Twitter: The Too-Popular-For-Its-Own-Good Restaurant

May 30, 2008

Twitter has been down often over the past few weeks. To their credit, the Twitter team has been way more communicative recently on their company blog, posting warnings about outages, explanations, and even some insight into their search for solutions. Even if this information totally goes over our heads, It’s good to read these updates as it humanizes the company and fosters a relationship with users.

MG Siegler over at Venture Beat adds more insight:

I had a chance to talk with Shalom today about his post and his thoughts on Twitter’s woes. He believes the problem lies in the explicit contradiction between scaling and time to market. It’s also a problem with not knowing if a company will be successful and as such being cautious with spending money and time upfront to build something slowly that is fully scalable.

Shalom fully understands the burden the Twitter team now has. It basically has to take its first architecture, which isn’t working, and re-build it on the fly while the service is still running.

In a way, this scaling issue reminds me of a new restaurant that has becomes too popular for their own good. Any restaurant wants customers, but there can be situations where it gets out of control, and actually begins to harm the service.

There’s a joint like this in San Mateo called Santa Ramen – a Japanese noodle shop. They had a hole-in-the-wall location on the edge of San Mateo, that was in this “coping” mode when we first ate there. They didn’t take reservations, so a ridiculously long line would form before opening, and you had to put your name on a piece of paper. Inside, the service and dining experience sucked. The restaurant was packed to the gills, so it failed the “back of the chair test” (you can’t back your chair up for fear of hitting another chair behind you, making it uncomfortable to even use the restroom) and we were pretty much rushed in and out as quickly as possible.

Yes, the ramen was definitely above average, but because of the pressure to handle all these customers, we never went back. While there is some initial excitement (all these people are waiting in line, so it must be good!), the above average meal wasn’t enough to balance out the crappy environment and long line one had to wait in to experience it. Just take reservations already!

(Granted, as a solution, Santa Ramen recently opened up a second location where the dining experience is much better.)

Some people love eating at these popular joints, but I tend to avoid them. More often than not, I choose the less popular ones – even if the food isn’t as awesome. The ideal is a restaurant that is pretty kick ass but hasn’t yet gained popularity where the masses descend and they’re thrown into “coping” mode. Another strategy is to visit the popular restaurant for lunch or on the weekdays when it’s less insane. And being the Bay Area – there are tons of other choices if your current pet eatery starts to suck. Then there are other joints that are really popular but were built from the ground up to handle tons of people, like Pancho Villa. Success.

Anyhow, back to Twitter: I personally haven’t been affected by the downtime because I quit Twitter about two weeks ago. Life has moved on, and I’m looking for a new dining experience with better service.