Twitter fails after Haiti aftershock

21:52, January 21, 2010      

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The popular social-networking and micro-blogging site Twitter crashed again on Wednesday moments after a 6.1 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti at 11:03 GMT (06:03 local time).

No one reported a specific connection between the two but Twitter's Web site reported the service was "experiencing an outage due to an extremely high number of whales," or outages because of overcapacity. Whether the number of people wanting to Tweet about the earthquake caused the site to become overloaded is unclear.

Mashable's Ben Parr wrote that news from Haiti may have contributed to the outage. "What exactly took down the microblogging service, we don't know (some speculate that a wave of tweets due to this morning's 6.1 earthquake in Haiti could be partly responsible)," he wrote.

Robin Wauters from Techcrunch, writing on the Washington Post website, suggested it may have had something to do with Bill Gates having joined the increasing number of Twitter users. Some tweets also reflected this view. "@BillGates joined the twitterverse," one user wrote. "Rough seas out here, I hope the Fail Whale won't eat him :P :D"

During the outage, the site's users saw an "extremely high volume of whales," the company said in a blog post. When Twitter breaks, a cartoon whale, nicknamed a "fail whale", pops up on computer screens instead of the functioning site. The fail whale has become an iconic symbol for Twitter, and a way for the company to try to embrace and make light of its shortcomings.

The site went down at 11:30 GMT and gradually became accessible again at around 12:40. "A sudden failure coupled with problems in switching to a backup system produced a high number of errors for around 90 minutes," Twitter wrote in a post to its status blog. "This made the site largely inaccessible. No data was lost or compromised during this outage."

For millions of Twitter users the outage was significant. It struck as parts of America were waking up, Britain and Europe were having lunch and many parts of Asia were beginning to head out for the evening.

Many news reports made light of the outage. The Guardian ran an opinion piece with the headline, "Was Twitter downed by Bill Gates, by Haiti, or by passing whales?" Jack Schofield writing in the paper said, "The problem is that when Twitter is down, there's not much for some folk to do except write Twitter-is-down blog posts. However, Twitter being down means that there's no way to tweet those Twitter-is-down blog posts, and thus reach the only audience that gives a hoot."

Twitter was founded in May 2007 and has grown rapidly. But as a result of increased popularity the site has experienced a number of outages. Some online writers have speculated that the site's traffic has started to slow or decline in recent weeks. But in a Twitter post on Jan. 12, company CEO Evan Williams wrote that the site continues to grow. "Across all metrics that matter, yesterday was Twitter's highest-usage day ever. (And today will be bigger.)," Williams said.

Source: Xinhua/Agencies
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