The tipping point for Twitter is coming

Twitter suffered an unplanned outage this afternoon.

Not on the scale of the troubles Twitter has suffered during much of this year – things are definitely getting better – but an outage all the same.

What’s a Twitterer to do at times like this?

Quite a few people blog about it. Others head to Pownce or Plurk, even Jaiku. A growing number focus on Friendfeed and the relative newcomer

Everyone always comes back to Twitter as soon as it’s back up, including me. But I wonder how long the coming back will last.

When today’s Twitter outage happened, I headed over to


I signed up to at the beginning of this month but I’ve not really used it much.

I use Twitter, I like Twitter, everyone I know is on Twitter. Many of those in my Twitter social network also use other services especially Friendfeed. Yet we always come back to Twitter.

Today, though, there was something a bit different. I don’t really know what it was but I kind of got into discovering

What prompted my discovery mode was Twhirl, the third-party application with which you can interact with everyone in your networks in Twitter, seesmic, Friendfeed and (and who knows what else soon).

Twhirl makes it easy to carry on a dialogue in any of these services where how you interact with each one is broadly the same.

So I had some spontaneous chats with a number of my friends, all of whom I’m also connected with on Twitter. Some of them were there also because of the Twitter outage.

And it was a pleasant time! As Sarah Perez noted:


Similar thinking:


Maybe it’s a lot to do with the fact that my group on is relatively small compared to Twitter (their groups tend to be relatively small as well). And I’ve deliberately not connected with literally anyone as I have tended to on Twitter.

Don’t misunderstand me – I love the cut and thrust interactions on Twitter with lots of people: the firehose, as it were. But today, it was just nice to be out of that firehose for a while.

I don’t for a minute think that you’re going to see a sudden large-scale migration away from Twitter to or anywhere else as a result of outages like today’s.

Apart from anything else, many people (and organizations) have a great deal invested in Twitter in terms of connections and time and energy in building up what they do there.

Yet I wonder if other Twitterers who enjoyed the type of singular experience I did today at will want to spend more time there or at another service – alongside Twitter, to be sure – until a tipping point of some kind happens.

I don’t think we can doubt that a tipping point will happen. What will it look like?

It will be something that tips a large number of people over and towards one particular service. That service will then dominate as everyone else joins in, largely deserting other services.

It could be Twitter, of course. Nothing’s a given.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Tony Molloy

    I’ve had an account for a little while but only recently got round to using it more. I like the XMPP integration which lets me use it interchangeably either direct from Twhirl or via my Psi jabber client. Having watched the video interview that Evan did and listened to the audio from the presentation he did at OSCON 2008 that Dan York posted it seems to me that if gets the right sort of support and commitment then it will give Twitter a run for its money, but the Open Source and federation aspects may just be the difference that causes the tip

  2. Will McInnes

    I felt that ‘the old Twitter’ was amazing – it was cosy, warm, conversational, intimate, and it was ‘ours’ – we felt like insiders. And I feel that new Twitter is amazing too – it is beginning to sprawl, it is noisy, chatty, boisterous, overwhelming.

    There are things that I miss though: I miss usually seeing the tweets of those that don’t tweet often, but drop classic little gems into the mix. And I miss that intimacy.

    I think the spread into mainstream is happening – our team have introduced real world ‘normal people’ friends to twitter and use it to conduct their normal social affairs. I think that’ll spread.

    And I expect those early adopters (us, I guess) will be moving on to investigate something new soon.

    The interesting bit for me is will Twitter achieve their goal of becoming not a ubiquitous service but what they describe as a ‘utility-grade’ service – like electricity, a background supply which other services run off.

    If so, even if we move on, perhaps we won’t entirely. Twitter want to be like SMS and email: part of our daily comms mix.

  3. Mike Keliher

    I’m an avid Twitterer and have been for some time. But, coincidentally or otherwise, I had the same experience with you had today. In fact, we were chatting with each other a bit during this pleasant exploratory, discovery phase this morning (my morning, U.S. Central time).

    It’s tough that so much of my community — so many of the people I’m truly interested in — are nowhere near giving up Twitter to adopt might be rough around the edges, but something that’s based on open-source software and has such a fresh feel is attractive.

    I keep thinking back to a few years ago when I switched from Blogger to What a world of difference.

  4. Sam Deeks

    It’s a shame that Twitter keeps conking out because I’d just got into using it as a really simple news feed to our blog.

    I since discovered that when Twitter goes down, our blog also grinds to a halt because it uses a Twitter widget. Bah.

  5. James Cridland

    A while back, I moved to continuing to use Twitter, but to use to “tweet” to all my social networks. My updates reach friends on Facebook, Twitter,, and a few other more esoteric services. It seems to work as a plan – and I see many others doing a similar job.

  6. Chris Marritt

    Isn’t the point that people will start using Twitter for the noisy crowd stuff, but will also use something else – such as – for their cosy fireside chats? I already (and not really intentionally) use Plurk for the same reason. Maybe I’ll end up using for a different small group, and the next one to come along for yet another group…

  7. neville

    Tony, I agree although any service that “gets the right sort of support and commitment” as you said could give Twitter a run for its money. Elements of a tipping point, I think.

    Will, I think Twitter has already become part of the mainstream. Look at how many journalists use it, for instance, and companies and other organizations.

    Mike, I hear similar comments from people who use Jaiku: a better experience, threaded conversations, etc. And those who use Pownce: send files to people, for instance. Plurk: the timeline. Yet Twitter remains predominant even in the face of service issues that sorely test your patience. Maybe a reason is people like the simplicity of Twitter compared to some of the others – 140 characters, direct ‘@’ messages and private messages. That’s it. And it does it all pretty well. That’s what does, too, although not DMs.

    Sam, there’s a way to avoid blog slowdown when Twitter’s conked out if you use one of the Twitter badges: details on the Twitter site.

    James, the trouble with using something like is that it feels like spamming when you sent out the same status message to multiple services. I do that, actually, with Twitter, Jaiku, Facebook and Friendfeed and I get the feeling that I’m spamming people. No one’s told me that, mind you.

    Chris, that’s how I’m using at the moment. But I’d rather use just one service. Have my cake and eat it :)

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