Blog Post

Forget the Fail Whale: Twitter Jumps the Shark

Twitter has jumped the shark for the digerati attending South by Southwest here in Austin. Daniel Terdiman at CNET points out what everyone trying to follow the #sxsw tweets has discovered — there are just too many of them. It seems that, while Twitter’s hardware can scale for the many millions of people who have joined the community, the actual service cannot.

Twitter is still up and running, but the idea of generating a real time picture of what folks are doing, and extracting relevant information from that picture, is kind of like trying to pick out your grandma at the Washington Mall on the satellite image taken during President Barack Obama’s inauguration. It’s easy to see that a lot of folks were there, and hard to find that one thing you’re looking for.

Such a hiccup should give pause to those pointing to Twitter a source of real-time search capabilities, and possibly to those hoping for a real-time web, where every bit of  information that’s interesting to you is delivered in real time. This will undoubtedly act as a catalyst for better Twitter filters and delivery methods, but it may also be a clue that tapping into thousands of people in real time through the web is just as unwieldy as tapping into thousands of people real time via the telephone or in person. When it comes to large crowds, Twitter’s strength isn’t in the details, but in creating the overall satellite image.

44 Responses to “Forget the Fail Whale: Twitter Jumps the Shark”

  1. Twitter is by far the lamest of social-networking tools. It’s pointless, silly, and downright dumb. For more details on how stupid Twitter is, click on over to the TWO BIG BOOBS Blog @

  2. Please take a look at as a way to get the “satellite image” of what’s being said on twitter right now. Presented in a tag cloud, any current topics can be expanded to see the comments that made the topic so popular. Also possible to search by key word or user name…a quick way to hear the signal from the noise.

  3. Twitter is a great product for a limited audience with some common interests.

    Twitter is a crappy product for a mainstream audience.

    Like usenet newsgroups started to suck after AOL opened them up to the masses, Twitter in the hands of the mainstream becomes just noise.

    This whole autofollow based “mine is bigger than yours” follower collection thing makes twitter worse not better. Twitter would be a better product if, like it limited you to 140 characters, it allowed each user to only follow 140 people. There would be no spam. Then the relationships might mean something. A follow would actually mean something.

    If I’m followed by someone who also follows 10,000 others then they’re never going to see my tweets in the noise anyways.

  4. Time Shifter

    Well duh! We’ve all known for a while about information overload. There are so many problems with real-time. The two biggest being it’s hard to keep up, and you miss so much if you’re not constantly following. Twitter gets too much hype from the Silicon Valley blow-hards.

  5. Rob Spiro

    The technology behind Aardvark ( does exactly the kind of filtering you’re calling for here. When you ask Aardvark a question, you get two or three answers in real time from people in your social network with relevant knowledge and experience — no overload of content. People have been using it at SXSW to get quick information about the best panels/events/parties, or great restaurants in Austin. Because the information is quick and targeted, it’s extremely actionable.

  6. Stacey Higginbotham

    I’m not saying that Twitter is useless, merely using this event a barometer to measure how easily one can use it to gather information in real time. Events like this create pressure and pressure can create rubble or diamonds. Twitter still has the potential to become a diamond.

  7. I am not sure that SxSw is the best example…similar to your washington mall example, yes satalite image may be useless for the largest public event in our nations history, but let me use it to search through a crowd at a high school football game and I am golden…might not be great for SXSW but that is when filters come in, otherwise twitter is a great plus for 99 percent of searchable hashtags…

  8. I appreciate the sentiment, but when the image becomes too muh of a crowd seen from sattelite, you need to focus in: if I want to follow other SXSW attendees from the vancouver area, I will follow #SXSW #YVR or some sort of trend like this. If I want to follow everyone tweeting about SXSW? Good luck!

  9. Interesting cookie trick:

    You made it so my comments are only visible to me. When I deleted your cookies from my browser, the comments disappeared from sight.

    Why did you do this?

  10. You are so dead wrong on this one.

    I’ve been following the twitter live stream of the Long March events in Lahore, Pakistan all day long. In short, it is simply the best, most accurate reporting of events on the ground as they unfold in highly dramatic fashion.

    Seriously, who gives a fig about sxsw? History is happening live before your eyes and you have been afforded a window on to events occurring half a world away that may one day effect the lives of everyone around you.

    Open your eyes.

  11. The problem is partially beause some folks have sought to grow their network as a sort of trophy. Twitter still works if you have a connection to the people you’re in touch with and don’t just randomly follow anyone. Twitter is a city now, not a small town. You need to keep ties with the folks in your address book, not everyone in the phone book.

  12. Alan H.


    1. Twitter and SXSO – Who cares?

    2. Do you have a *clue* what “jumping the shark” actually means?

    3. How the hell this crap make it to google news?

  13. That’s not really a proper use of the term “Jump the Shark.” To “Jump the Shark” is to stop being interesting, stop being relevant, and stop being worthwhile when it was once all of those things. I don’t think a simple scale problem, which is fixable, makes Twitter completely un-interesting, irrelevant and not worth while. The instances of large scale events causing lack-of-granularity problems will be few and far between, and every piece of software has stuff to fix. I don’t see this as being more than a minor bump in the road for Twitter, even if they choose not to do anything about it.

  14. Jumping the Shark is when Friendster introduced the “who’s viewing me” feature.

    This is different.

    In this case, the problem is that one tag was assigned to one event. Clearly, there needs to be sub-tags within the #sxsw tag.

    You don’t just show up in Austin and type #austin and expect to find anything useful – why should it be the same for a festival?

  15. It would interesting if some data viz or textmining folks could get that corpus and take the result beyond a search box and the ubiquitous tag cloud. Even entity extraction and auto tagging are just so……bleh.

    But some fart smeller is out there trying to solve the question, “what are they talking about, really, and more importantly, where did the conversation go?”

    Realtime vs. postmortem, it’s all one once the actual problem statement is figured. Too much data – an age old problem.

  16. I don’t get the appeal of Twitter. Well, maybe with notable people that I find interesting. But it’s like blogs, 90% of them are full of crap that I don’t care about. Why should I care what your are doing right this instant?

  17. kyle grub

    so wait, twitter isnt the 2nd coming of jesus? I was hoping on using it to replace email, replace im, replace google, replace my social life, and get a job…

  18. Anytime there’s a big event with a generic tag like SxSW it’s pretty much worthless. But we knew that already, or should have. Just watch the public timeline and try to spot trends sometime. Good luck.