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Why Twitter still has to get its game on--fast

The media's love affair with Twitter could take a sharp turn for the worse if it continues to crash embarrassingly in the wake of unexpected World Cup victories.

In March, Twitter CEO Evan Williams first unveiled @Anywhere, a new platform aimed at media outlets to knit Twitter more deeply into their own sites. After all, Twitter has become more or less synonymous with real-time, breaking news--so it seems like any publisher would want to work @Anywhere into its code to put the latest, freshest information front and center. Right?

Unfortunately, Twitter has recently indicated that it still can't handle breaking news.

On Wednesday, when the U.S. soccer team defeated Algeria 1-0, advancing the team to the next round of the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, Twitter's servers were soon completely hosed. Instability has become routine once again at Twitter, after several years of relative reliability that saw much of the service's wildfire growth and nearly eradicated its reputation for frequent outages. In the wake of the 11th-hour goal by Landon Donovan, Twitter was already on high alert: while the game was still going on, a message on Twitter's status blog read that it was experiencing "periodic high rates of error."

To be fair, Twitter's team has been very upfront about the recent difficulties, and said that it would be "a rocky few weeks" as its engineering team worked to upgrade some critical infrastructure. Those "rocky few weeks" just happen to fall during one of the biggest international sports events of the decade.

What the service has to worry about now is whether it's going to look amateurish once again at a time when the San Francisco-based company, once a tiny start-up, is trying to prove its professional credibility. Twitter has 190 million users around the world and has become quite the household name, meaning that it will take something much worse than server instability to put a dent in its influence and user growth. But this isn't good for the company's image as it attempts to build better relationships with publishers and digital-media outlets through its @Anywhere product (as well as, to a lesser extent, potentially advertisers using its "Promoted Tweets" product). No media company is going to want to have a front-page Twitter aggregator where the most recent tweets are an hour old due to Twitter server problems.

Twitter's a product that the media industry respects, and in many cases idolizes, but the recent high-profile infrastructure problems in conjunction with something as newsworthy as the World Cup soccer extravaganza could mean that publishers may stall to integrate @Anywhere into their sites as soon as Twitter wants them to. This, in turn, could spell bad news for Twitter if a different product swoops in and intercepts the real-time news thunder.

We all know, for example, that Facebook would like to be "anywhere," too.