Twitter meltdown?

It's not been a good week for Twitter. Most of Tuesday it seemed to be down, and then most of Wednesday evening too. One comes to expect short outages in Twitter, you almost regard them with affection, that bespeak of its cottage industry status (I guess they've gone to put another dollar in the meter). But these outages have been very frustrating. Last night I was watching the Champions League Final, and I often Twitter with other people who are in that narrow cross section of ed tech/football fans/in my twitter list, so I'm not watching alone. But no luck last night, apart from a few brief windows of opportunity.

The Twitter guys don't seem to know what the problem is. Some Twitter fans have become angry and organised a Twit-Out, a 24 hr boycott of Twitter. The danger for Twitter is if you start using another service, you'll stick with it. There's nothing really in the design of Twitter over Jaiku, Friendfeed, Pownce, etc that makes me use it – it's just that it's where my network is, and I can't migrate without them. But if they started to go, the infamous tipping point might be reached very quickly. The only warning I would add is that if we all migrate to another service, then that will likely have problems too. I'm not techie enough to know what Twitter's problems are (hell, if they don't know, why should I), but I'm guessing it relates to scale. They've become a success-disaster. It's likely the same fate would befall the next micro-blogging service we all jumped too – then we'd go back to Twitter which would now seem reliable.

All this might be grist for the 'stick with institutional services' mill, apart from the fact that there isn't an institutional Twitter and if there was it'd only connect me to people in my institution. Those boundaries have gone, and  we need to find tools that support this. It might also be grist for the 'web 2.0 free business model has burst' mill. There may be something in this – like many people (including one suspects Twitter themselves), I find the business model of Twitter a mystery. Except I don't think these problems are related to money or capacity, ie throwing more money at it wouldn't solve it. They seem to be arising from the complexity of the number of posts and how these are handled. Maybe the solution will require more money, but my feeling is that it hasn't arisen because they lacked investment, ie it could have easily happened to a company with paying customers if they had this type of traffic.

So we'll have to wait and see. What's certain is that this won't be the first of these type of problems for web 2.0 services. This is still relatively new ground in terms of technology and more importantly, user behaviour. And with scale comes unforeseen complexity. And that's the fun of it – we get to see the new paradigms being created.


  • Patrick McAndrew

    Hi Martin,
    So it’s not just me! I agree with that somehow twitter has found a niche but its gold on the niche is also fragile. After all we switched off Facebook very quickly. Twitter could become my sticking point based on two things – 1. you stay on it; 2. I find an additional twitter based service that matters to me. By that I mean things like from 3rd parties that are springing up.
    I have visited Jaiku every so often as the interesting alternative – but how long can they carry on with a “watch this space” message? So we should we go? I think stick with twitter for now.

  • Liam Green-Hughes

    There was an interesting post on Techcrunch about this very problem: it raised a lot of good points and pointed out the basic problem with Twitter is that it will never really be reliable until it decentralises. The solution seems to be to have a number of microblogging services that can talk to each other. It’s an approach that works excellently for the rest of the web, e.g. we don’t all use the same email service!
    That aside though, I think Twitter is a great way to build a sense of community, especially for people dispersed over a wide distance, it is also fun. As you say this is new ground so the journey won’t always be smooth. So, like Patrick, I think I’ll be sticking with it too.

  • Manish

    After reading your post I thought what would happen if this service suffer for long periods and how that would impact my project supervision? as I am relying on it.
    Institutional twitter type software is also not as appealing as twitter itself.
    Other issue is that next year students will probably have twitter accounts next year as it becomes more popular before they start the project. will they allow me as supervisor to enter their personal space…I think this may be problematic. I am thinking institutional twitter again…but some how it does not feel right.
    a new twitter type service to use each year wud be nice but that is asking too much.

  • Enda Guinan

    It’s all my fault. I really got into Twitter last week. I must have sent it over the edge. Sorry.
    Well, it’s really you OU-types’ fault for flagging it as a potential research for newbies like your H809 cohort 😉

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