Twitter Goes Down and World Falls Silent

The internet has sped up and changed the evolution of our culture in so many ways; just five years ago, there was no such thing as Twitter, yet now it’s a major cultural force that apparently, we can’t live without.

Once the news hits Twitter, it’s alive, but Facebook doesn’t feel like the place where news is made

The other evening Facebook followed the First Rule of IT support – turn it off and on again. On Thursday, it was having such huge problems with its network that the only solution, as Robert Johnson, its director of software engineering, explained on Friday morning, was “turning off the site”.

Wow. Half a billion people suddenly unable to access the biggest social network in the world.

You didn’t notice? Compare it with lunchtime last Tuesday, when Twitter began to be overrun by a little piece of hacking – so that if you went to the site itself, “infected” tweets at first popped up fake warnings; later mutations meant you’d reweet infected tweets just by moving your mouse. Although subsequent analysis shows that it only affected a maximum of 1% of users, that’s still around 1.45m accounts hit in two hours, including the redoubtable Lord Sugar and the White House’s spokesman.

If you were unworried by Facebook’s vanishing, but felt as though you were getting a glimpse into the abyss as the number of tweets beginning “on mouseover=” swarmed in your Twitter timeline, you may just be a media professional.

Why? After all, Twitter is tiny compared with Facebook – 145 million versus 500 million. It doesn’t drive as much traffic to sites (though still a substantial and often overlooked amount).

But for people in the media business, it has rapidly – in less than four years – become their peripheral nervous system: it tells you what’s going on around the world, or within your sphere of interest; it helps for bouncing ideas around, for staying abreast of what you have to know. Twitter creates its own little cities of specialism and knowledge which don’t (unlike Facebook) require you to “befriend” the other person; you can follow pretty much anyone you like.

That has its own benefits: as Steven B Johnson’s new book Where Good Ideas Come From points out, scientists have discovered that cities spur innovation; the concentration of people and ease of communication explain, for example, why Silicon Valley and Cambridge generate so many tech startups.

Twitter creates a virtual city and, once you reach a certain level of followers, becomes a quicker way of getting answers and finding out news than almost any other method. (I was tipped off about the person who originated the Twitter hacks via Twitter.) Reporters who once sat glumly watching news wires now watch and comment in carefully curated Twitter search streams. Once you follow a certain number of the “right” (connected) people, it becomes an indispensable news source.

Some people – hello, commenters – will complain that they “don’t see the point” of Twitter. Sure, if your job or your business doesn’t depend on just-in-time information, or if you find it hard to engage with other people in a supportive way, you’re going to find Twitter perplexing.

For news organizations around the world, the moment when Twitter looked as if it was going down the tubes was the one when the real-time news seemed in danger of stopping. And that’s already a scary thought; which shows how quickly we adapt. A few years ago these newfangled “blog” things, which could be updated at will, were the cutting edge in real-time. Now the blogs trail galumphing after the Twitter news, held back by the sheer number of words they need to fill them out.

It’s not that Twitter makes the news; that still relies on people actually talking to people, or investigating things such as the Royal Mail’s peculiar maneuvers with its pension fund. But once the news hits Twitter, it’s alive. Compared with that, Facebook doesn’t feel like the place where news is made. Yes, there are lots of people there, and they’re making their own news. But it’s almost impossible to figure out authority on Facebook, because you have to befriend someone before you can decide if they’ve got anything useful to say. And if you then “unfriend” them – well, socially it feels uncomfortable. Facebook isn’t meant for spreading news; it’s meant for linking up people who know each other. News doesn’t work that way: news, after all, is often about people you don’t know personally but discover you’d like to. Twitter has become news infrastructure; Facebook, by contrast, is where the ads get sold. And journalists know where they’d rather be.

As Chris Sacca, a Silicon Valley investor with money in Twitter, commented: “When Facebook goes down, everyone comes to Twitter to talk about it. When Twitter goes down, the world falls mute.” © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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Western Telematic, Inc. (WTI) designs and manufactures remote device management products for IT applications. WTI’s Console Switch products, Remote Reboot products, Switched PDU products and A/B Fallback products are engineered to allow you to securely manage and troubleshoot rack equipment in remote locations.

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