This morning I woke up to find that Twitter was down. The website tells you in a really cute way, with a little "fail whale" - it's so sweet. But why is this lack of reliability tolerated by governments, large corporations, emergency workers, and other serious people?
Mashable.com reports that the best theory for the downtime was a deluge of tweets caused by a second Haiti earthquake. A second earthquake in Haiti? No offense to Haiti, that is a horrible situation, but imagine if we had a really, really serious situation (say, the Pentagon the Golden Gate Bridge get hit by drones controlled by terrorists) - could you rely on Twitter?
I'm still surprised that no serious competitor to Twitter has emerged. Sure, companies like Google or Microsoft, or others, could just buy it, but they'd be purchasing an unreliable product with questionable customer service and a cute children's language and a steep learning curve.
Where's the competitive product for 50 year old insurance salesmen? For UN relief workers?
Sure, Twitter could improve. I use it. I don't really want to see them fail. But if, as they claim, they want to make it "communications infrastructure" (a lofty goal to think they will be the next AT&T), then it needs to be decentralized and partially redundant. Email doesn't just "go down" and neither does RSS. People like Dave Winer can write much better about this than I can, but here's one brief post by entrepreneur Andrew Baron about decentralizing Twitter for you.
Two years ago, when I first started using Twitter to study its use for the government, I thought that it was a great new tool which was potentially useful for unified communications in a crisis. Two years later, little has changed. It's useful when it works.