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Early this morning, people using the Google search engine got a strange surprise. Nearly every result for every search was marked with the alert message, "This site may harm your computer." If you clicked on a search result, instead of being directed to a Web site, you were automatically taken to a Google page informing you to proceed with caution, lest you infect your computer with malware.

As it turned out, a simple and easily corrected human error led to the site-wide mishap. The explanation from Google's official blog reads, "Google flags search results with the message 'This site may harm your computer' if the site is known to install malicious software in the background or otherwise surreptitiously. We do this to protect our users against visiting sites that could harm their computers. We maintain a list of such sites through both manual and automated methods. We work with a non-profit called StopBadware.org to come up with criteria for maintaining this list, and to provide simple processes for webmasters to remove their site from the list.

"We periodically update that list and released one such update to the site this morning. Unfortunately (and here's the human error), the URL of '/' was mistakenly checked in as a value to the file and '/' expands to all URLs."

The problem was detected and corrected in less than an hour, and posed no real threat to searching, surfing, or individual Web sites. I happened to be searching the Internet via Google when the issue started and I noticed something really interesting.

The Twitter Factor.

Yet again, the Twitterverse knew of a major Internet malfunction before, well, just about everyone else. The phenomenon is nothing new, of course. Twitter subscribers often become aware of news events before even the mainstream media. -- the recent massacre in India and the airplane landing in New York City's Hudson river, just to name a few.

The takeaway message here is that any business that doubts the importance of at the very least monitoring -- if not participating in -- Twitter is doing themselves a grave disservice. A brief service interruption on the Web site of a mom and pop store in Poughkeepsie is likely to go completely unnoticed on Twitter, but larger issues won't. If you rely on traffic to your Web site, learning of major service outages or other large-scale Internet incidents quickly can give you an edge over your competitors.

If you have an online presence of any sort, keeping yourself in the loop via Twitter is one of the best moves you can make. Today's issue at Google gave a glimpse of just how fast news travels in the Twittersphere -- something savvy business owners will take to heart.

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