Scripting News for 6/28/2008

State of the Twitter, June 2008 

June was a terrible month in TwitterLand. The service was down a lot. It’s basically down right now, has been for days — since the Replies tab doesn’t work.

I’ve never seen anything like it. A service so many people use that can’t stay up.

Yesterday I got an email from Jay Rosen asking if this was the day Twitter died. It had completely gone off the air. No whale, no features taking a rest, the server wasn’t responding at all. I posted a message on FriendFeed linking to the Don McLean song American Pie that’s about “The Day The Music Died.” Yeah, yesterday might have been the day that Twitter died.

Fact is, 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. Just look at the spewage report for a sense of the scale.

So I started arguing for a decentralized system, and the engineers at Twitter sniffed that you would never be able to recreate Twitter in a decentralized fashion. I still doubt that’s true, but now we have a counter-argument — you couldn’t keep it running in a centralized fashion either. It may just be too rich an application for today’s computers. To a user this seems ridiculous — it doesn’t look rich. I guess sometimes appearances can be deceptive.

So the conversation moves to FriendFeed. True, I am ignoring the flow I have on Twitter. Easy come easy go. The flow there is pointless. It’s like trying to make a baby by having sex with a rock. First, it’s hard to get excited. And second, no baby.

And FriendFeed is a much better place for conversation than Twitter. No 140-character limit (they do have a limit, but it’s much higher, so high I haven’t had a reason yet to figure out what it is). And most important, with 10K-plus followers on Twitter, when I respond to one person’s question, all 10K see the response and some get annoyed (a certain percentage say so) or ask what we’re talking about. If I answer their question, I’m annoying and confusing a bunch more people. Conversation was awkwardly grafted onto Twitter as an afterthought. It seems to fit in better with FriendFeed.

However, 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.

PS: I implemented my own suggestion. Here’s my RSS feed of today’s Twitter posts.

PPS: At 7:40PM, replies in Twitter are back. Now we get to find out if our fling with FF is the real thing, or just a summer love.

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