Turns out Twitter's not so 'tweet'

Twitter accused of aiding and abetting bad behavior on the Web

Bad news for Twitter. The original micro-blogging service (now available in brief, mega-terse, and vowel-free versions) has been accused of aiding and abetting bad behavior on the Web. I am shocked, shocked I tell you.

In case you've never used Twitter, here's a quick primer. Twitter is a service that lets you keep a running account of every inane thing you do or think. What makes a Twitter account different from 98 per cent of the world's blogs is that you can only post 140 characters at a time (called a "tweet"). Imagine "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" written entirely in SMS text messages on your mobile phone. That's Twitter. And if that sounds ridiculous to you, well, join the club.

Inexplicably, Twitter (and similar services like Pownce) are insanely popular. Unless you have at least 3000 strangers following your every tweet, you are simply not hip. (For example, Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody has a popular Twitter account - and boy is she a potty mouth.) So Twitter has proven an excellent tool for self promotion, driving blog traffic, passing notes in class, and complaining about Sarah Lacy's interview of Mark Zuckerberg at last March's SXSW conference.

But all is not well in Twitterville. It turns out Twitter is also a fine tool for stalking and harassing other Twitterati. Ariel Waldman, creator of the Shake Well Before Use blog and a social media consultant, has come forward with complaints that some malicious Twitterer has been stalking and harassing her for months, calling her things even I am too embarrassed to say out loud. She wants him (or her) booted off the site, but Twitter's executives politely declined, saying the person in question did not violate Twitter's Terms of Service. Needless to say that didn't go over too well with Waldman or other Twitterati.

Interestingly, shortly after the Waldman story hit the blogosphere Twitter had a database crash due to too much traffic. A note on the Twitter blog states:

Around 11 am in San Francisco, our main database db006, crashed because of too many connections. We have to put the service into an unscheduled maintenance mode to recover. Folks will see degraded service for the next few hours.

Do they mean degraded service, or degrading service? It's so hard to tell. Twitter's version of what happened is somewhat different -- and snippy in its defensiveness -- but it still doesn't clarify what Twitter does and doesn't allow to happen on the service.

There is good news for Twitter, however. According to Om Malik's GigaOM blog, the startup has just received another US$15 million in VC money. Unfortunately it's only allowed to spend $140 of it at a time.

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Robert X. Cringely

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