Twittr Hax

By Shamus Posted Friday Aug 7, 2009

Filed under: Rants 34 comments

Twitter has never been the most stable service. You’d think a service dedicated to serving up 140 bytes of text data at a time would be more resilient than (say) your average video streaming YouTube wannabe. The average 14 megabyte video will require one hundred thousand times the bandwidth as a tweet. Add to this the fact that video share sites allow you to search, rate, and comment on videos, and it’s clear that you’re dealing with a lot more than five orders of magnitude in difference. Yet the Twitter service winks out so much that it borders on narcoleptic. It’s just never made sense to me how Twitter has continued to be so shamefully wobbly over the past six months or so.

But now I see this story: Twitter knocked offline by DDoS attack. Amazing. A hacker has control of a botnet and the most daring thing he can come up with is to sucker-punch the hilariously feeble micro-blogging service? The world’s least ambitious hacker versus the world’s least stable website. Oh, which group of epic losers will prevail, and how will they make anyone care afterward?


Addendum: Follow me on twitter!


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34 thoughts on “Twittr Hax

  1. chakan says:

    I’ve never understood twitter, it’s become the banner boy to highlight people that’re “in the know”, but I recall reading something that said that very few people used it. At any rate, I’m sure it’ll just be there for the next few years, eventually either fading out or just being there, existing. I can’t imagine it becomming a big part of people’s lives.

  2. Nathon says:

    Regarding your use of hacker here: it should be cracker. Sorry, but I have to do it. It’s like there’s some force in me that won’t let anyone call those idiots hackers without objecting.

  3. Phaezen says:

    Twitter, Livejournal and Facebook amongst other sites have been attacked/are under attack.

    Skynet stirring? I for one welcome our new robotic overlords.

  4. Jazmeister says:

    So when Skynet has control of facebook, what will it, um, do with it?

  5. Peter H. Coffin says:

    While the DDoS has a certain failarity about it, it makes all the funnier the recent development that a company that sells SMS distribution to Emergency Management departments is suing Twitter for patent violation and apparently doing so not for license fees, but what business they think they lost. Trying to handle emergency information with Twitter seems as clever as trying to rust-proof a car with chewing gum.

  6. SireCh says:

    man, all the “cool” web2.0 blogs (TechCrunch, O’Reilly, ..) can’t stop talking about Twitter, about the social communication revolution and whatnot. I can’t stand it anymore. We get it, you can send short messages and tell everybody what you had for breakfast. Start hyping the next bs-trend already. And anyways, the proportion of lol’s (in text) and morons (in flesh) in twitter is astounding. It has reached MySpace levels.

    Ok, rant over. That felt pretty good.

  7. yd says:

    I’m not sure why this is so difficult for the people who hate Twitter to grasp, but if you’re following a person who only talks about mundane things, stop following that person.

    Twitter is as useful as you make it out to be. For getting a feeling of what’s going on around a bunch of people you’re interested in, it can be quite nice. Look at it as a snapshot of what’s happening now. Refresh it as desired.

    If you’re only seeing breakfast posts, lols, and “morons”, then the problem is with you, not Twitter.

    Regarding stability, it astounds me how poorly Twitter manages it. I realize they get a LOT of traffic, but there has to be a fundamental problem in their system. Maybe it was poorly designed from the start and has kept the same inefficient code, but you’d think by now they would have rewritten things. The continual XMPP problems, the @reply “for performance” fiasco, etc – it’s confounding.

  8. TehShrike says:

    Re: the first half of yd’s post

    Yeah… it’s like a person who only eats at McDonalds complaining about how much food sucks.

    I can introduce you to some quality eateries, if you want…

  9. SireCh says:

    mhm I don’t really hate Twitter. What annoys me is that it receives a disproportionate amount of attention (mostly from the tech blogs) for what amounts to a pretty simple service. I don’t doubt that it is useful for a lot of people. It kind of reminds me of the dotcom bubble. And as for the content, the ratio of noise is probably on par with the rest of the internet, I guess.

  10. azrhey says:

    I follow a minimun of people on twitter but a whole bunch of newspaper feeds. I folow the news in four contries, three languages. It is faster than RSS feeds and more to the point. News chanels, newspapers, Radio, etc, have 140 characters to get me interested in an article, if not I scroll past it. Because of that they tend to be more concise and I actually know what it is about. For example couple of days ago the BBC news World politics RSS title said something like “Shirtless in Siberia again!” I would have had to click and read the entire post to notice they were talking about Putin. The twitter version was : Russian Prime minister Vladimir putin shirtless while on vacation. Didn’t have to click anything to know I didn’t feel like reading about that.

    Just my two cents…

  11. RPharazon says:

    I don’t get the entire Twitter, Facebook, etc thing. I don’t have an account on any of those social networking sites. Indeed, the closest thing to an account on a popular website is a throwaway Youtube account that allows me to get through the verify-age questions that pop up every fortnight.

    It may be simply because I have no use for it, neither for following or corresponding with friends.

    A big chunk of my friends find face-to-face or over-the-phone communication sufficient and personal. Another big chunk of my friends are intelligent and geeky enough to use IRC, so our little group uses a channel on OFTC.

    Lastly, the group of friends that I made in Mexico about a year ago contact me, and each other, through MSN Messenger and Xbox Live. We game online with Xbox Live and use the voice chat function to not only communicate game-sensitive information, but general comings-and goings.

    Maybe I’m missing something here, but I don’t see how 140 bytes of data (or attentionmongering Facebook updates) can replace personal contact, or voice chat, or an ongoing day-spanning IRC conversation. Is it really that bad to wait a day or two until you meet a friend to find out what they did on a given day?

    (With the fast food/restaurants analogy, this would be the equivalent of shunning restaurants altogether and instead having barbecues or cookouts at a friend’s house.)

  12. Deoxy says:

    As much as it pains me to say it, I can see the point of Twitter/Facebook as opposed to all email-based text communication: opt-in.

    In email, you choose who to send to. In Twitter and Facebook (same basic function, really), people choose whether or not to receive.

    I still wish there was some better way to combine them – I don’t use Facebook much nor Twitter at all simply because I’m not going to use that many services.

    The obsessive “get everything on my phone all the farging time” people are really annoying about it, but that’s really their choice. I have other things to do that stare at or answer the bleating of a tiny little gadget all day (and some people really get something beeping at the least almost constantly – it’s silly).

  13. HeadHunter says:

    On a tangentially related point…

    Your tweet about John Hughes very nearly made me shoot coffee out of my nose!

  14. Ell Jay says:

    Twitter isn’t for following actual friends– it’s for keeping up with the famous, Shamus, or both. There is nothing it does better than to let you stay “in touch” with, say, the Penny Arcade guys, or Nathan Fillion.

  15. Peter H. Coffin says:

    Deoxy: there are bridges between Facebook and Twitter, which means you can use one as merely a tool to update the other, and pay attention to whichever site has a style that suits you better.

  16. Legal Tender says:

    For whatever is worth, Twitter performed brilliantly during the beginnings of the Iranian crisis, a few weeks ago.

    It may be filled to the brim with inane commentary but that Iranian thing made it all worth it, in my opinion.

    It’s too bad the Chinese government seem to have a better grasp on technology. I was hoping we would get something similar during the last riots in China.

  17. rats says:

    The DDoS attack was not just directed at twitter, but was part of a wider attack on twitter, facebook, and some google services. According to the BBC, this attack was aimed to disrupt one blogger.

    for more information.

    1. Shamus says:

      rats: Thanks – I hadn’t heard about that part of the story yet.

      I wonder: Was this the first politically-minded / motivated DDoS? I can’t think of another one offhand.

  18. TehShrike says:

    I follow some friends on Twitter.

    A couple months ago, a friend tweeted that she had made some fresh cookies, if anyone wanted some… I went over, and they were very tasty.

  19. Duffy says:

    While I’m not adding anything to the conversation, thanks Peter for that link to Twitter being sued, it may actually have some bearing on my company’s products.

  20. locusts says:

    @ Jazmeister

    When Skynet takes over Facebook it will make the terminators your friends. When it subsequently takes over Twitter it will send you tweets to let you know that the terminators are coming. Make sure you tweet your location as a reply.

  21. radio_babylon says:

    seems a shame to waste a good botnet on things like twitter and bloggers when [email protected] is available. id do it, but ive still got so much life ahead of me, im not ready to get disappeared just yet!

  22. Magnus says:


    I have heard rumours of various groups from Russia and China that use DDoS as a weapon against political opponents. The trouble is, all these reports are rumours, and unverified.

    I would imagine it would be in an oppressive governments best interests to learn how to shut off parts of the internet to its populace, given how useful twitter et al has been in Iran.

    The big deal surrounding this particular blogger seems to be centred around the trouble in South Ossetia (Georgia) this time last year.

    Georgia’s president has been sabre-rattling for a long time against the Russians.

    The situation is a little bit complex, but it feels very much like a cold war proxy conflict. For those of us in Europe, we’d very much appreciate it all to calm down, in a manner in which the population of Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia are safe.

  23. Korivak says:

    I use Twitter, and enjoy it immensely. I also only pay attention to a vanishingly small amount of all the pointless chatter that it is flooded with.

    I follow a dozen people – two bloggers I greatly respect (Shamus and John Gruber), two webcomic artists that have interesting things to say (Dresden Codak and Tom Siddell of Gunnerkrigg Court) and eight friends, half of who live in the city and I see regularly, and half that live in various other places farther away.

    I don’t follow any famous people, and the trending topics cause me physical pain when I happen to see them. Twitter, for me, is more personal than email.

  24. Rutskarn says:

    The way I see it/intend to use it, the best use of Twitter is a haven for those thoughts, quips, and mentions that are too petty for a post, but might interest or mildly amuse passersby.

  25. TeamNutmeg says:

    I’m just wondering what CNN did for content all day.

  26. DrMcCoy says:

    A couple of days ago, someone also siezed thousands of accounts to tweet a link to a “make money through Google” scam.
    Given the number of sites that ask people for their twitter passwords to tweet the result of a quiz or stupid stuff like that, I’m really surprised this doesn’t happen daily…

  27. Ross Bearman says:

    Shamus, there were the Estonian attacks, which were blamed on the Russian government. If not initiated by them, it was almost certainly a political attack from Russian citizens.

  28. Sylvia says:

    I’m not sure why there’s so much vitriol about new things. You don’t have to be an early adopter; it’s not a big deal. Some of the people I know who are getting the most use out of the internet were looking at me like I was crazy in 1992 and rolling their eyes at the thoughts of blogs in 2002.

    I'm not sure why this is so difficult for the people who hate Twitter to grasp, but if you're following a person who only talks about mundane things, stop following that person.

    Yes, I do wish that people didn’t all somehow gravitate to that one guy who talks about what he had for breakfast. :)

  29. Bryan says:

    On Twitter vs. blogs:

    Gradually, the blog evolved into the 21st-century’s opinion column, except that now anyone could be a columnist. The evolution turned something pointless into great content, and now most content on the Internet is in blog form.

    But now, with Twitter, it’s like they’ve hit the blog reset button, taking the original blog concept and trapping it in a box of 140 characters, ensuring that it absolutely cannot grow into anything worthwhile, because THAT’S THE POINT.

    Yep, exactly. It’s not so much that it’s full of pointless nonsense: so are the vast majority of blogs, still. It’s that it’s too bloody short to (…likely) ever turn into anything useful, even for people who are worth following.

    We’ll see if anyone can come up with a non-pointless use of the service, I suppose. There are certainly enough people trying. But I’m not terribly hopeful…

  30. David V.S. says:

    I use Facebook for two reasons.

    First, I have a lot of old friends and it is fun to know what they are up to. This afternoon I am dealing with a toddler whose teething is causing a runny nose which is making enough post-nasal drip that he is barfy instead of napping; it is nice to know someone else is having exciting adventures in foreign lands, celebrating a new job, writing a novel, or working on a nifty invention. And when it is someone else’s turn to have a bummy day I know to pray for them.

    Second, I have some really talkative acquaintances with very little to say of interest. I can mute them on Facebook without their knowing it; I am happy to support their transition away from e-mail.

    I use Twitter only because of the Firefox extension “TwitterBar” which allows me, through Twitter, to update my Twitter/Facebook status in the Firefox address bar without having to go to any particular web page.

  31. Nick says:

    I don’t understand Facebook, let alone Twitter, but I don’t have any friedns so i’m probably not the target audience.

    Obligatory Penny Arcade link:

  32. Nick says:

    What happened to comment editing?

    Edit: Hmmm, OK. It’s working on this post, but not my previous one.

  33. Dev Null says:

    Meh. Twitter is just blogging for people with no more than 140 characters worth of something to say. It will no doubt stop being trendy soon when someone comes up with a site for posting single characters.

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