Will Twitter’s technical problems have unexpected side effects?
Last Monday – January 18th – was Blue Monday, officially the most depressing day of the year. It always falls on the third Monday of January when the January blues are at their peak. This year the bluest day of the year was the beginning of a series of service disruptions for Twitter. The technical causes were not revealed, only a #twitterdown image and tweet was created: “Some users are currently experiencing problems accessing Twitter. We are aware of the issue and are working towards a resolution.” @Support
Many news outlets reported the outage, and ironically is was mainly via Twitter itself. According to Times Now: “@twitter suffers one of the worst outages in its 10-year history, millions blocked from their feeds #twitterdown”. Even though the service disruption was a major annoyance and inconvenience to a lot of Twitter users, the fact that Twitter was down became a trend in itself! As nicely put by a user @Wainainalizz: “Only in twitter u will find a hash tag of twitter being down and still trending #twitterdown” Most major news channels and technology accounts tweeted about the disruption, as well as many celebrities.
Twitter, with its 400 million users, is the fourth largest social media network. Facebook still is number one with 1.5 billion users, followed by LinkedIn and Instagram. Snapchat, a sort of visual Twitter, is growing quickly with its 100 million users. The downtime reportedly affected North America, Europe and some of Asia. The only safe zone seemed to be Silicon Valley, but hundreds of millions of users were affected globally.
John Brandon of inc.com has his own theories about the consequences of the Twitter disruptions. He says the problem goes beyond inconveniencing dependent users. He is hinting at a levelling off of Twitter users: “In recent months, the Twitter user counts have leveled off. The first report of hitting 300 active users was way back in April of 2015. Adding 50 million users in nine months is incredibly slow growth by social media standards.”
Brandon also has his own theory about where Twitter’s real problems come from: “Twitter has failed to innovate. That’s the real “fail whale” here”. He says the basic format of tweets never changes. It has always been 140 characters. He also reported that Twitter was looking for a hardware partner to be more than just a social network, entering into the hardware market. Twitter had approached the company Muzik, who produce headphones, to add a music sharing via a tweet feature. Brandon claims the problem is that: “people are not drawn to the service anymore.” He thinks Twitter really needs to innovate beyond the blogging platform; a real unexpected turn is needed.
The timing of the January downtime is also very unfortunate as Twitter is in negotiations with Wall Street, promising bigger revenue and profits. Twitter’s stock has been falling in value and yesterday plummeted to $17.59 in reaction to the technical problems.
Twitter first applied to the SEC for a planned initial public offering in 2013. The company, founded in 2006, was valued by investors at around $10bn. The worries at the time were that the advertisement tweets would take over mobile news feeds, resulting in dissatisfied users causing the stock price to fall. The promoted tweets were Twitter’s main source of funding. Rory Cellan-Jones in his article for the BBC in September 2013 was already speculating about future concerns of investors: “Investors, meanwhile, may be concerned about churn – the idea that people join and then drop out. Innovation may be the answer to that, with Twitter’s new music discovery service and ways of viewing conversations with others being possible solutions.”
It seems that the lack of evolution combined with any technical issue causing service interruptions leaves Twitter vulnerable. Ironically, there have also been studies in the field of behavioural economics that investigate the correlation of “mood” created by trending tweets to economic decisions. In the “Journal of Computational Science” Johan Bollen, Huina Mao and Xiaojun Zeng present a paper which aims to “investigate whether measurements of collective mood states derived from large-scale Twitter feeds are correlated to the value of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) over time.” They analysed the Twitter feed for negative and positive emotional mood. They then looked to see if these predominant categorized moods are reflected in the closing Dow Jones Industrial Average. Their results show a statistically significant correlation to the daily changes in DJIA closing values.
Let’s hope that the recent glitches will spurn Twitter to innovate and achieve its vision of expansion. Today Twitter seems to be running smoothly so let’s all tweet!
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