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Fail Whale for the Favrd

October 22, 2008

Many Twitter users are perfectly happy sharing tweets along the lines of “I am at Crispy Joe’s having a double tall extra milk frappachino with two cherries. Man! Do I ever love me some girly coffee!” or “Going to gym. Good abs day. Tomorrow: Pecs.” Good for them!

But some folks aspire to more. More than answering just “hey, whatcha doin?” they want to amuse, inspire, and entertain. They their very own place in the firmament of the Twitterverse: Favrd.

Unbeknownst to many users, Twitter lets one click a little blank star next to each tweet to “favorite this update.” (Twitter clients may use something different. The popular Twhirl for instance uses a star for something different, and uses a heart icon for favoriting.) Favrd is a service that turns those favorites into an ongoing, crowd-ranked distillation of what is most funny and favored across the Twitter land.

A program at Favrd’s world headquarters uses the Twitter API to look at the favorites of a subset of Twitter users (you can nominate yourself into this group, if you like). These favorites are seen as votes. If tweets get enough votes (currently 3), they are “favrd” and appear on The Leaderboard. Day by day, the best and the brightest are voted up, the votes tallied, and the winners proclaimed.

But the voting process is now broken. Twitter has stopped reliably recording favorites. Twitter has never been known for rock-solid quality of service. Quite the opposite, in fact. Sometimes the whole service has been down, sometimes just a feature like search or keyword tracking. After a particularly shaky Summer, service levels have been generally good and improving. For at least a week however, favorites have not, at least in part, worked. Some tweets can be marked as favorites by some users–but not by other users. Sometimes favorites look like they worked, but are not permanently recorded by Twitter. In other words, the failures are intermittent, and some are of the silent-but-deadly variety. The problem also seems time-dependent. Some unfavorable tweets suddenly become favorable, a day or so later. Unfortunately, most users will have long since moved on.

Many Twitter problems and status updates are reported on status.twitter.com, but the systemic failure of favorites doesn’t appear there. I’ve started a discussion in Twitter’s Developer Talk area, and Twitter developers such as Alex Payne (@ax3l) are aware of it.

I know I’m risking a A Twitter feature is broken!! A Twitter feature is broken!! How ever will I live?! frenzy reminiscent of @Lisa_Nova‘s excellent Twitter Whore video. (And yes, I did tweet my moment of tizzy. You know I did!) But having major Twitter features not work is important. It’s important to users, and it’s important to Twitter as a platform provider. It’s especially important to the Favrd crowd. If favorites don’t work reliably, Favrd might as well be using Diebold voting machines. Favrd Nation, the Fail Whale is upon you.

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