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July 20, 2010

Is Twitter Phasing Out SMS Support?

I don't own a Blackberry, an iPhone, or a Droid, but I tweet like nobody's business. I do it all via SMS, meaning that all the tweets of people I follow are sent to my LG Verizon enV as plain old text messages. Yeah, I know, I'm probably part of a dying breed. I'm sure that the vast majority of people that use Twitter have some sort of smart phone with a fancy app to gather up their Twitterfeed for them. Still, I do exist.

I never really thought about the drain on Twitter's servers it must be to send every single tweet to someone's phone until one of my Twitter buddies mentioned it, because I never had much of an issue with the system. Sure, every once in a while during big events like the Super Bowl or E3, Twitter would get hopelessly behind on their messages and be sending me stuff an hour or more late, but otherwise things worked pretty great on a day to day basis... until recently.

In the last few months, Twitter's system for sending out tweets as text messages has been absolutely broken. At least one day a week it gets hopelessly behind, when there is seemingly no excuse for it to be. At some point, I began noticing that I was getting replies to people when I never received the message that people were apparently replying to. Upon investigation, Twitter was dumping a good 10-20% of my Twitterfeed and just neglecting to send those messages to me at all. This must have been something they noticed, as within the last month, they obviously tried to fix it... and failed. Now I'll get those missed messages, whenever their system gets around to it. Do you have any idea how confusing and frustrating it is to be getting tweets that are hours old at the same time you're getting ones that are current?

Yesterday, was what finally convinced me that they are trying to frustrate their SMS subscribers into buying smart phones. In the morning, I went to turn on Twitter like normal. It refused. A few hours, and multiple "On" messages later, it finally turned on. It worked fine throughout the day, but later that night we went to the lake. I sent Twitter the message to turn off, and it responded that it had. After returning from swimming, though, I discovered some 30 new messages on my phone. I shrugged it off.

But then when I got home I sent another off message. It, again, responded that it had turned off. I set my phone down, and not more than a minute later heard it beep. It was a tweet. I sent off message after off message, receiving responses that it was turning off every single time, but it never did. So I got onto the site and went into my settings to turn it off from there. Error message. I tried again, and was again greeted with an error message. Over and over again, nothing but error messages. I couldn't turn them off, I couldn't delete my entire phone from their system... I couldn't even set up a time for it to automatically turn itself off. I had to go into my follow list and manually turn off all 134 people I'm following to make the messages stop.

So, what gives, Twitter? Is this a website advancing along with new technology, or one forcefully excluding a segment of their audience? I don't normally jump to these sorts of conclusions about things, but it seems logical. Maybe Twitter has just been growing in popularity so much recently that they can't keep up, in which case I'm crossing my fingers that they fix all of this stuff soon. Either way, I should probably just give in and get a Droid on my Verizon plan, but that extra $30 a month for a data plan is a killer for a parent living paycheck to paycheck.


Jon said...

I'm not sure if this is them jacking with features, or just a symptom of them being way under powered--still.

Even using an iPhone with official apps, it's hopelessly slow, frequently 'down' and often doesn't update automatically like it's supposed to.

Maybe eventually they'll get an infrastructure with less fail whale, but I'm not so sure any more.

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