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Randomelements :: Blog > Posts > Twitter: how do service outages affect our behaviour.

Twitter: how do service outages affect our behaviour.

It's been very interesting to watch developments surrounding the problems Twitter has been experiencing with its outages and, more so, the behaviour of people in reaction to it.
Twitter has had issues for a while based on the scalability of the service - it was never really envisaged that usage would go viral to the degree it has so keeping things running appears to have become a daily battle. For a while people have lived with it, perhaps even having sympathy with a struggling startup.
The real problem, however, is that Twitter is one of those applications that has delivered way beyond it's initial promise and therefore become an integral part of the daily routine. Downtime under these circumstances becomes a problem.
Shel Israel summed it up in his open letter.
So what do we do when such a service goes down? I mentioned before about having somewhere to fall back on should a service go down and (along with others) having been setting up shop at Pownce - just in case. This is a far cry, however, from the reactions of some.
There have been those who have been waiting patiently while the problems are fixed and then there have been those who have thrown their toys out of the pram and threatened to go elsewhere. We have even had tweets saying things like "Was forced to use Jaiku during the Twitter outage" - who forced you? Is Twitter really that integral to your daily routine? If so we have come a long way.
Is it justified to give a free service such as Twitter a hard time over outages? Why do people get so incensed about the service going down? Can we justify the attacks made against the site? Probably not but this just goes to show that twitter has become a victim of its own success. Some users say that they have integrated Twitter in to their set up so tightly that they are losing money if there is an outage. Is it wise to place that much reliance upon a service that obviously has some inherent issues, or is it the best and quickest way of achieving some things? Take this comment from for example:
Twitter has been around a long time now but still has that new startup feel about it rather than an established brand (much like Google's eternal beta philosophy) so the time has probably come for things to move on. As Shel said, there needs to be a plan to monetize the service in some way to show a commitment to development and upkeep. How, though, do you monetize a service such as Twitter? You can go placing adds in Tweets and ads on the page itself will most likely be ignored by most people - advertising doesn't seem to be the way to go. How about an income from SMS deals with carriers? From the Twitter site:
"Twitter doesn't charge individuals for sending or receiving messages. In order to provide global messaging, Twitter negotiates with mobile operators and their representatives around the world for reasonable SMS fees"
Agreeing slightly higher rates and getting a cut of the proceeds would seem to be the only obvious solution for funding (much like Premium Rate phone calls) but will tweeps continue to uses SMS as a means to interact with the service if forced to pay beyond their normal message rates? Someone is going to have to be very creative in this area to successfully monetize a system which shows very little room to be exploited.
Perhaps it is time Twitter should be looking to decentralize in order to relieve the load on just one set of hardware but then we are looking at the issues raised by data replication and failover. Is such a quick-fire system as Twitter capable of being decentralized without data getting lost/mixed up? who knows.
Whatever happens the time has come for some honest communication from the guys at Twitter so that we know where things are heading. If we are not going to be able to rely on the service then people may have to jump ship but I don't think it's fair to do so until there is a genuine business plan in place. The time is coming, however, when that business plan has to be announced.
UPDATE: good news, Biz Stone has that they have signed up with NTT America Enterprise Hosting Services in order to improve the reliability of the service. That's great!
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