Twitter’s Fragility in the Spotlight Following Yet Another Outage

Twitter has suffered from yet another outage this week. This has caused some to discuss how fragile the platform has really become.

The slow motion trainwreck that is Twitter these days is continuing. After Elon Musk took over the platform, a lot of his efforts have seemingly revolved around how he is burning the whole platform to the ground. Whether it is mass firing employees, ramping up censorship, racking up legal liability, or refusing to pay the bills, numerous decisions has caused the platform to suffer.

Another major problem with the platform is the overall stability. Back in December, following weeks of sluggish performance, the platform was hit with a massive outage. In February, Twitter suffered from even more outages. What’s more, the sluggish performance has never really eased up despite what Musk said was a massive structural revamping to make the site feel “much faster”. Lately, the sluggish performance has continued with regular error messages, media failing to load, tweets failing to load, and slow response times.

The silver lining in all of this is that the brutal experience on Twitter has compelled numerous users to move over to a decentralized platform like Mastodon. That service has seen massive upticks in user count and activity. As of the last count by one account, the total user count is inching closer to 10 million users now. For a number of users, the experience has been overwhelmingly positive. This thanks to the platform better responding to the users interests instead of forcing fake rage politics and misinformation down everyone’s throats.

What’s more, the decentralized nature has meant that the network is holding together much better than most people expected for such a massive influx of users and activity. Earlier this week, the same couldn’t be said for Twitter after seeing yet another massive outage hit the platform. From the BBC:

Thousands of people around the world were unable to use Twitter for two hours on Wednesday after the social network suffered another outage.

The Following and For you feeds – which display tweets on the platform’s homepage – instead carried a notice reading “Welcome to Twitter”.

The outage-tracking site DownDetector reported the issues at 10:00 GMT, but they appeared to be resolved by 12:00.

It came after Twitter reportedly laid off 200 staff members on Monday.

More than 5,000 people in the UK alone reported problems to DownDetector within half an hour of the fault appearing, with many more affected worldwide.

The For you feed, a collection of tweets from people similar to those they follow, seemed to be reinstated just an hour after the initial issue emerged, but the Following feed, which collects tweets from people who users are following on Twitter, took longer to be fixed.

The increasing frequency of outages have caused some to note that the outages are demonstrating how the platform is becoming increasingly fragile. From TechDirt:

While it’s been somewhat clear, anecdotally, that the site has really suffered quite a bit to keep running, Netblocks, as reported in the NY Times, now confirms that it’s not your imagination: Twitter is failing much more regularly:

In February alone, Twitter experienced at least four widespread outages, compared with nine in all of 2022, according to NetBlocks, an organization that tracks internet outages. That suggests the frequency of service failures is on the rise, NetBlocks said. And bugs that have made Twitter less usable — by preventing people from posting tweets, for instance — have been more noticeable, researchers and users said.

Twitter’s reliability has deteriorated as Mr. Musk has repeatedly slashed the company’s work force. After another round of layoffs on Saturday, Twitter has fewer than 2,000 employees, down from 7,500 when Mr. Musk took over in October. The latest cuts affected dozens of engineers responsible for keeping the site online, three current and former employees said.

Yeah, four in one month, when it was nine in all of last year (which included at least some from after Musk began his somewhat chaotic style of ownership of the company). And, yes, much of this is because of Musk’s decisions to get rid of basically anyone who knew anything. A former Twitter employee mentioned to me soon after Musk took over the company that, whether it was good or bad (and I believe this person was suggesting it was bad…), Twitter had a small number of “load bearing” employees. And nearly all of them, if not all of them, are gone.

Mr. Musk has ended operations at one of Twitter’s three main data centers, further slashed the teams that work on the company’s back-end technology such as servers and cloud storage, and gotten rid of leaders overseeing that area.

The moves have exacerbated fears that there are not enough people or institutional knowledge to triage Twitter’s problems, especially if the service one day encounters a problem its remaining workers do not know how to fix, two people with knowledge of the company’s internal operations said.

In the past, Twitter prevented breakages from escalating by having people around to diagnose and solve problems immediately. Now the platform is likely to be plagued by more glitches as workers take longer to pinpoint issues, the people said.

“It used to be that you’d see smaller things fail, but now Twitter is going down completely for certain regions of the world,” said Saagar Jha, a Twitter engineer who left in May. “When serious things break, the people who knew the systems aren’t there anymore.”

And even when things do go down, the lack of institutional knowledge makes it that much harder to figure out what went wrong, leading to much slower response times to fix the problems

All of this really does lend support to the theory of having a decentralized system for platforms. One person can take a functioning (even with some problems) and turn it into pure chaos. This sort of instability hasn’t been seen on Twitter since it first started blowing up online years ago. Such a thing, in theory, wouldn’t happen on a decentralized platform. Even if someone were to take the largest server on Mastodon, for instance, and start running into the ground like Musk is doing on Twitter, it’s trivial for users to move servers and continue enjoying the network unimpeded.

If anything, this is like the earlier days of file-sharing when users began shifting from Kazaa and Napster to networks like eDonkey2000 and, ultimately, Kademlia (eMule). You didn’t want the authorities to be able to track down the main servers holding an entire network together and take it down in one shot. So, instead, you have a network of servers. If one server goes down, another server takes its place. For those who want to use BitTorrent as a point of comparison, we haven’t gotten to the point where individual users can create their own miniature networks yet. Arguably, we are a long way off from seeing something like that assuming we’ll see anything like that at all.

With more and more users tuning Twitter out altogether and switching to alternatives like Mastodon, it is very clear that Twitter has barely begun to start fixing many of the structural problems it now faces. With an owner that doesn’t seem to be interested in learning and, instead, focusing on how supposedly “brilliant” he is, that is unlikely to change any time soon.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top