Amara Nwankpa (Twitter ID: bubusn)
ON JUNE 15, 2009, officials of the U.S. State Department got on the phone to Twitter executives and made a passionate plea. The request was for the social networking site to delay its planned maintenance outage to avoid disrupting communications among tech-savvy Iranian citizens as they took to the streets to protest the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Twitter was playing such a key role in influencing the course of post-election events in Iran that global stakeholders could not afford even a planned outage.
Interestingly, even the executives of Twitter, at the time, didn’t have a clue about the impact they were having – until that call from the State Department.
Just in case you have spent the last two years perfectly hidden under a rock in the remotest parts of Otukpo, or you got stuck in 2006 and haven’t really been able to find your way back, let me humour you just this time and tell you what Twitter is.
Imagine a website that asks you a simple question: “What’s happening?” and gives you a small box, the size of an SMS text message, to respond. That is twitter.
Take heart (or please do yourself a favour and picture me pointing you to a computer, or Blackberry, whilst holding up a sign that reads ‘Twitter is your friend’).
Maybe you still don’t get it? That’s what happened with a lot of people at first. And if you sit there just staring at that box, you probably never will.
When the creator of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, published his first tweet on the 20th of March 2006, he was probably as clueless as you were when you first logged on to twitter. He thought he was creating an “SMS service to communicate with a small group of people”. For most of 2006 and 2007, it was just that. Twitter averaged 20,000 tweets per day and had less than a million users. Everyone was happy.
By late 2007, the signs began to appear that Jack Dorsey and his motley band of 25 Twitter employees had grossly underestimated how many people would get beyond the initial confusion of that empty text box and go on to repeatedly answer the seemingly meaningless question. Millions of users were pouring into Twitter every month and it didn’t take long before they began to choke Twitter’s little resources with their babble.
Grossly unprepared for the flood to come, Twitter could not cope. Downtime became the norm.
In 2007 alone, the site recorded a total six days of downtime – significantly more than any other social networking site at the time. Despite a partial platform overhaul, relentless engineering efforts and the introduction of sweeping restrictions, nothing really changed.
This is June 2010 and users still get a visit from the twitter ‘fail whale, sometimes, every day. Twitter created a monster and it has been unable to tame it.
Of course, it bears remembering that this particular monster grew faster than anyone could anticipate.
(Full story on Y! September 2010)