The October 2021 blackout is one of the largest Facebook has suffered in its history: six hours without its main services, which included its ubiquitous apps WhatsApp and Messenger messaging. Can you imagine what it would be like to spend three days without these tools?
This is what happened a decade ago. BlackBerry Messenger, the phone messaging service that dominated the cell phone market at the time, cut off millions of users around the world between October 10 and 13, 2011.
Research In Motion (RIM), a Canadian phone maker, had its heyday in the late 2000s. Fueled by the phenomenon of Barack Obama – the world’s first president to use it – executives around the world wanted one of these phones with a built-in QWERTY keyboard.
BlackBerry Messenger, one of the first apps instant messenger of the world, was one of its hallmarks. Launched in 2005, the application not only allowed you to send free messages to other company phones, but also to exchange photos, documents or voice notes. A symbol of management.
From London protests to blackout
In August 2011, a series of riots and protests led by young people swept through London, including multiple looting of shops. BlackBerry Messenger was accused of facilitating coordination and, despite multiple requests from British authorities, the company resisted suspending the service.
The platform offered a fast, easy, cheap, and above all, secure way to communicate: all messages were encrypted. Unlike traditional SMS – or even Twitter or Facebook – users could not be tracked. Back then, the app it had about 70 million active users globally, according to the company.
However, two months after the London incidents, what for many was the beginning of the end of the company occurred: BlackBerry Messenger, email and internet access were inactive for three days.
The blackout started in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, but then spread to South America and eventually spread across the United States and Canada. To the frustration of users, millions of messages and emails remained in the outboxes without being sent.
RIM attributed the problems to a “central switch failure” in one of its data centers and admitted that the backup system “did not perform as intended.”
Only three days after intermittences, the company considered the blackout over. RIM’s top executives acknowledged that they had disappointed customers’ trust and gave away $ 100 worth of premium apps as an “expression of appreciation for your patience.”
Blackouts weren’t uncommon for BlackBerry, but 2011 marked a before and after. And is that the incident came at the worst time. Despite the significant global user base, the company’s sales had stagnated that year.
In addition, the company was beginning to be threatened by Google’s Android-based devices and especially by Apple: the Cupertino firm had launched weeks before the fourth generation of the iPhone and the iOS 5 operating system was about to be released, which came with iMessage, a key rival for BlackBerry Messenger.
“For the first time I say yes… this new disruption affects RIM more than in the past. This will not be the last nail in RIM’s coffin, but where in the past RIM has always returned, this will give customers one more reason to look at other devices, ”wrote Jeff Kagan, an independent telecommunications and technology analyst at the time.
Although BlackBerry Messenger reached 889 million users in 2016, the 2011 blackout became a difficult blow for the firm to assimilate, which continued to lose ground to new players. With the collapse of the equipment manufacturing company, the app for Android and iOS stopped making sense: it ended its operations in 2019, although an enterprise version is still operational.