I've been working with the design and development of online services for quite some time and am very familiar with what 'high availability' means, but today I had the opportunity to learn first hand how the lack of reliability can directly impact people. This is a minor example, to be sure but as more 'software as a service' companies are built out more people will be affected in ways that they don't quite understand.
My daughter attends a Middle School that uses the online curriculum from Key Curriculum Press - I have no idea if the content is decent or not (but knowing the teachers at the school I'd bet it's good) and in order to access specific materials a login process has to take place and then access to some PDFs become available. This weekend, the login service was unavailable and so my daughter could not work on that part of her homework - very annoying.
The problem is likely something as simple as a server misconfiguration or a host being down (I can't imagine there's too much horsepower required for this sort of service), but as a 'customer' we are unable to do anything. There is no 24x7 tech support or online contact information. I could make a phone call, but that would only work between 8am and 5pm (PST), and I'm pretty sure kids do homework outside of those hours.
I've sent an email to their president and we'll see what kind of response that gets.
Update - I received a nice email from their president and she also sent a follow up email with more details. Very nice!