Posted June 16, 2010 7:37 am by with 6 comments

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As most of you have noticed lately Twitter has had its share of downtime. Talk of the Twitter fail whale used to be more prevalent but until recently was seen as more of a nuisance rather than an issue. Well, for many users the amount of downtime experienced recently is moving quickly into the realm of real concern rather than just an inconvenience.

Twitter is obviously aware as noted on their blog which attempts to explain what’s been happening.

From a site stability and service outage perspective, it’s been Twitter’s worst month since last October.

What’s the problem?

Last Friday, we detailed on our Engineering blog that this is going to be a rocky few weeks. We’re working through tweaks to our system in order to provide greater stability at a time when we’re facing record traffic. We have long-term solutions that we are working towards, but in the meantime, we are making real-time adjustments so that we can grow our capacity and avoid outages during the World Cup.

As we go through this process, we have uncovered unexpected deeper issues and have even caused inadvertent downtime as a result of our attempts to make changes. Ultimately, the changes that we are making now will make Twitter much more reliable in the future. However, we certainly are not happy about the disruptions that we have faced and even caused this week and understand how they negatively impact our users.

At this point it would be easy to rant and rave about how this apparent digital injustice is just an outrage blah, blah, blah. Rather than take the easy route I would like to consider just what we as users of Twitter expect and how our demands sound more annoying than World Cup soccer horns on most days.

Right now, at least, Twitter is a free tool. It’s an effective free tool. It’s a popular free tool. Why we expect perfection from a free tool is just a testament to our inability to handle bumps in our daily road. Would I like 100% up time with Twitter? Sure would. Last week during the IAB’s Innovation Days event in New York it was frustrating when the service was not available. It took something away from the experience.

It’s this last point that should actually make Twitter users happy. When used in a way that can help you or enrich you in some way Twitter can add to an experience for many. Just a few short years ago this kind of communication wasn’t even available. It’s interesting how we can go from not knowing what we are missing to completely spoiled and indignant in a very short period of time.

So my suggestion while Twitter works out its current kinks? Relax and remember how you used to be productive before Twitter. Do those things again for a little while. You may even find that you have shelved an activity in favor of Twitter but it should be brought back into your rotation.

Sure the fail whale is an unwelcome guest. Trouble is that while we see these ‘failings’ as massive letdowns it’s really just more evidence that perfect isn’t attainable and even Twitter is run by regular old human beings. Inherent in that is imperfection and trouble. Should they have anticipated the current trouble that is likely due to the World Cup? Sure they should have. Looks like they didn’t, however, and it’s probably just better to live with it as it is rather than complain about what it should be.

Your thoughts?

  • Thanks for the perspective, Frank. It gets tiring when people whine about a free service. I am just happy to have Twitter.

  • Ed

    Great post Frank!

    You’re right; it feels a lot more reasonable to realize
    ‘We get to use this (free) while they pioneer the platform of the future’

    • Ed- Thanks! I am honored to be connected to the Louis CK rant which is hysterical and really on point.

  • You gotta give Twitter some props for owning up to their downtime, apologizing and explaining the issues behind it. With so many people/companies still apprehensive about transparency and owning up to mistakes, Twitter shows that its mind is in the right place.

  • Frank;
    So nice to see someone reasonable still exists! For a free service, they really do try hard. And given that we all pay nothing, and that many of us would simply stop using the service if they did charge for it, I don’t think any of us have room to complain.

    We have our twitter feed repeated on our home page and it has been somewhat embarrassing to see it broken every now and then when twitter has been down (displays a warning or error message as the returned value from twitter, instead our valuable tweet!).

    We added some code to detect Twitter’s status and if it’s down, display a little canned message instead: “Hello from @gossamar”

    Works well and please feel free to adapt to your own purposes…

  • Interesting post. I’ve noticed the unreliability as of late, but didn’t know why.

    I’ve recently been trying to cut back on my twitter usage. If I don’t try to manage it, I can let twitter be a huge time suck.