Twitter Succeeds Because it FailsPosted: September 4, 2010 | Author: hilary | Filed under: blog | Tags: failure, twitter | 9 Comments »
How can twitter be so popular and successful if it’s down all the time?
We base statements like this on the assumption that quality of a web application maps linearly to the application’s stability. This is obviously true for most sites most of the time, but things get interesting at the edge where rare, unpredictable failure actually enables more complex human interactions around the service.
Unlike e-mail, twitter etiquette doesn’t demand that you read or reply to every message from every person you follow (or who follows you). Combine that lightweight social touch with occasional technical issues and human communication patterns, and we start to see some interesting behavior.
Twitter’s lack of reliability as a platform allows us to use the technical failings to mask our own social imperfections. How often have you heard or said something like “I was sure I was following you” or “I must not have gotten that DM” or even “I think I tweeted that…”? Even just a small percent of users behaving this way changes the social expectations.
I’d love to construct an experiment to figure out whether this idea has merit, and if so, what the optimal amount of unavailable operations for social deniability is. Should 1 in 100 actions fail? 1 in 10,000? 1 in 1,000,000? Does it matter if any fail, as long as we believe that every so often failure occurs? (How often do things really get lost in the mail, anyway?)
It’s amusing to conceive of a system that succeeds socially because it often fails technically.