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Repeat After Me: High Error Rate On Twitter.com

This phrase, or a variation thereof, has come up multiple times (almost on a daily basis) on the official Twitter Status blog since June 8. And with good reason, because for a fortnight now we’ve seen a ton of unwelcome appearances from this guy:

Twitter addressed this somewhat on June 15, essentially laying the blame on the server-killing combo of the World Cup and the NBA Finals.

Last Friday, we detailed on our Engineering blog that this is going to be a rocky few weeks. We’re working through tweaks to our system in order to provide greater stability at a time when we’re facing record traffic. We have long-term solutions that we are working towards, but in the meantime, we are making real-time adjustments so that we can grow our capacity and avoid outages during the World Cup.

As we go through this process, we have uncovered unexpected deeper issues and have even caused inadvertent downtime as a result of our attempts to make changes. Ultimately, the changes that we are making now will make Twitter much more reliable in the future. However, we certainly are not happy about the disruptions that we have faced and even caused this week and understand how they negatively impact our users.

(The start of Wimbledon yesterday and the final round of the US Open this past weekend didn’t do much to help either.)

Fair enough. But while the World Cup has definitely turned Twitter from a moderate (if consistent) simmer to an occasional full-on boil, it’s not constant. World Cup games are fairly intermittent, and the outages don’t always occur during or immediately after the games.

And what about all those people who aren’t on Twitter during the World Cup matches? The World Cup is huge, sure, but I would imagine it’s only a fraction of people who continue to tweet whilst watching their country play (I know I don’t), or during the bigger games. I would expect that the majority of football fans log off and sit in front of their TV, entirely Twitter-free.

Sure, in the scheme of things, this is an acceptable period of instability. It’s unprecedented stuff. And Twitter is addressing some of these issues by intentionally taking the site down in the less-busy periods to perform essential maintenance. Which is clearly massively important, as the platform evidently has a problem supporting tweets during the peaks of major sporting events – especially when they come en masse.

That said, we’ve been here before, of course. The death of Michael Jackson hit the internet hard, and Twitter was no exception. While the tweet-per-second rate has set new highs during the World Cup, I find it hard to believe that it’s anywhere near the level of traffic and attention that the network received when Jackson passed – certainly like-for-like. The growth in users should have been cancelled out by the growth in staff and available funds.

Believe it or not, but Michael Jackson died exactly one year ago this coming Saturday – you’d have hoped that Twitter would have learned something about visitor management by now. After all, I haven’t seen Google or Facebook going down during the World Cup. Have you?

(Image credit: Diamondie.)

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