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Dawn of the Twitter Effect

Yesterday a Twitter post (a tweet) by Mashable’s Pete Cashmore became so popular that traffic from Twitter crashed a blog. This sounds very similar to a common social media phenomenon originally known as the Slashdot effect (and later also the Digg effect), where a post on a popular social media site pushes more traffic than the target site can handle.

An interesting thing here is the mechanics of Twitter, which is fundamentally different from Digg and Slashdot. It’s not a social news site, with a front page that all visitors go to. We won’t go into the details of how Twitter works, that’s better covered elsewhere, but it’s worth noting that it’s a very different beast. It will be interesting times if Twitter is about to join the ranks of Slashdot and Digg as a potential “site crasher”.

For lack of a better word we will call the phenomenon of sites crashing as a result of traffic from Twitter, “the Twitter Effect”. (Or perhaps “the Tweet effect” would be catchier…?)

But now on to the big question…

How could a single tweet generate that much traffic?

First of all, of course it was a big factor that Pete Cashmore is one of the people on Twitter with the most followers (people who have subscribed to his tweets). According to Twitterholic, he has more than 50,000 followers.

But the key here may not be just the number of followers of the initial tweeter, but the retweets. A retweet is when a Twitter user resends a message so that his/her own followers can share it. Pete Cashmore was the most retweeted Twitter user during the period when the affected blog went down (according to Retweetist).

The interesting thing about retweets is that they have the potential to increase the spread of a tweet exponentially, especially if some of the retweeters also have many followers.

It might be worth pointing out that the blog that crashed was on a shared hosting account (at Dreamhost). A blog on a dedicated server or a cluster would have handled the amount of traffic better, but what happened is still very relevant. There are a LOT of blogs on shared hosting accounts, and as Twitter keeps growing, who knows what kind of traffic generation it will be capable of?

The Twitter Effect formula

If we take a stab at formulating how a single tweet can garner so much traffic, it would be something like this (which essentially describes the reach of a tweet on Twitter):

The Twitter Effect formula = (Original tweet * followers) + (retweets * followers of retweeters) + (retweets of retweets * followers of those), and so on.

This way, tweets can spread out like the branches of a tree or a root system and reach a very large number of Twitter users. The spread is basically only limited by the size of Twitter’s user base. If the tweet contains a link to a site, this site is bound to get a significant amount of traffic as the tweet spreads.

Note that there may also be more than one original tweet pointing to the same target, and the general discussion around a post on other parts of the Web is also bound to create its share of activity on Twitter (and elsewhere too, of course).

Think of it as “the great echo chamber” and you get the gist of it. It’s similar to how much of the blogosphere works, which is a good analogy since Twitter is, after all, usually called a microblogging service.

What do you think?

As Twitter’s user base grows, will traffic from Twitter soon be a common reason for site outages? Please share your thoughts (and experiences?) in the comments.

Credits to Rich Miller at Data Center Knowledge for catching this in the first place.

Roots image from Wikimedia Commons.



73 comments
AdonisAZ
AdonisAZ

The content shows the traffic effects which a single tweet of a person create who has a huge fan following.The method and concept explain was great which helps people to understand the why some time there is a slow internet speed.

AdonisAZ
AdonisAZ

The content shows the traffic effects which a single tweet of a person create who has a huge fan following.The method and concept explain was great which helps people to understand the why some time there is a slow internet speed.

99dealr
99dealr

Twitter has been one of the visitor generator to our site. We do not have a very large follower group but we are getting good numbers of visitors in our site directly from Twitter and Faacebook. We are having our classified ad posting site, where people are coming from different places apart from Google (75%) like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Stumbleupon.

asbajaj001
asbajaj001

Most of the time when the traffic to the site spikes up, i see that it is when i had tweeted on Twitter. It works man!

asbajaj001
asbajaj001

Most of the time when the traffic to the site spikes up, i see that it is when i had tweeted on Twitter. It works man!

mrak911
mrak911

aybe we should call it the “cashmore effect”

samsy
samsy

Have noticed this happen quite a few times when bands/musicians post a link - happened with Amanda Palmer's live streaming of her play the other night...but when it does happen, you can usually bet the site that's crashed is a good un! (just takes a tad longer to get to!)

MW
MW

In your formula equation regarding re-tweets, etc., shouldn't it take into effect that there will be a number of "followers" receiving re-tweets who previously received the same or original message from someone already? Such as the case of Person A sending a message, Person B and Person C are followers of A and both receive that message. Then Person B re-tweets that message and Person C(who also follows B) will receive the same message again. That doesn't necessarily mean that Person C will go and follow the link a second time.

Janusz
Janusz

This is not a very new phenomenon. Neil Gaiman a very popular and writer and one of the first creating a large online fanbase over twitter and its blog does this every day. :)

Angela Current
Angela Current

With the amount of Retweeting that happens, I would imagine that this is definitely going to be a growing issue, but one that most of us only wish we had.

madcom
madcom

I like the "Cashmore Effect" that Harold Campbell suggested!

Sheryl Loch
Sheryl Loch

I think it is great that Pete (Mashable) sends links to more than just his site. It shows he wants his followers to get good information. I just hardly ever ReTweet his post, I figure everyone that follows me has already seen it. May have to rethink that. One day I will write something good enough that Mashable will send out my link and test my server. ;) I know there are a few other Tweeters that can do the same site crash with just 1 link so, I am not picky about which one tweets me.

Denise Howard
Denise Howard

Try me!! HooNoze it could be GR8 for my business!! Thanks for the information- Twitter name is HooNoze: Denise

Leyton Jay
Leyton Jay

At least we know that if stuff is being RT (re-tweeted) to that extent then it must be good. I hate it when people RT rubbish, it's more effort than an email forward and even more annoying.

Robin
Robin

I love twitter. It's an amazing tool and Pete Cashmore is the man to follow. The tree pic says it all!

Janet Hilts MPH, EFT-ADV
Janet Hilts MPH, EFT-ADV

I say bring on the crash -- what a delightful fate! And what a great image of the roots of the tree -- really shows the ripple effect of tweets.

STARTUP BUSINESSIDEAS
STARTUP BUSINESSIDEAS

Now a twitter need to take in account the slahdot effect, then the poster must be careful about who is going to be linked by the tweet

Blake
Blake

Haha, I like how the tree represents the Parent and all of it's children.

Philip Dorrell
Philip Dorrell

A related article I wrote in 2004 is at http://www.1729.com/wiki/HowFastIsTheInternet.html ("How Fast is the Internet?"). Given the definition of "fast" in my article, one could argue that Twitter is making the internet go faster. For example, if you discover an interesting blog post 5 months after it was written, and Twitter could have presented it to you 20 minutes after it was written, i.e. via retweeting by people of similar interests, then that retweeting would have sped the Internet up by a factor of about 1000. See also http://www.1729.com/miski/miski-white-paper.html where I described a twitter-like system for links, with "reposting" (aka "retweeting links").

matt
matt

that's pretty impressive. I think thats the first time i've ever heard of it.

PHSocialMedia
PHSocialMedia

I would agree with the first comment. I would say CONGRATS! And I think Twitter is serving it's real purpose. How I wish my site crashes because of traffic.

Rich Games
Rich Games

How might the twitter effect be used to solve a major social problem?

o2smedia
o2smedia

Thats the power of distribution, Im on there so one day I have that type of effect on my tweets!

P@r@noid
P@r@noid

There is no doubt that Twitter have changed the deignation of social media and Twitter figure crossed Digg figures. Anyways.... I hope to see my website getting down with Twitter effect someday. http://twitter.com/shoutmeloud

ReTweet
ReTweet

Perhaps "retweet" is the new "digg"?

Pete Cashmore
Pete Cashmore

@mtwtfss Heh, I try. Somedays I can't read them all, of course. --Pete

andrew
andrew

that twitter tree roots system reminds me of the idea of the rhizome. interesting. thanks.

@mtwtfss
@mtwtfss

Got a question for you, Mashable. You're following 1698 twitterers. How do you read everyone's twits? I've been following you since you started and I can't even follow all of yours. How am I supposed to follow 262?

Richard Hicken
Richard Hicken

This is a great post. Really hits the nail on the head. We've all seen the upside to the Twitter Effect: e.g. thousands of dollars have been raised for various charities in next to no time. It's an awesome thing to behold when that power is harnessed. But what worries me is the power of retweeting when it gets unleashed on some poor individual who happens to be having a bad day and says something ill-advised on Twitter. Within minutes they find that someone has stumbled upon their (now regretted) words, a post has been written, and an angry mob is now poised to destroy their character and their business credibility with a torrent of indignant comments, blog posts, and RTs. OK, perhaps I'm defending the indefensible in some cases, but it does seem that the Twitter Effect can cause us to do away with any semblance of a balanced enquiry. No benefit of the doubt is given, no questions are asked, and an instant "guilty" verdict is returned. Now there are definitely lessons to be learned. Some people need to be a little more careful with what they say on Twitter, but the ferocity and the speed with which these instant "Twacklashes" happen is pretty unnerving! Sometimes it feels more like the middle ages than 2009. Just my two cents on the downside of the Twitter Effect. :)

don
don

I don't know if "As Twitter’s user base grows, will traffic from Twitter soon be a common reason for site outages?", but I re-Tweeted someone's link to this site, and asked my Tweeps to re-tweet it as well. If you blog crashes, you'll have fresh anecdotal evidence tending to support your hypothesis. :-D

Michelle
Michelle

As one of the early nay-sayers, I must now add that Twitter will be a force for quite some time. Its simplicity is its greatest virtue.

parrypix
parrypix

(never would have guessed I'd be writing) "Twitter-ific!"

Pingdom
Pingdom

@Kami Huyse: Give us your best shot! ;)

@money24seven
@money24seven

Hey readers posters Tweeters far. .n. .w. .i. .d. .e. .WoW! "He has more than 50,000 followers". With that many ... How the dickens do you get a window to see the googies and orrr posts??? beats me with such a small number we have and I'm happy with its still bizzy bizzy chatter ... Great post its been enlightening to have landed here thanks ... one point worth mentioning why did you not make use of that Twitter badge to your Twitter Acc ... we could all check it out and follow HuH?? Regards Wilson Cowden

Melanie Oyler
Melanie Oyler

We are, beyond a shadow of a doubt, just beginning to see the "power" of the 'Net' in my humble opinion...there is much to learn, and see what happens in the ensuing months to come....as for me, I am pretty excited about the unlimited possibilities!

Andrew Stark
Andrew Stark

To get twitter traffic you need to be topical and relavent to the twitter audience. For example you could have written the same post last year about how facebook traffic brought down your site, and the same for youtube the year before. It's true that twitter is more viral, it's got such an easy interface to pass the message on, in fact I'll probably be retweeting this in a few seconds time. I've also noticed in the UK it has now become mainstream, with almost every bbc show talking about it, so it's definately the time to build a following and get your message out to the world.

Kami Huyse
Kami Huyse

The real test is will Twitter crash this site and article? I RT'd it. Should be interesting. @kamichat

Stephen
Stephen

I see twitter as a giant, open-to-the-public chatroom with filters and 5 million people in it. Say something interesting or provide a link to some great content and there is massive potential waiting to be unleashed. Now, to go and RT this post :)

Pingdom
Pingdom

Wow, lots of great comments in a very short amount of time! The Twitter community is obviously VERY alive and well. Thanks everyone, and keep'em coming. :) @Pete Cashmore: Thanks for the tweet! Great idea regarding a follow-up guest post on Mashable. You're on.

Chris
Chris

Me too. Found this post on a RT. It'll be interesting to see how hosting providers evolve. Someone like me on a shared server would certainly feel the pinch sooner should it happen.

andrew weir
andrew weir

This is probably the beginning. As Twitter hits a tipping point and loads more people sign-up I think the Twitter effect will become a very common problem? Retailers beware..

Bobbr.com
Bobbr.com

It's called cloud computing people. Use Mosso and you can handle any traffic thrown at you.

GigJunkie
GigJunkie

Very interesting, and no great surprise as Twitter has been getting lots of noise in recent weeks - not just in the U.S. What I did fing interesting is that Pete Mashable is one of the most followed on 50k, well I and many Brits have not been using Twitter long and good old Stephen Fry, the last person I expected to find on here has over 100k followers! Some might say it's a crazy world!

Pingdom
Pingdom

@MW: You are right, and of course the formula is a simplified one. It was mostly meant to illustrate the spread potential of a tweet. If you were to incorporate lots of other factors and special cases for each "level" of retweets, overlap between followers, etc, then the formula would quickly become a mess.

Pingdom
Pingdom

@madcom: Pete Cashmore (Mashable) is most definitely one of the most retweeted users on Twitter, but this is a general phenomenon for Twitter, not something that is specific to one single user. So, arguably, "Twitter effect" is a more appropriate term, imho. Whatever it ends up being called, it is pretty darn interesting. :)

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