Twitter's weakening pulse
The digital natives who love Twitter are getting restless as company engineers try to save the patient from flatlining.
It's somewhat incomprehensible that Twitter has been unable to keep the service up and running. More than 10 years into the age of the Internet, with a huge amount of R&D publicly available about scaling Web applications, you would think that Twitter's engineers could figure it out.
A recent blog post from Twitter co-founder Biz Stone said help is on the way in the form of about $15 million in funding:
Twitter will become a sustainable business supported by a revenue model. However, our biggest opportunities will be worth pursuing only when we achieve our vision of Twitter as a global communication utility. To reach our goal, Twitter must be reliable and robust. Private funding gives us the runway we need to stay focused on the infrastructure that will help our business take flight. We will continue hiring systems engineers, operators, and architects, as well as consultants, scientists, and other professionals to help us realize our vision.
But the natives who love Twitter are getting restless, and they're losing faith. Twitter is chronically up and down, and key features, such as track and replies, disappear as company engineers try to save their patient from flatlining.
The father of RSS Dave Winer recently said, "Twitter, as it was conceived, was never meant to live."
"It's very possible with better engineering its architecture might have gone on for a few more years, but eventually it would have hit this wall, where there were too many people posting too many twits to too many followers. The scale of the system as conceived rises exponentially."
Check out Winer's Twitter "spewage" report to get an idea of Twitter's scaling challenge.
Allen Stern of CenterNetworks likes Twitter's simplicity and is willing to bet that Twitter can be stabilized.
"I don't believe Twitter is going to die, be killed or go for a suicide. Twitter is easy to understand and use. It's perfect for the mainstream. FriendFeed isn't. FriendFeed will do very well also for the set of users currently using it. I am not sold that there's mainstream appeal coming for FriendFeed."
The weekend conversation is pivoting on whether FriendFeed will replace Twitter as the new conversation hub among the digerati. Winer, who has a high authority rank on this topic, doesn't think that FriendFeed is the answer.
... before we all move to FriendFeed and think we've solved anything, this underscores the problem with putting all our eggs in one basket. We just move the problem into the future. FriendFeed may be able to scale where Twitter can't, but there are other problems with centralization, putting all your trust in a corporation, esp. one so young and unformed. Instead, we should start bootstrapping a decentralized Twitter-like thing immediately, building off the base of clients that connect to Twitter. It can connect to any service we want to connect to, and if one should go away, we do the thing the Internet does so well, route around the outage. I wrote about this, extensively, in early May.
As Winer predicts, Twitter, as a concept, is not going to die. An open platform for microblogging and broadcasting with followers has clearly taken hold. Just as instant messaging spawned numerous silos and a kind of standard in XMPP, Twitter's twist on messaging will go through an evolution that eventually leads to a common standard and stable infrastructure. The Twitter concept has been cloned (Pownce and Plurk), and it won't be long before Facebook, MySpace, or other big players figure out how to make following, followers, tracking, and summizing part of their services.