I got a message from Facebook today saying that someone had friended me. I realized I didn't care. Not that I didn't care about the person who'd friended me--I didn't care about Facebook. It's been weeks since I was there and my life is pretty much the same.
I think the reason is Twitter. Twitter is much more social, much more interesting, and the plethora of clients (including any mobile phone with SMS) means that I don't have to remember to go check the site to see what's happening. Twitterific displays a solid stream of the 140 character thoughts of my friends.
Because of Twitter, today I know:
- There were tornados in Denver and Laramie
- Twitter posted an article about their architecture on their blog
- There's a blogger dinner tonight in Salt Lake City
- @tylerwhitaker and @bradbaldwin aren't going to carpool to the blogger dinner
I like that.
Twitter has scaling problems even though their user base is reportedly quite small. As Nik Cubrilovic points out, Twitter isn't like Wordpress or Digg. Twitter is a group forming network (GFN). When a Metcalfeian network adds another user, the number of potential connections goes from N2 to (N+1)2. When a GFN adds one more user, the number of potential connections goes from 2N to 2(N+1). In case it's been a while since you'd done that math--it's a big difference.
To make this more real, consider TechCrunch's twitter account. When TechCrunch, with almost 18000 followers, sends a message, that results in 18000 messages--one to each follower. This is like the phone system with infinite, always-on conference call capability. Sure, you can do things internally to collapse some messages, but you're still dealing with exponential growth.
Cubrilovic points out that this feature creates some serious engineering problems getting Twitter to scale. AL3X at Twitter argues that they're not blind to the problems and they're working on them. There are dozens of people blogging about what kind of architectural solutions might lead to better uptime at Twitter. AL3X's final plea: if you're so smart, come work for us. Good answer.