The Twitterati are stocking their bomb shelters with Twinkies in preparation for the "Twitpocalypse," the time at which the number of tweets sent passes the 2,147,483,647 mark, which is the maximum value of a 32-bit signed integer (technically, it's one-half of 2 to the 32nd, minus 1). Each Twitter message has a unique identifier based on that counter.
When the total number of tweets passes that mark, poorly-written Twitter client apps that use 32-bit signed integers may fail or crash, as they will be unable to deal with the values.
The Twitter platform itself will not be affected, we hear.
The time that the tweet counter passes the 32-bit limit is fast approaching, but to take some control of the situation, Twitter engineers were discussing forcing the issue by incrementing the tweet counter to that number at 2 p.m. PDT today. That has not happened yet, according to one developer who contacted me (on Twitter).
Update, 3:25 p.m. PDT: Twitter's attempt to hotwire its system to roll it past the dangerous milestone has been delayed. Doug Williams in the Twitter Development Talk group recently posted, "Just an update, there is a lot of coordination that it takes to pull something like this off...the deadline may slip a bit as we work to ensure that we've covered our bases, and that the engineering team is ready to react to unforeseen problems."
Update, 3:55 p.m. PDT: The Tweetdeck client for Twitter has been updated, according to a tweet from the company: "If you need it there is a patched version of TweetDeck (v0.25.1) click on the 'Download now' button at http://tweetdeck.com #twitpocalypse." The "If you need it" clause is cryptic. Will an unpatched Tweetdeck installation fail when the Twitter counter reaches the noted number? A query sent to the company has yet to be answered.
Update: 5 p.m. PDT: Two recent posts debunk this whole thing. Ars Technica says Twitter apps are just technically not likely to fail due to the identified problem, in "No fail-whale purgatory for us." The L.A. Times says the whole thing was a bit of a marketing stunt by the application developer that put up the Twitpocalypse.com site, in "Twitpocalypse? Nah."
The Twitpocalypse site also says that we are now past the key 2,147,483,647th tweet. The site links to Tweet #2,147,483,649 by user @nk. It said, "The Tweets must flow," and linked to a picture of a kitten.
My unpatched version of Tweetdeck is still working.
Update 5:30 p.m. PDT: Believe it or not, there are reports that one app, the iPhone Twitter client Twitterific, is not working. I heard reports that another AIR-based client was giving "weird results," but have not been able to confirm it. Search for #twitpocalypse on Twitter for the latest.