It's pretty bad when your company has a well known mascot associated with its inability to keep its site running. For Twitter, that mascot is the "fail whale," or the cutesy, one-dimensional drawing of a whale being held up by birds, which appears whenever Twitter is down. Lately it seems as if the whale has returned in full force.
When Twitter first started gaining attention last year after the SXSW conference in Austin, it was crashing regularly. Twitter's software engineer, Alex Payne, told us in August that the site simply "didn't have enough servers to meet the demand and that sort of thing." It didn't scale well because it wasn't built to be the messaging system it turned into.
For a while things seemed back on track. We all cheered when it survived Election Day, which was, allegedly, the ultimate test. But lately the service's uptime has been intermittent. And it isn't just us: A search on search.twitter.com for "fail whale" will reveal many Tweeters today complaining about the mammal's return.
Well, one could speculate. (And one will.)
Like it or not, Twitter has recently gone "mainstream" in the most irritating way. It's moved a bit from the tech circles and become the focal point of the lives of our talking media heads, celebrities, politicians, and talk show hosts who are regularly making headlines for their Twitteracy. It's apparently even being blamed for the breakup of Jennifer Aniston and John Mayer, who reportedly ended their relationship at least in part due to Mayer's Twitter addiction. (Twittiction? Twaddiction? We'll work on that one and get back to you...)
Further, the onslaught of third-party applications devoted to making it easier to post your 140-character updates from anywhere on the surface of the Earth (e.g., TweetDeck, TwitterBerry, TwitterFon, Twhirl...) only make the Tweets more superfluous (and, of course, more inane), and put more pressure on the Twitter servers.
Scalability has been an Achilles heel for Twitter from day one. Pair that with its lack of a business plan and you begin to see a real problem at a company that has recently witnessed unexpected popularity.
Internet Evolution submitted a question to Twitter's support service asking what is up with the whale, but we've yet to receive a response.
In the meantime, perhaps if you CelebriTwits really want to help keep Twitter up and running you should give its servers a rest and keep your critical updates to a minimum -- at very least, skip the details on your gassy lunch.
— Nicole Ferraro, Site Editor, Internet Evolution