When it comes to Twitter, everyone’s a critic.
The irony is, the majority of the technical criticism written about Twitter reveals more about the lack of understanding of the author than anything about Twitter. Creating Nouncer – a developer platform for building microblogs and similar services – provides a firsthand understanding of the inner-working and challenges of microblogging sites. This post is not specifically about Twitter but as the leading microblogging service, it is the best working example of the challenges of scaling in the space.
People don’t seem to get what is so hard about scaling the Twitter service. Some think it has to do with Rails, while others look at the hosting company or other operating factors. Then there are those who incorrectly think a distributed or federated service is the solution (which will only make things worse). The idea that building a large scale web application is trivial or a solved problem is simply ridiculous. In a way it is surprising that there are so few companies out there dealing with commoditizing web developing scaling.
Twitter recently added a very cool and somewhat unproductive way of what I call strolling the social graph (a technical term some folks really don’t like, but offer no good replacement). It is called Blocks and allows you to graphically see who the people you are following follow and what they’re up to. The tool itself is very well designed and fun to use. The idea is that if you are following someone, you might be interested in who they are following too. What is unproductive about it, is that it doesn’t go the extra mile of allowing you to follow people by proxy.
Of the top few hundred most popular Facebook applications, none do more than engage you with ONE of your friends. This is not based on some comprehensive research but from playing around and reading about a few hundred Facebook applications currently available. It is very odd that none of them make use of the most powerful tool available on Facebook (and basically any other social network) – the social graph. Here is the current pitch for a Facebook application: you add the application and now your friends can do something to you, and you can do it back to them. What is the point?