Does Twitter Scale? And I don’t mean technically.

Much has been made about Twitter’s fairly frequent outages.  The loyal and rapidly growing group of power users, tire kickers, and everyone in between tested the architecture severely.  The general consensus seems to be that Twitter has gotten this under control.  I think it now has another challenge pertaining to scale.  Does the growth of Twitter remove the utility from the microblogging platform?

Here’s what has got me thinking about this.

I’m by no means a power user of Twitter (for those interested here is my twitter stream.)  But I enjoy following a handful of friends, co-workers, and people I respect in the industry.  Most of the people using Twitter seem to be in my industry or a fan of it so it has been a useful tool for that.  I try to add content when I have something to say and the time to say it and I’ve enjoyed it.  So far, everything is good.

The issue at hand surfaced when I connected my twitter feed to my Facebook status.  I did this because I rely on FaceBook to stay marginally connected with a lot of people I love but don’t speak with all that often – former co-workers, college friends, and recently long lost high school and extended family members.

As more people I know use the platform, my ability to provide good content from me diminishes.  I once would tweek or update my status on Facebook with a link to an article my industry friends would enjoy and I would provide quality content to people who were connected with me.  I now do a link like that and my industry connections might find it useful but my cousin in Minneapolis would find this (probably) to be all noise and no signal.

I truly value Facebook and have found it to be a great way to stay connected to people you care about AND people that are important professionally (whereas LinkedIn has always been strictly about business for me.)  But as my friend list and follower lists grow and become more diverse, my ability to use these tools effectively diminishes.

So I ask you, my loyal reader (thanks Mom,)  what do you think?  Am I just old fashioned in my belief that I should create content for a specific audience?  Is this just another brick falling down from the wall that separates personal and professional worlds?  Does the power of Twitter diminish as it moves from a tool of the “digerati” to a more mainstream collection of users?

4 Responses to “Does Twitter Scale? And I don’t mean technically.”

  1. 1 David HM Spector September 11, 2008 at 8:17 pm

    The problem with twitter, as with Facebook, MySpace and all of these systems is less of scale than of collision of purpose: a better question might be “does online identity scale?”

    Twitter’s infrastructure scalability will eventually get resolved (or something more limber will take its place)… however the real issue is how do we deal with the confluence of “selves” that happens in a real-time environment where our work-selves and our multiple private-life selves collide?

    How do our business partners deal with our inside jokes to friends, our cutsie tweets to our wives, our political commentary, and the fact we might have been at a radiohead concert instead of at a client dinner…?

    The total collapse of the firewalls between work life and personal life have brought about an interesting level of “transparency” that will call for a whole new set of tools in Twitter et al, to help us manage these multiple aspects of our online identities…

  2. 2 Brice Stacey September 17, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    This is my biggest complaint against large and diverse social networks such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. They’re practically meaningless (outside of personal use) unless you have a singular focus (however broad) and want to move large groups of people.

    I definitely agree with David in that online identities don’t scale very well, but more in the sense that if you bundle all facets of your life in a single identity there will be too much noise and as such no real utility.

  3. 3 Stephen Wellman September 19, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    Does this mean that the social graph itself does not scale? Or is this simply a lack of effective management of the social graph within both Facebook AND Twitter. LiveJournal, another social publishing platform, eliminates this issue by allowing users to segment out their friends list. For example withing LiveJournal, you can select your “professional” friends vs. family vs. college buds, etc. This way, you can only publish for friends stuff they want and items for professional colleagues things they want. This isn’t so much an issue of the worlds colliding as it is a lack of effective network management within both of these platforms. I am sure Facebook will eventually make tagging and segmenting friend lists easier.

  4. 4 continuousbeta September 19, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    @Stephen – I think Facebook may have an easier time scaling than Twitter. I wonder if I wouldn’t have to solve the Twitter issue by have multiple twitter identities like I would keep multiple blogs if I was covering multiple topics.

    The “inside baseball” nature of so many Web 2.0 applications seem to trivialize the difficulties with mass market expansion.

    Digg seems to have done a pretty good job at this moving beyond the hardcore tech space (or am I not reading the tea leaves correctly) but many others services haven’t done so well.

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