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If there is one cliché that seems to apply perfectly to Twitter right now, it is this: ‘be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.’ This seems to be the central dilemma facing the upstart company that went from cult favourite to mainstream giant faster than it took you to write 140 characters.
The surge of traffic that has accompanied the FIFA World Cup has had them scrambling for weeks now, and frequent downtime has been experienced across the globe. According to Pingdom, Twitter has been down for just under six hours so far during June, which the official Twitter blog admits has been “Twitter’s worst month since last October.”
The micro-blogging site is now an official global phenomenon. When someone as traditional and old-school as FIFA president Sepp Blatter decides it’s time to tweet, then you know the line of cool and alternative has been crossed. But anyone longing to catch up on the philosophical musings of the great Sepp is instead likely to have become intimately acquainted with the ‘Fail Whale’, Twitter’s gigantic whale which appears alongside the message that ‘Twitter is over capacity.’
The World Cup does seem to be the straw that broke the whale’s back. However, Twitter did rightly anticipate that they would be an essential source of news and entertainment about the global football extravaganza, and they put some interesting features together, including live widgets, real-time search and Top Tweets to attract the attention of football fans. It worked.
Twitter spokesman Sean Garrett admits that “we were well aware of the likely impact of the World Cup. What we didn’t anticipate was some of the complexities that have been inherent in fixing and optimising our systems before and during the event.”
Why Twitter would choose June 2010 to try and fix their system is an unanswered question. Perhaps, like most Americans, they didn’t realise the scale of the world’s football obsession. Or perhaps they were as over-confident as petro-giant BP that their systems would not fail and they could make structural changes while still operating at full capacity.
But over time, the impact of their World Cup failures is unlikely to diminish the allure of Twitter to its many millions of devoted fans worldwide. If anything, those six lonely hours of no Tweeting thus far in June might just have given people space to reflect on how much they have come to cherish the instant gratification that Twitter provides.