Image by Steve Woolf via Flickr
Another “Twitter is doomed” post because the system dropped below some magic marker line in the last week and probably has an uptime of 95%. (Royal pingdom scores it at 96%) Clearly it’s all over at 95% uptime.
Does anybody who writes about Twitter play World of Warcraft? They take the servers down deliberately for several hours a week. Rolling reboots just happen with a 15 minute warning. Periodically you just can’t get into your server. Clearly, World of Warcraft’s success is killing it. Hence, World of Warcraft is over people. Move to a new game.
In my professional marketing opinion, there are three things Twitter could do right now to improve server performance – charge for follows, charge for API, and demarket the service. None of these suggestions mean the service is dead. It’s well alive, and here’s some tune up exercises to make it a little more robust.
All accounts can post unlimited tweets for free. Twitter needs content to create value for the user base (hello Livejournal, remember that? Free accounts generate the content that make the paid accounts valuable).
Free and subscriber accounts get a base of 200 follows. Users can purchase an additional 200 Follow credits for a flat fee of $5/month for 200, or $50/200 for 12 month package. This could dramatically cut the auto-follow spam accounts out of the system (or compensate twitter for their drain on service). A power user like Robert Scoble would be up for $105 a month. If Scoble is getting $105 or more value from following 21,145, then it’s a cheap deal. If not, then it’s good time for Robert to cutdown on the number of people he follows.
Business rationale: Based on a remark from the series of posts on scaling microblogs series at Hueniverse,
Going through a timeline request, the server first looks up the list of people the user is following. Then for each person, checks if their timeline is public or private, and if private, if the requesting user has the rights to view it. If the user has rights, the last few messages are retrieved, and the same is repeated for each person being followed.
Lower the number of follows per user to a level that the user self moderates as valuable, and you’ll lower the number of calls to the timeline. Given free accounts can have at least 45000+ follows (that’s the highest score on a spambot account I’ve personally), that’s a lot of database work. Charge for the use of follows and the abuse of the system should decline rapidly.
2. API Access
Separate desktop client API accesss with a registered protocol for the clients (since they’re an asset in spreading the Twitter experience) from the services that use the Twitter API (eg Harvest or even Remember the Milk‘s twitter system). In short, if your device helps people access Twitter, you get the free API. If your device piggybacks on Twitter, you can pay your way.
Set basic API developer access at Free, with enough features to be useful for encouraging open source developers to give it a look. But at the same time, free should buy you what you pay for – if you want mission critical applications to use the Twitter infrastructure, you should be investing in the system that supports you. Paying for access to tiered levels of the API is a business model option that is effectively a licence arrangement between two businesses. If your business model relies on a free account service never charging you for the use of their systems, change the model.
Business rationale: Free API to get development started, and cheap rent/low risk investment levels will continue to encourage the use of the API to make new products, services and keep development happening outside of the big chequebook businesses. Pricing also means that the businesses draining the service with API calls and server loads are chipping in cover their costs, and a “cost per API call” billing structure would bring about dramatic rewards for API efficiency at the programmer/client side.
Back in 1971, Kotler and Levy put forward an ideas that marketing was fully capable of reducing the number of users of a service in order to increase business performance through demarketing. Twitter is having scaling problems due to being too popular, too soon, and the system’s not ready for it. So, Twitter should look to alternate ways and means of dealing with the demand through shutting down periodically. Make Monday “TweetFree Day” (and set the Monday to run from the dawn on New Zealand’s Monday if they want 30 hours down time). Shut the service off for a full week – with the exception of the delete account button. If you can’t go seven twitter free days, you can delete your account and start up at FriendsFeed (who are going to have to suffer a Twitteresque server melt soon)
Business rationale: Deal with the scaling issues by scaling down Twitter use and users. Decrease the followers per account at the extreme end of the bell curve. Twitter should shed heavy load people onto other services. Sack clients. Block APIs if the APIs are killing the system.Twitter is a free service, with an open API, and not supported by subscription, sponsorship or advertising and it’s been insanely useful. Given we’re not paying for it through any visible means right now, maybe we could expect a freeware web service to have a reliability of freeware.