Why Twitter Doesn’t Crash and Die Despite Losing 70% Employees: Former GitHub CTO


Former GitHub CTO Jason Warner says Twitter’s core service will remain functional and operational for the most part, despite Twitter putting more than half of its employees and most of its contractors on furlough within weeks.

Biggest reason: the nature of Twitter itself.

“Twitter – the service – can have lots and lots of problems and it will still be a useful/entertaining service for a lot of people,” he tweeted in a long thread about the subject. “It doesn’t sound like a mission-critical product.”

Mission-critical products like Microsoft-owned GitHub are an essential part of the workflow for its nearly 100 million developers. Others, like Twilio or Stripe or Cloudflare, are part of the critical infrastructure of the internet and the economy, according to Warner. Failures cause massive and immediate disruptions.

On the other hand, Twitter — while important and used by hundreds of millions of people — is much more error-tolerant.

“Twitter is used by hundreds of millions of people around the world for a casual distraction during the day,” says Warner. “Sure, some people use it for work etc., but that’s not the core use… Due to the nature of the Twitter product, Twitter has so much time/latency/architecture of the service that it doesn’t have that.” The error we’ve seen and seen for a while probably won’t cause it to fail.

There is widespread concern on Twitter itself that the platform, devoid of thousands of talented engineers and employees, could crash or fail. This is one of the reasons why Mastodon, the small, distributed social network, has experienced tremendous growth and why #RIPTwitter has been trending.

But Twitter isn’t likely to crash and die anytime soon due to technical issues, Warner says. In fact, earlier in the development phase – the infamous failed whaling era – it had numerous and often technical problems and survived.

That doesn’t mean, says Warner, that everything is fine. Even casual users have noticed a lot of small glitches in recent weeks, he says, and a quick test of a Twitter API showed the potential for much bigger bugs. (I’ve personally noticed minor issues such as pages or tweets not loading over the past week – usually resolved with a web refresh or an app restart.)

But in the end, it’s not the end of the world to miss a tweet here or there or other minor delays as engineers work with fewer teams on individual projects or parts of the codebase.

More serious risks, however, are those that allowed full-length movies on Twitter just three days ago. Copyright and copyright infringement lawsuits are no joke. Other risks are likely based on a lack of oversight. I’ve personally noticed more porn being shared with the trending hashtag on Twitter in the last few weeks, including three instances, with searches for things like “twitter will fail” or “RIPTwitter for this post: “Doing it.”

And that brings new dangers, says Warner:

“It’s everything around the service that the company builds where the risk is. These are very, very, very likely custom tools, with years of learning baked into the logic/workflow, that need to be designed to make the system work a certain way.” need to communicate with… when all those things can fail a lot of strange – potentially bad or maybe even illegal – things. This is also when hackers/nation states etc. have the most. There may be more opportunities.”

On the technical side, however, Warner says there will be some challenges and some pain, a Twitter outage of the kind that probably won’t happen on a large scale, with the service going down for days or weeks at a time.

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