February 8, 2010

Twitter outage during Superbowl silences voices

One of the curious things about Twitter is that the service doesn’t always deliver on what you’d expect from something that is endlessly talked about.

Amid the hype, celebrity endorsements and impressive growth rate (although the steep curve has flat lined of late), it’s sometimes forgotten that the company is essentially still quite small.

According to reports, Twitter’s workforce is around 100-strong, and numbered only 30-odd a year ago, a relatively small amount by comparison to Facebook and in light of Twitter’s grip on the popular imagination.

I was reminded of this last night while watching the Superbowl on the BBC. I have reignited a childhood flirtation with the NFL on the back of being able to watch matches via the Sky Mobile TV app on my iPhone. I watched some of the previous NFL matches on my phone, which we’re not shown on terrestrial television, but switched to BBC One for the Superbowl as I sadly don’t have a traditional Sky subscription package at home.

In an attempt to join the Twitter banter and learn a bit more about the sport I logged on, while watching the match. My first ‘tweet’ was successful insofar as it appeared on the site, but repeated attempts to tweet failed time and time again due to the massive popularity of the service during the match.

In the end, I gave up. One tweet over the course of the Superbowl’s 4-hour televised marathon is a pretty poor and surprising return. Judging by a cursory look on Twitter this morning, I wasn’t the only one silenced by the surge in demand.

I can’t but help think that Twitter needs to dramatically increase its server capacity if it is to meet demand around live televised events such as the Superbow, before people become frustrated and lose patience or someone jumps in and invents a service that can deliver at these optimum moments (or everyone just moves to Facebook for this sort of action).

I recall experiencing the same problem a year ago around a different live event. Perhaps one way to free up some capacity is to close the scores of latent Twitter accounts, which sit around unused after people open accounts out of curiosity and then quickly abandon them.

Big events such as live sport, the X Factor final, or the upcoming General Election are tailor made for watching the drama unfold while commenting and sharing thoughts on Twitter with other fans or the rest of the electorate.

On the field of play, the Superbowl was awesome. The match was highly absorbing – a close shoot out to the last quarter. And the eventual winners, the New Orleans Saints, gave fans and the city devastated by Hurricane Katrina, a pure Hollywood ending.

No longer will the Saints fans have to wear paper bags over their heads (they really did do that) to prevent themselves the shame of being identified as fans of the team known as the NFL’s whipping boys.

Halftime entertainment from The Who also did the match justice. For those who didn’t stay up past midnight to watch, check out their performance below …