Twitter flattened by China earthquake, indirectly (not)

Hugh MacLeod stylised cartoon of a twittering bird

While I’ve become a heavy user of Twitter, its main problem is that it’s simply failing to cope with its own rapid growth. Today’s Twitter outage is doubtless caused by a sudden rush of interest following mainstream media coverage in the context of China’s earthquake.

‘Twitters’ beat media in reporting China earthquake, said AFP, and the story ran everywhere. I guess there might be two or three dozen people wanting to know what’s happening in China, maybe even more. Twitter fall down go boom.

Now scaling-up a service like Twitter isn’t easy, I guess. However they compound the problem by failing to provide meaningful information about their outages. People use Twitter for moment-by-moment personal communication — and many of them are the global digerati! When something goes wrong, updates need to happen frequently, and need to contain meaningful information. Perhaps you could use that Internet thing we keep hearing about?

Twitter, you face a grave danger. Someone could replicate your service but with better engineering. You must recover from this outage much better than all previous ones.

[Update 11.10am: Twitter says today’s outage doesn’t have an interesting explanation. “Part of our caching service required an unscheduled restart. That means a slow rebuilding of data.” If so, then their systems architecture needs serious work, I reckon.]

[Credit: Cartoon Twitter-bird courtesy of Hugh MacLeod. Like all of Hugh’s cartoons published online, it’s free to use.]