AUGUST 6, 2009 1:38PM

Twitter fail: Why we need more Twitters

Rate: 8 Flag
By King Kaufman A day after Future of Journalism nerds pondered the implications of "American Idol" judge Paula Abdul announcing her resignation from the show on Twitter -- the sources go direct! -- Twitter was crippled this morning by a denial of service attack.

In a post stamped "1 hour ago" at 9:15 a.m. PDT, Twitter's status blog reported that "the site is back up, but we are continuing to defend against and recover from this attack." This blog was able to log in then, and found posts as old as "30 minutes ago," though I hadn't been able to log in just before 9 a.m.

Meanwhile, Mashable reports that Facebook also suffered outages Thursday morning, "although fortunately less frequent ones." Reporters and commenters at CNET News and also reported problems with Facebook. Mashable's Pete Cashmore writes that the likely cause of Facebook's stagger was users flooding the site when they couldn't log in to Twitter.

(Update: Mashable reports that Facebook and Google were also hit by distributed denial-of-service attacks.)

So, if Twitter is such a big part of the Future -- not to mention the present -- of Journalism, what does it mean that an attack can silence it?

"Attacks such as this," wrote Twitter co-founder Biz Stone in a blog post Thursday, "are malicious efforts orchestrated to disrupt and make unavailable services such as online banks, credit card payment gateways, and in this case, Twitter for intended customers or users."

There's always somebody with an interest in silencing the news, right?

What it means is we need a new Twitter. That is, we need something to replace or augment or complement Twitter so that the resource -- short bursts of real-time information -- isn't so centralized, so easily attacked and silenced. We need a lot of Twitters.

"Centralized networks are especially vulnerable to DOS [denial of service] attacks," wrote Dave Winer of Scripting News this morning. Winer, a pioneer in RSS among many other things, often tweets that it's not good for one company to own a platform.

"Loosely-coupled networks can do better," he continued today. "I wanted to post that to Twitter, but it's under attack. Not a joke, but something to continue to think about, planning for the future."

Twitter got itself back on its feet quickly this morning, and that's a good thing. And while a denial of service attack is a bad thing, the kind of thing bad people do, this one could lead to a positive aftermath. If enough Twitter users were shocked this morning into realizing they've become too dependent on a single, central entity, we'll be on our way to the decentralization we need.

Isn't that what the Internet is all about?

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Decentralization is vital to information warfare survival.
I'd like to know if Dick Cheney was logged on. He meant to tweet but missed. And so the system was taken down.

How about a comment on the Red Sox, King? We're starving.
Makes you think: what would happen when ALL of technology comes crashing down around us. Hmm. Topic for my blog tonight.
Twitter died this morning? All of America had to wait a whole half hour to find out if Paula Abdul is leaving American Idol? The horror, the horror, the horror...(apologies to Colonel Kurtz). jr
The old-school way of doing something like Twitter would be to have it operate like Usenet (the first Internet-wide set of discussion forums). You'd post a tweet to, and read tweets from, your ISP's tweet server. All the various ISPs' tweet servers would communicate with each other, constantly updating their tweet databases in the background.

The problem with this is twofold. First, convincing ISPs to host "tweet servers". What motivation does Comcast, AT&T, etc. have to do this? From their point of view, better to just offload this onto Twitter's computers. Second, it's very hard to monetize something this distributed, which is unfortunately much more important now than it was, say, 15 years ago.

15-20 years ago, when most ISPs were universities and "the Internet" was run by a bunch of computer science grad students, a distributed Twitter probably would have taken off. Now? I wouldn't hold my breath.
The company I work for uses "yammer" for "corporate micro blogging".

Personally, I'm guessing that 99.9% of all tweets don't even rise to the level of "important" and I'm pretty sure that if Twitter never came back on line the Universe wouldn't implode.
"So, if Twitter is such a big part of the Future -- not to mention the present -- of Journalism, what does it mean that an attack can silence it?"

Isn't that a similar point to what Rachel Maddow made last night when discussing the health care debate and the Town Halls that are being targeted by people at the behest of PR groups being funded by segments of the health care industry?

Just substitute democracy in place of Twitter.
Sure. Just as back in the day we needed a whole mess of newspapers and weeklies and monthlies and quarterlies and annual...

The free flow of information demands as many voices as possible rising in a great cacophony. But it also requires careful listening and educated understanding to help elevate the best and the brightest ideas above all others.

Life is a participatory endeavor; the sideline is not the place anyone worth their salt wants to be for long.
Ask and ye shall receive. The free software community had enough foresight to create and which are intended to be just the sort of distributed, fault-tolerant micro blogging platform Kaufman and Winer are looking for.
It's really depressing reading King writing about the breakdown of Twitter and not the breakdown of the Mets. Very depressing indeed.
Kosher - how else would you describe the Mets? It's to be expected.

The Giants, however - now we're talking Surprisingly Stellar!
Screw Twitter. Any Salon staffer could have written about the horrors of a Twitter breakdown. I'm convinced that media-types are the most avid users of Twitter anyway.

Why no baseball? Why waste King on things like this? King, we love you and need more of your sports commentary. Salon is dumb.
Twitter is banality elevated to the status of journalism. We are living in Orwell's nightmare.
What would happen if the entire Web collapsed? Could it be spun out again?
Nick Leshi makes a good, IMPORTANT point, re: "Makes you think: what would happen when ALL of technology comes crashing down around us. "

BECAUSE, think about it, one day, with climate chaos putting the entire world in major mass migration troubles, with billions of cliamte refugees fleeing north to find shelter in "polar cities" (GOOGLE)......and when the entire computer electric grid goes down, maybe forever, and all email files are lost and all computers are shut off and all data online is LOST forever, then what? Yes, something to think about. Good point, Nick.

This all cannot last forever. In 30 generations from now, climate chaos will reduce the Earth and the human species -- our descendants -- to well, it won't be a pretty picture, needless to say:

What will happen then to all the information and files stored on computers worldwide. We do need a fail-safe system in place before then. But how?

Yes, this twittercrash was a good thing: a wake up call about the future....
An interesting interview with Mike Males about some of these topics:
The Twitter fail was simply a textbook case of whales vs zombies. When Twitter failed, I just used Jaiku. Ask any Twitter user, fail happens. Anyway, it's not as if any money was lost - since Twitter has no discernible business model.
DDOS attacks are a nuisance, but this sort of orchestrated vandalism is only going to get worse before it gets better. Since as ordinary users there's nothing we can do about it, the only thing we can control is our reaction. I'd suggest some relaxation exercises ...and maybe carrying a book.
Twitter is a useful tool for looking at trends and in rare instances such as in Iran getting information where information is hard to get, and even then it is unverified so should be taken with a grain of salt. But as someone else pointed out above, 90% of it is just people talking about their breakfast or that they are TGIF!...not exactly the FOJ I'm envisioning.

Honestly, Twitter goes down for a half hour or 24 does it really matter in the larger context of the work independent news sites and bloggers are doing, which is really the FOJ.

And for what it is worth, as long as we have an internet someone is going to suffer a DOS at some point.
Scary that such large sites can be taken down so easy. But facebook is a social adultery website in which a many hearts were broken. I wonder if that was the reason for this attack?