With a new venture funding round just completed, a set of new engineering hires, and a days-old acquisition aimed at beefing up Twitter’s search and filtering capabilities, the company is bolstering its community’s flagging confidence. “Right now, we’re looking at restarting development,” says Brian Breslin, chief executive officer of Infinimedia, a company that several months ago halted work on its Twitter-related Firefox extension, Twitbin. “I think they’re taking the right steps, and not rushing into anything.”
Outages and short-term fixes continue, as was illustrated by the several hours of downtime late last week, attributed to an “unplanned maintenance event.” But over the long term, the company plans to “replace our existing system, component by component, with parts that are designed from the ground up,” according to a recent blog posting by engineer Alex Payne.
Elsewhere, the company’s founders and developers have written that it will reduce its reliance on Ruby on Rails, and will move to a “simple, elegant file-system-based approach,” to replace its original unwieldy database system.
“We are not starting from scratch,” Stone says. “However, we are experimenting with different approaches here, and we’ve already moved a lot away from the database.”
The company’s acquisition this week of search company Summize will also add a range of new capabilities focused on searching and filtering Twitter users’ posts, or “tweets.” The deal brings five new engineers in house who will “be invaluable in our continued efforts to improve system reliability and performance,” Stone says.
The big question is whether these improvements will be able to keep up with users’ still-evolving demands on the system.
Eran Hammer-Lahav, now an open-standards evangelist at Yahoo, worked on similar problems while building a (now defunct) microblogging service called Nouncer. He says that Twitter is in an unenviable position for a startup, having to build a communications-class technical infrastructure that supports unpredictable activity.
“The product is not completely driven by them. It’s driven by how people use it,” Hammer-Lahav says. “The question isn’t how do you scale a microblogging service in theory. It’s how do you scale microblogging to handle the way users are using Twitter right now.”
Stone says that this time the company is trying to build in flexibility for the unforeseen. “We can stay flexible by identifying the small pieces that add up to the whole,” he says. “In so doing, Twitter can respond to new challenges–I’m picturing a flock of birds moving as one around objects, or instantly changing direction in flight.”
Indeed, Twitter’s problems don’t seem to have arrested its momentum. According to Twitter-tracking service TwitDir.com, the company now has more than two million users. Visits to Twitter’s website have climbed steeply in recent months, despite outages, according to Web monitoring company Hitwise.
“People are so intertwined with Twitter now, they’ll accept the problems,” Breslin says.