Jun 5

Nat Torkington

Nat Torkington

Can You Feel The Love, Twitter?

At our weekly phone call this week, the Radar folks were talking about Twitter and how much we wish it were stable. I observed that I find it extraordinary how well we, the users, have reacted to Twitter's ongoing scaling problems. Sure, there's a lot of "look, scaling is easy", "no it isn't!", "couldn't you build one that's distributed?" talk, but (except for Arrington's periodic weekend linkbait turd salvos across Twitter's bows) it's all been remarkably well-comported. Users love the sinner and hate the sin; we want Twitter to succeed, so even when there's armchair engineerly it's largely good-natured. It feels like we're on Twitter's side, and that's an amazing and rare thing for a company to have. Any other startup and the users would have bolted to any of the improbably-named Twitter-clone startups after Twitter's first weekend with no tweets. Any thoughts about what they've done to earn this patience and affection?

tags: startups  | comments: 19   | Sphere It

Previous  |  Next

0 TrackBacks

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Comments: 19

  Michael R. Bernstein [06.05.08 07:25 PM]

I think it's the one remaining first-mover (more properly speaking, category-creator) advantage.

There is a network-effect going on here. Each defector would have to try to bring along all of the folks they follow, and (if they care) all of the folks who follow *them*, in order to preserve the (latent, when they are down) value that Twitter represents to the defector.

This is... improbable, to say the least, even for reasonably small numbers (say, five-to-ten followees), much less the huge follower/followee lists that some users have amassed. This improbability significantly reduces the value of whatever service you might consider moving to.

But let us say that this problem is magically solved by some combination of popular users 'annointing' some particular successor. The bulk of Twitter's use (if not, perhaps, the bulk of their users) is still by the early-adopter crowd, and no-one in that crowd thinks that if they all descended en-mass on some chosen upstart that it wouldn't just immediately keel over in shock.

To get around these barriers to exit, several different potential replacement services will have to become interoperable with each other (even if not with Twitter itself) via some sort of peering arrangements at least, and ideally via open standardization of server-to-server communication (perhaps by using XMPP?). Only then will the value of using the combined network of Twitter-clones exceed the value of continuing to use Twitter.

BTW, this would obviously recapitulate the evolution and adoption of email systems.

  Rob La Gesse [06.05.08 07:25 PM]

As a very earlier Twitter adopter, and someone that has actually made money consulting with companies on how to use Twitter, I think I know at least part of the answer - Twitter, for all of its flaws, is "simple". We are willing to forgive a lot from a system that is so easy to use.

Twitter certainly hasn't done a stellar job talking to us about what is going on (even now, they are just giving the minimum information on status).

And Twitter, I think uniquely, perfected the "meet the friends of my friends" issue - they didn't ask me to import an address book. They didn't fool me into sharing any one else's information.

They didn't require a two-way relationship for a one-way relationship to start. MANY of my Twitter friends started as people I just followed, or people that just followed me.

From the beginning they never over-promised (and one could argue that they always under-delivered).

And they didn't just get a million "users" - they developed a million "fans".

I can remember seeing one of my favorite musicians do a show where he was so bombed he could barely play - but I was a fan, and I cheered. And I have been back to his concerts many more times.

Fans forgive. Users bolt.

  maetl [06.05.08 07:53 PM]

I think a large part of this has to do with how tightly integrated the brand language fits into the experience of simplicity.

For example, people don't talk about 'microblogging' or 'posts', they talk about 'twittering', 'tweeting', 'tweets'. It's too catchy to resist...

  JesterXL [06.05.08 08:42 PM]

Dude, that's easy. All my friends are there.

Until someone makes it easy for you to follow the same friends on Jaiku or Pownce, assuming they are all even there, Twitter ownz j00!

  geo [06.06.08 04:50 AM]

You use a phone for meetings. Not very 2.0.

Why the loyalty? Momentum. Would your followers follow and who would be there to follow when you moved.

  Steve Lawson [06.06.08 09:08 AM]

I wonder if the frivolous/social nature of Twitter helps in this regard. If Twitter is down, it's an annoyance, but it's not like when I can't access my email. And the good natured complaining about Twitter provides another bond among Twitter users.

  Silona [06.06.08 09:14 AM]

beyond the obvious reasons...

I think usage patterns is also a factor.

I treat twitter like a cocktail party that I occasionally hop in a chat. So for me it is easy to deal with it going down for a bit. They also seem to make sure DM's keep working which is the only one that actually annoys me when it is down.

And well they just seem to know that... which is also groovy.

  Laura "Pistachio" Fitton [06.06.08 10:36 AM]

Twitter, in its simplicity and randomness, creates an astonishingly conducive environment for very natural development of human relationships. It is so easy and nonthreatening to share ideas, be human, connect loosely, take time to adjust to one another, that a tremendous amount of both love and real business tool utility just bubble right out of it.

And honestly, as hard-core a Twitter user as I am, the downtime is never more than a mild annoyance or disappointment. If I can get by, it's hard to imagine anyone who is seriously, seriously put out by what remains high 90%'s uptime.

In addition to the network effect, there's the Twecosystem effect. I *depend* on well over a dozen ancillary applications, clients and tools to do what I do on Twitter.

So if somehow I found a way to go elsewhere *and* maintain my network, I'd be at a loss for much of its functionality and versatility as a business and personal tool.

Like email and IM have, I think Twitter *will* become a part of a larger "3rd" communications system at some point. I'd like to see what open, distributed, perhaps XMPP based microblogging standards and applications could do. But for now, for me, it would take a hell of a lot for me to walk away.

Twitter has just been WAY too good to me.

  Rudy Godoy [06.06.08 10:36 AM]

For what I see, people who is using the service since it's beginings and understand it's utility doesn't complain that much as the other people which uses as a chat-replacement.

I think we can see a more mature users which understands the principles of free food that this web2.0 companies are basically providing, so there's no much to complain but to expecto or at least try to make it better.

  scott [06.06.08 10:38 AM]

why the loyalty? two words: SMS, sedimentation

last I looked, the alternatives did not have SMS support.

the txt short-cuts and twhirleriffics and follower lists have not only created momentum, but have sedimented onto devices and are hard to dislodge now.

  John Minnihan [06.06.08 10:42 AM]


It's the relationships that Twitter has allowed me to create & continues to facilitate that keep me coming back, even after highly critical statements RE: their performance - check my timeline.

As a result of Twitter, I've met several folks (in person) whom I'd most likely never otherwise have met. That's it in a nutshell (O'Reilly pun intended).

John Minnihan

  Joe D'Andrea [06.06.08 10:43 AM]

"What they said!"

The availability of simple/effective third party apps (e.g., Snitter, twhirl, twitterrific) is helping to keep me engaged, especially when is slow to respond (vs. the API) and I just want to catch up on recent tweets.

  Jerry Hilts [06.06.08 10:50 AM]

I do feel the love for Twitter. I want them to succeed.

They shouldn't get too secure with that though. My loyalty would be tested greatly if the problems continued indefinitely, while competitors popped up with comparable, but stable solutions.

  Chris Spurgeon [06.06.08 11:05 AM]

Wish it was SXSW and I was there selling "Pray for Twitter" buttons. I'd be rich.

  Isaac Z. Schlueter [06.06.08 11:39 AM]

They've earned this patience and affection by being the *only* entrant into the vitality stream space that does it right.

Few, simple features.
Easy interfaces.
Input from anywhere, any way.
Feed to anywhere.

The cognitive load of Twitter is *incredibly* low. It becomes a simple piece that is easily combined with other things to make interesting apps. That's powerful. Even if it's got issues, nothing else is anywhere near as good.

  Thom Blake [06.06.08 11:47 AM]

Even when twitter goes down, it doesn't seem to inconvenience me. I check BeTwittered, see that twitter is down again, and go about my business - and it's back later. No opportunities truly missed.

  kj [06.06.08 11:47 AM]

I think there's some parity between "disposable income" and "disposable time". I expect my utilities (phone, gas, electricity, broadband) to be up five nines, as I rely on them for day-to-day operations, AND because I pay for them. Every month.

Similarly, I expect my operating system and productivity applications (email/calendaring, office, graphics) to be always-on, always available, and am both frustrated and blocked when they are not.

Dalliances, however, I have a different relationship with and different expectations. I can take or leave them, although they bring me pleasure. I love that I can "instantly" find out about an interesting post by someone via a tweet, but if I'm heads-down on a project (and entered a virtual "cone of silence"), I can still find out about it via my RSS reader or page through tweets that I've missed. The net is that there's no opportunity lost - and the same goes if Twitter is down for a while.

But one of the most endearing qualities of Twitter, enabled through it's simplicity, is it's ability to encourage more people to share tidbits of their lives. These tidbits help us to feel closer to the people we're following, even if they're complete strangers. Simply - it's not just an information broadcast system - it's also a warm fuzzy broadcast system. As such, I don't HAVE to have it, but it feels good, and it cultivates an emotional connection that people associate with the service.

While Facebook and other social networking websites do enable similar functionality with similar benefits (e.g. FB status), tweeting via the plethora of great apps (Hahlo, Twirl) is just easier, and the expectation of frequent updates is higher. I've got the FB toolbar installed, visit the site on my iPhone, and I haven't updated my status there with near the frequency of my Twitter apps. Further, after updating my FB status via the Twitter app for a while, I actually uninstalled it from FB, because the more frequent updates didn't "feel" right in that context.

It's also not dissimilar from many of the posts in the long comment thread that follows Arrington's recent blast of the Flip video camera: sure you can shoot video with a digital camera, it has several advantages, and some people do it sometimes; the point is that with a simple device, people ACTUALLY do it, and do it often.

Anyway, enough drivel for now... :)

  Chris Spurgeon [06.06.08 12:47 PM]

I love that right now Twitter is down, but so is . Obviously the next step is for someone to create .

  Pedro Machado Santa [06.07.08 08:16 PM]

IMHO, I think that "love" is achieved by the network effect. Ok sure, I could move to another microblogging client, but wait, isn't everyone on Twitter, so what the hell am I doing on Jaiku, Pownce or similar? The fact it's: Twitter down time wasn't enough to drive us crazy - well most of the influential people on Twitter crazy - to mass move to another microblogging platform. Well, but then again the guys on the other side would have the same scale problem. :)

I see two foreseable futures: 1. Twitter scales, everybody's happy; 2. Twitter doesn't scales, and some sort of distributed microblogging technology starts wondering on everybody's mind.



Post A Comment:

 (please be patient, comments may take awhile to post)

Type the characters you see in the picture above.