Twitter Needs To Be Careful – It's Far Too Soon To Be 'Doing A Facebook'

A few times on this blog (and elsewhere) I’ve made the observation how just because Twitter is – or perhaps more accurately, has been – riding a wave of success and positive PR, it doesn’t mean it will always be that way. Things can change. Fast.

This year, we’ve already had a very unfavourable reaction to Twitter’s decision to remove the facility for users to see all replies; their response to this was equally absurd, to a point where I started to wonder if they have been just winging it all along.

At the moment, the network is struggling with several small bugs, each of which is relatively minor but collectively they’re representative of something more significant.

1. Everybody Is Posting ‘Via Web’

I use Seesmic Desktop. Lots of other folks use TweetDeck, Tweetie, Dabr, Twitroid and all manner of external clients to access the network, but not no more, at least, if Twitter is to be believed, as everybody is currently posting via the web.

At least, in principle. I’m not, of course, and neither probably are you, as only about 25% of all users access the platform via itself, but you wouldn’t know this anymore, as both Twitstat and Tweetstats are not functioning as a result of this bug.

2. Twitter’s Search Is Still Down

Twitter has been having problems with their much-hyped search facility for some time now, and despite reporting it as being ‘back’ a week ago, it’s not, at least not completely.

Notably, the ‘from:’ function in search is either down completely for some users and very sporadic for others. Indeed, according to a from: query, I haven’t posted on Twitter in 48 hours.

Now, we know that isn’t likely to have happened. 🙂 This again seems like a small issue but because several external clients use and rely on the ‘from:’ extension to deliver replies, lots of folk are complaining about missing responses to their tweets, and are getting complained at by their followers for unknowingly ignoring them.

Even when it is functional it seems to be operating from a limited data pool. According to Twitter, the much-loved Oprah has only written three tweets, when she’s actually submitted forty-six.

3. Wait… There’s More

Check out Twitter’s status page for snippets of other problems we’ve seen in the last few days. Users haven’t been able to edit profiles; Twitter was hit hard by another exploit, and forced into unscheduled downtime due to a ‘fatal software error’; it’s been caught in a phishing scam, and so on and so forth.

It all makes for grim reading, and it’s all happened within the last seven days. This wouldn’t be anywhere near so bad if Twitter’s development team were coding ninjas, but updates from Twitter are always vague and slow to arrive; fixes, when they appear, are often loose and temporary, with undesirable side effects.

As we know, almost fifty people work at Twitter, but it seems like none of these folks is capable of fixing anything, at least in a timely fashion. Indeed, it’s led some to wonder why Twitter doesn’t have an emergency response system. Why, indeed?

Part of the reason is Alex Payne, Twitter’s API Lead, is on holiday, and doesn’t have his laptop with him. But that’s simple a ridiculous state of affairs. It’s amateurish; it’s unacceptable.

It was only a couple of months ago that for the bulk of the user-base and the global media it seemed that Twitter could do no wrong. Conversely, Facebook was making gaff after gaff and was getting a lot of unfavourable commentary from observers.

Facebook, however, has well over 200 million users. Twitter has about one-tenth of that. It can’t afford to drop the ball this quickly. We’re all well-aware of the high drop-off rates on the network – almost sixty per cent of new users abandon their accounts after just one month, and were doing so when Twitter was at the peak of its hype. And now a lot of these newcomers are privy to all these minor glitches and bugs, and worse, not seeing them getting resolved in a timely fashion.

Twitter needs to act quickly, as time is increasingly of great importance. There’s no evidence as of yet that their sixty per cent drop-off rate is slowing, but that’s less of a big deal if their user-base continues to expand massively each and every month. As soon as that expansion plateaus – or worse, drops – that fallout becomes huge, as it then means the network is shrinking.

Little things, insignificant as they can be by themselves, start to add up. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen problems of this manner on Facebook in the last year. This is all happening on Twitter in the last week – it’s happening now, and it’s been happening for far too long.

Things change, and they change fast. When was the last time you heard one of your friends complain about Facebook?

UPDATE: Twitter has now fixed the issue regarding client status.