restored, an unfortunately few are still fumbling around in the dark. As of this afternoon, the Google team is "continuing to investigate the issue". See here:

gmail_missing_emails.jpgWhere's the Reliability, Google?

While this is surely the largest scale on which the missing e-mail issue has happened, it's not the first time. In fact, Google has an FAQ in Gmail Help that addresses the problem: 

When messages go missing in a Gmail account, it's typically due to one of the following:

  • Settings applied to incoming mail, such as a filter or forwarding
  • A configuration issue with IMAP or POP access
  • Deliberate or accidental human action, or possibly a compromised account

Personally, I've experienced a few issues in which Gchat conversations went mysteriously missing from my archives. 

This doesn't bode well for the company's hopes of becoming a viable competitor in the enterprise space. Users have taken note of this, of course, and have already begun to express their concerns: "Well--what if the cloud fails?" asked one such user. "If, ultimately, Google does not make this right in a timely way and I lose the main record of the last seven years of my life ...that will forever affect how I view trusting an anonymous server farm somewhere with my critical or even not-so-critical data. I imagine it's the same with all of you."

Google has yet to provide a reason for the catastrophe. If you're waiting for one, it might be a good idea in the meantime to set up another e-mail account and program all of your incoming Gmail messages to copy over.