Update: Twitter again apologizes for outages, bugs

The string of outages, malfunctions and bugs that have hobbled Twitter for the past week and a half prompted the company to issue another apology and explanation for its technical woes on Tuesday afternoon.

In an official blog post, Twitter identified key factors that have contributed to the problems, such as a spike in usage caused by the World Cup and the discovery of bugs while performing both short-term and long-term system enhancements and upgrades.

"As we go through this process, we have uncovered unexpected deeper issues and have even caused inadvertent downtime as a result of our attempts to make changes. Ultimately, the changes that we are making now will make Twitter much more reliable in the future. However, we certainly are not happy about the disruptions that we have faced and even caused this week and understand how they negatively impact our users," the post reads.

It's the second such "mea culpa" statement Twitter has issued in less than a week. On Friday, Twitter chalked up the problems experienced until then to faulty planning, monitoring and configuring its internal network -- issues it proceeded to address by doubling the network's capacity, fine-tuning its monitoring and re-calibrating its load balancing.

The problems, which started two weekends ago and continued Wednesday morning, have included complete outages of the Twitter site and its third-party application platform, intermittent availability issues, fixes and upgrades gone bad and bugs affecting specific features and capabilities, according to entries in the Twitter Status blog.

"I think it is disgraceful that Twitter is having these ongoing outage issues. Being transparent about their problems is nice but it is not a substitute for getting it right," said Mike Gualtieri, a Forrester Research analyst, via e-mail.

"My sense at this point is that there is a technical leadership and management issue that needs to be solved in order to solve the outage issues," he added.

However, one must keep in mind that the problems have been far from catastrophic and that Twitter is a free service, said Ken Godskind, chief strategy officer at AlertSite, a Web site performance monitoring company.

According to AlertSite's monitoring of Twitter's log-in process, the average response time in April was 7.15 seconds with a 98.6 percent success rate for loading the user's account page. In May, the numbers were 7.29 seconds and 99.68 percent availability. This month so far, the availability is down slightly to 98.46 percent, but the average response time is much faster: 5.92 seconds.

"In Twitter, I see a growing young company trying to keep up with demand and trying to build a sustainable business model," he said in a phone interview.

Because Twitter has become so widely used among all types of media companies, including newspapers, TV networks and magazines, to promote their content, it gets closer scrutiny from the press than other Internet companies, he said.

Under these circumstances, Twitter is dealing properly with the situation. "They need to keep doing what they're doing: act with humility and transparency. They're too big to hide," Godskind said. "Show you're addressing the problem."

So far in June, the Twitter.com home page has been down for 5 hours and 22 minutes, the worst month since August 2009 when it was unavailable for almost 7 hours, according to Web uptime monitoring company Pingdom.

Twitter's frequent and lengthy outages in 2007 and the first half of 2008 led its "fail whale" error icon to become a sort of popular culture symbol for Web site downtime and malfunctions in general.

Despite that early bad reputation, Twitter, launched in March 2006, managed to significantly cut down on its outages later in 2008 and throughout 2009, although it still had bad months, like August of last year.

After 2010 got off to a relatively solid start in terms of availability and uptime, things have clearly unraveled this month, at a time when the stakes are higher than ever for the popular microblogging and social networking company.

Twitter's outages and malfunctions are instantly noticed worldwide, because it is the preferred free online tool for individuals, marketers and public figures to publish short, text-based status updates, with about 2 billion of them posted in May, according to Pingdom.

In addition, the company launched in April its advertising program, called Promoted Tweets, which will be key to its revenue-generating efforts, so that Twitter can sustain itself financially by monetizing its massive usage and popularity.

Advertising clients participating in Promoted Tweets include Best Buy, Bravo, Red Bull, Sony Pictures, Starbucks and Virgin America. The program is designed so that marketers can more broadly promote some or all of the regular Twitter messages they post to their feeds. That way, a Twitter message would not only show up for the "followers" of that company but also appear elsewhere as advertisements, such as in Twitter search result pages.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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