There was an extended Gmail outage on Tuesday. The outage, although over in approximately two hours, showed, in its own way, how popular the email service is, despite its current 3rd place ranking.
At the peak of the outage, more than Google Trends was full of "why is Gmail down," "Gmail down," etc. etc. We're talking about the top 20+ trends. People were definitely upset about the lack of connectivity, and wondering what was going on.
At 12:53 PM PDT on its Google Apps status dashboard, Google said:
"We're aware of a problem with Google Mail affecting a majority of users. The affected users are unable to access Google Mail."
Although Google said service returned to normal at 2:40P PM PDT, intermittent slowdowns (call it, empirical evidence) were happening for hours after that time.
The problems appeared to mostly affect the Web-based version of the service, as Google noted that affected accounts could be reached by using IMAP, or POP3. Google engineering director David Besbris said in an official blog posting that although the issue is fixed, the company has not yet determined ther root cause of the issue.
The good thing: despite the outage, the world survived. Gmail recently moved past AOL into the top three of email services. While closing in on Hotmail, it's far, far behind Yahoo! Mail.