I just saw an interesting article from the BBC. It’s evidently big news that the populous of England is sending 1 Billion text messages each week. Now, that is 25% higher than last year which represents fairly explosive growth. What it tells me is that they obviously haven’t discovered Twitter yet because it’d be a ton higher if they had.
I’ll be honest, when I heard about Twitter – I thought it was rampantly stupid and couldn’t understand why people would be interested in it. At this point, I’m trying to imagine keeping in contact with all of my friends without it. I first saw Twitter in action at Mix07. Larry Clarkin was the first guy I saw using it. Then Chris Bernard, then Scott Barnes and soon there were a ton of people around me using it. I went to the web site and saw the slogan – “what are you doing in 140 characters or less”. I thought to myself – why on earth would anyone care what I’m doing in 140 characters or less. If it can be said in that amount of characters, then it’s probably not worth saying.
Wow was I off. As Alan Steven‘s said “So far, Twitter is like hanging out in the speakers’ lounge. Meaningless chatter from smart people. 😉 “. I really like that aspect of it. There are days where it’s like a giant multi-person chat. There are other days when everyone seems to be busy at the same time and it’s really quiet. Someone else, and I can’t remember who, said that it was blogging for the ADD. There are times that that’s true. On busy days, there are 400+ messages that come across Twitter for me. Yes, you really need an unlimited texting account to really get into Twitter with the SMS interface… I get to follow what people from Australia to my own back yard are doing. Guaranteed that I wouldn’t keep in as close of contact with 80% of my contacts as I do without twitter. I know that’s true because just a few months ago – I was friends with but not really connected with most of the guys on my followers and those that I’m following. It’s helped friends get jobs (because I saw him post that he was interviewing at a company that I know and told him to use me as a reference), it’s answered technical questions, it’s replaced text messaging and IMing a lot of people with direct messaging through Twitter. For example, I’ve set up drinks with @ryanstewart and @larryclarkin this Sunday evening in Redmond over Twitter’s direct messaging. It’s an interesting phenomenon.
They started up in March of 2006 as a research project but they really didn’t take off until March 2007 at South by Southwest. Twitter won the blog category. In April 2007, they hit 11,000 page views a second taking Ruby on Rails further than it ever had gone and exposing more than few holes in it’s performance. They have since re-architected and taken care of a lot of the operational issues. I mean it’s ridiculous, they couldn’t keep up and had to double their operations staff in October by hiring an extra person. Right, they now have a whole 2 operations people. In case you didn’t catch the sarcasm there, I’m really impressed with their uptime, responsiveness and number of users given the fact that they have been running with just one operations person until very recently. There have been some serious performance problems. Every once in a while messages will start delaying but sometimes up to 30 minutes getting out. Some of the SMS messages will be blank. Sometimes the site will go down for maintenance or new features and they will put up a humorous little blue bird that says that the site will be back in a bit – oh how we all hate that little bird. The good news is that I’ve seen less and less of the little bird and other problems as time has gone on.
The question remains, however, how did they become as popular as they have become – especially in light of the performance problems that they were having. As we talked about in last quarter’s ArcReady, Twitter really has become one of the Web 2.0 poster children. For one thing, they would be nothing without their hundreds of thousands of users. They really lean on their users to form their new features. such as the @username syntax. They started to notice that there was a convention growing up where that’s how people would refer to each other so they made it an official thing where it actually links back to the username as follows – @joshholmes. They haven’t tried to build every front end or even control the front ends that are out there. Instead, they built a front end web site, an SMS service and an easy to use API. There has been an explosion of Twitter Applications. I use SMS still when I’m away from the house, but I use WittyTwitter during the day. But there’s obviously a choice here as there are 20+ windows applications for Twitter. There are almost 20 for the Mac and just short of 10 for Linux. It’s a great Web 2.0 example.