Twitter Still Hasn't Managed to Harpoon Its Fail Whale

Last Updated Jun 24, 2010 1:46 PM EDT

A few months back, it looked as though Twitter had, just maybe, started moving its infamous "fail whale" down the path toward extinction. But now it looks like the beast is still hale and hearty, especially after yesterday's monumental Twitter meltdown the very second the USA defeated Algeria in the World Cup.

The problem with this particular failure was that it should have been anticipated. The reason many of us are on Twitter in the first place is because it's the virtual watercooler -- the place where we go to feel a sense of community at just such a moment. (Relatively speaking, my Facebook newsfeed was positively somnolent yesterday.) If it's not obvious Twitter should be ready for millions of excited U.S. soccer fans to pile onto the service in a surge if the team won -- sort of like the FIFA employees who mobbed Landon Donovan when he scored -- than when else would it be? World Cup references have dominated Twitter's trending topics ever since the tournament began.

It goes to show how great Twitter can be when it's working that yesterday's system failure at a crucial moment may still have been outweighed by what it did deliver (especially to a home worker, like me). Without Twitter, many of us would never have picked up on the fact that the most epic tennis match of all time -- between John Isner of the U.S. and Nicolas Mahut of France -- was being played, at least until yesterday's play was over. It was probably also ground zero for the news that Gen. Stanley McChrystal had been ousted, and for when the U.S. scored.

But that doesn't mean Twitter should rest on its laurels. Failing at moments when it's most in demand is not OK, and leaves it vulnerable to competition from platforms that can deliver more reliable service. I was reading somewhere recently about what a priority Facebook has made of making its service stable -- and that's actually a more difficult task because it's closing in on 500 million users and does so many more things than host status updates. Twitter may have recently passed the 10 billion tweet mark; but if Facebook can make its service much less vulnerable to breakdowns, Twitter should be able to as well.

Picture via failwhale.com, and taken by @savannah_elaine Previous coverage of Twitter at BNET Media: