TIME Technologizer

When Twitter Is Down, the News Doesn’t Go Through

These days, its outages -- rare though they are -- really matter.

Twitter went down yesterday for around 45 minutes. Once upon a time, that wouldn’t have been news: In the heyday of the Failwhale, Twitter went down a lot. But now it’s a rare enough occurrence that when I heard about the outage, my first paradoxical impulse was…to tweet about it. I’m sure I was far from the only person whose brain malfunctioned that way.

Over at Wired, Mat Honan has a good piece on how Twitter’s essential role in spreading news makes downtime into a major problem in a way that it wasn’t back when the service was theoretically designed to let you tell your friends what you were up to at the moment.

Thought-provoking sound bite:

…when Twitter goes down, there’s really nothing that can take its place. Facebook doesn’t have Twitter’s public nature. Google Plus doesn’t have its reach. Individual weblogs don’t have its ability to automatically republish and spread information. It’s become its own, very unique thing. For now, when it comes to a real-time, public facing, highly-networked, global communications system, Twitter is what we’ve got. It’s not only the most effectively reliable way for any individual to disseminate information to large groups of people in real time, it’s pretty much the only way.

I’m usually O.K. with the fact that services such as Twitter and Facebook are proprietary, rather than open, distributed standards such as e-mail which can’t come crashing down for everybody all at once. But Twitter has indeed become a sort of chatty, social Emergency Broadcasting System. Maybe we do need something similar which can’t be felled by one software glitch — which was the culprit that took the service offline yesterday.

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