Resource: Articles

How a promising online company literally lost EVERYTHING

In 2008, a social media pioneer was in a position to shape the internet as it would look for a decade. Within a year poor data recovery cost them everything.

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How a promising online company literally lost EVERYTHING

Data loss is one of the biggest, most common and most potentially damaging events that can affect any business that relies on digitally stored data for one reason or another. 

Whether caused by poor data integrity policies, technical issues or malicious attacks, data loss is exceptionally disruptive, and rapid intervention is often required with the help of emergency data recovery services to minimise the financial and temporal cost.

For most companies, data loss is costly in a wide range of ways, both in the immediate and long term. However, for one company in particular, a particularly brutal data loss event literally destroyed their entire service and forced the company to shut down.

The story of Gnolia (formerly Ma.gnolia) started with a dream to become an almost ubiquitous service and part of many netizens’ lives, only to turn into a nightmarish cautionary tale about the importance of redundancies and backups for data-dependent organisations.


Before The Storm

Launched in 2006, Ma.gnolia was a social bookmarking website similar to contemporaries such as Digg and Reddit.

The idea was that online links could be added, shared, edited and annotated, creating communities and discussion surrounding online content, and creating rankings based on certain criteria.

As with other social media websites, data is not only an important part of the business; this user data is almost the entire business, especially after the service’s code was available for people to use for free via Open Source licences.

Despite this, the prognosis for the website was as a promising, ambitious competitor to websites such as Delicious

The service was not only used for public bookmarking but also by users as a way to store links to websites they might want to access again on a cross-platform service.

This convenience comes with a reliance that the web service would stay up, and on 30th January 2009, the absolute worst-case scenario occurred.

As reported at the time by Wired, both Ma.gnolia’s primary and backup storage servers lost all of their data, later revealed to be the result of a hardware failure.

It was revealed within three weeks that the entire service was run by a single person using four Mac Mini computers and two Mac OS X servers, without professional backups, data redundancy or a data integrity expert.

To founder Larry Halff’s credit, whilst he made the mistake of setting up his servers and backups without the help of data protection and integrity experts, he did immediately get in touch with recovery specialists to try and fix as much as he could.

Ultimately, none of the data stored by Ma.gnolia was salvageable, and the entire service was lost save for the limited cached information stored on other services, web caches and feeds.

The site was, in this form, eradicated in an instant. It did attempt to make a comeback seven months later as the invite-only Gnolia, but in a sobering farewell message published on the service’s website in September 2010, the website closed down entirely on 30th November.

Few data loss events are as disastrous as this, but it highlights the extent of the damage not adequately protecting your business’ data can cause.

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