Twitter, its users, and the notion of “free” February 10, 2008Posted by David Gillespie in web 2.0.
Tags: Blogger, emergent gameplay, Obvious, Odeo, Twitter
There’s been a lot of chatter lately around Twitter and its inability to remain online consistently. The service is doing its best to scale but it doesn’t not seem to be improving reliability overall. People are threatening to leave, which isn’t a great sign for something still very much in ‘early-adopter’ stage, but I find the whole thing largely amusing, and I really think the user base needs to just chill out.
Twitter itself came about almost by accident. The company behind it, Obvious had the foresight to spin it off into its own entity and remain as a investor; such a shrewd move to be sure, one that could only be born out of the experience of selling Blogger to Google and getting another company – Odeo – to a stage where it could be acquired.
To put the events around Twitter into context, let me explain the perspective I have on it. I used to make video games for a living, a job I enjoyed for the most part. Some of the best times we ever had were when we saw people do things in the game that we hadn’t actually intended; it’s referred to as emergent gameplay; and basically you create a set of tools and the player manages to solve puzzles according to what make sense to them (it’s a little more complicated than that, but that definition works none the less) – you give someone what they need and then see what they do with it.
Prior to Twitter launching, I don’t think very many people could have seen it as something they needed. Trialled initially out of curiosity than anything, people users have come to love the service. Not only that, but they applied it to different situations, certainly ones that went beyond the original vision for the application. That great, but what it means is Twitter is being used for things it wasn’t designed to do. Obvious, being the clever folk that they are have embraced the behaviour rather than hinder it, spawning new micro-behaviours such as “live” or “event” tweeting, taking live blogging to a new platform altogether, along with the conversation around it.
Cue major events, marketing/tech conferences, elections, natural disasters. The Twitter service suffers because of overload on the infrastructure. People in turn start complaining that Twitter isn’t reliable, or scaling appropriately. Yes a few events have taken place where it has become obvious that work needs to be done on their backend, but what the tech was created for and what it was applied to are different things. Obvious are being smart and doing their best to run with that, but it is going to take some time to get right.
What it means is we have a service which is still very much in beta but that people have come to rely on the same way they rely on pieces of software that cost them hundreds if not thousands of dollars. What a fantastic development!! Unfortunately people forget it didn’t cost them anything to arrive at this point and expect the same level of service they get out of their commercial software.
I think everyone needs to take a deep breath and acknowledge Twitter is a fantastic service that is having some growing pains. We’re such an instant and on-demand culture nobody seems willing to acknowledge it just might take a little time to build it into the service it can be. Twitter could never say this themselves, their users would revolt and call them arrogant. But I’m on their side.
And I think they’re doing a great job.