Warning: This post is about Twitter, so if you don’t care about Twitter, stop reading here. Proceed at your own risk of boredom.
Last week, friends of the ‘Lab David Haimes and Michael Krigsman were exchanging some jabs over Twitter, about Twitter. Michael argues that Twitter’s frequent outages make it appear suspect if/when a business model emerges.
David counters that the business model should be the focus now, not bulletproof reliability.
This is a chicken/egg problem. Was the service inherently unreliable, or did the massive amount of freeloading traffic cripple it?
Over the past few weeks, Twitter has been especially unreliable, which for me is mildly annoying, but nothing that upsetting. Michael blogged several posts about Twitter as an IT failure, which is in his wheelhouse, and the echo chamber was full of coverage about how it might be Scoble’s fault, how Twitter was poorly architected for its current form, how FriendFeed should kill Twitter, etc.
In light of the frequent downtime, it was nice of Twitter to stay up for David and Michael to disagree about it. David’s response, blogged in paragraphs of 140 characters, a nice touch, essentially sums up how I feel about the whole thing. So what if Twitter’s down?
Twitter is free; you get what you pay for; depending on a free service seems like a slippery slope, since there are no guarantees for uptime. People generally refer to uptime in terms of the number of 9s, usually guaranteed in the SLA, e.g.
99.9% uptime (”3 nines”) is 21.9 hours downtime/year
99.99% uptime (”4 nines”) is 52.56 minutes/year
99.999% uptime (”5 nines”) is 5.26 minutes/year
99.9999% uptime (”6 nines”) is 31.54 seconds/year
These are tough to maintain for profit, so why would you try for free?
Of course, Twitter doesn’t have an SLA because it’s a free service, and good thing, because the last report I saw had their uptime at only one 9, 98.72%. That number is sure to have fallen after the dark days of May.
When Twitter’s down, people get up in arms. Then, when it’s back and humming along, people act like nothing happened. It’s like having a fight with a loved one, followed by a tearful, “let’s never fight again” makeup. Even in the absence of a business model and in the absence of service a lot of the time, people have not abandoned Twitter, even for clones like Pownce and Jaiku. Why?
For me, it’s general apathy about the service (see above), but more importantly, Twitter has the network, the first-mover status. This is a big barrier to switching for me, and since I don’t find a large utility in Twitter to begin with, I’m generally fine living through the dark times.
Maybe over time, my utility will rise, which I’m guessing is what Twitter is banking on; get your users so entrenched that they are willing to stomach whatever revenue model you put in place.
Or maybe they’re making it up as they go. Either way, it’s fun to watch. I’ll leave you with this hilarious take on what Twitter’s business model should be.
Update: Nick O’Neill ponders whether reliablity matters to social media, with Twitter as a prime example. He notes that according to Compete, people don’t seem to care about Twitter’s reliability, as evidenced by its continued brisk growth.