Battling with daily info-load issues myself, I have never been much of a fan of the whole Twitter thing. The idea is fine - an extension of the status line update informal communications channel that's been a part of online life since the first time that mainframes and minicomputers allowed their users to see what everyone else was doing. But the practical effects of voluntarily immersing oneself in yet another layer of asynchronous noise (can you have synchronous noise?) did not appeal.
Nonetheless, about a month ago I finally allowed myself to be talked into Twittering. At least, I tried: the site was down.
I tried again, and managed to register. Since then, I've spent more time trying to make bits of it work than I have enjoying the service - and when it does work, it seems to have two modes: silence, and avalanche.
My latest experience has been just as daunting. The woman who talked me into trying it IM'd me asking "Can you get Googletalk working with it?".
No. I followed the online instructions: no good. I searched for enlightenment online, and found plenty of "Do this, and it will just work" recipes. Only it didn't.
Finally, I asked a friend. "IM's been down for weeks," he said. "First thing that goes when they have capacity issues. And they always have capacity issues." He then pointed me at the status.twitter.com page, which indeed listed IM as being offline. Of course, once he'd done that I immediately spotted the link to the status page on the main Twitter input. D'oh.
I have some sympathy for Twitter. Just not that much. Have a big success online, and you're riding the tiger: revenue doesn't scale with popularity, but by gosh your tech costs do. It's also not unknown for all sorts of architectural problems to appear once something gets properly wellied, and for them to take time and money to fix. Often, you'll have features that don't stand up and have to be turned off - or even abandoned. That's part of the game these days, and anyone who tries new services should be aware they're part of the Great Experiment, where nobody knows what's going to happen next.
So, Twitter, turn the darn things off. Remove the "Here's how to sign up to IM" options. Slap "Closed for renovations" over the thing. Don't leave your site as a guessing game. Don't expect people to find your status page - no, not even if you leave the link in plain sight. Consumer electronics manufacturers know that even if the first thing the punter sees when opening the box is a huge piece of paper with "READ ME FIRST!" written on it in 72 point letters of fire, that paper is effectively invisible. That's not what the punters are there for.
It is about managing expectations, and that's all about understanding how people work. Twitter doesn't - and for a service all about people's intimate behaviour, that's a killer flaw.