Twitter Joins Digg and Slashdot in Sending Server Crashing Traffic

Josh Catone

Everyone’s heard of the Digg effect and the Slashdot effect, whereby mentions on those sites can send so much traffic to a web site all at once that it brings the site’s server to its knees. But the Twitter effect? Apparently, yes. In what may be one of the best indicators yet of Twitter’s success the site has joined the ranks of the social media elite in its ability to crash web sites.

Yesterday, popular Twitter user Pete Cashmore of the blog Mashable tweeted about a blog post he was reading. Shortly thereafter, the tweet with the link had been spread and retweeted (copied by followers) so much that traffic from it had caused the blog’s server to crash. Cashmore wondered if this should be called the “Mash Effect,” but Pingdom has a better name: the Twitter effect.

For now, occurrences like this one might be few and far between. Cashmore, after all, has over 50,000 followers (i.e., not a typical Twitter user), and must have tweeted at a time of the day for maximum exposure to that group and on a topic that really resonated. However, as Twitter grows in popularity and the retweet becomes more commonplace, so too could the Twitter effect become a regular occurrence.

Pingdom suggests the following formula for the Twitter effect:

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

As you can see, it grows exponentially. Twitter has the potential for the rapid viral spread of information. We’ve seen that happen in the past during breaking news events, so it’s not really a surprise that it can happen for other, less urgent points of information. “Tweets can spread out like the branches of a tree or a root system and reach a very large number of Twitter users,” writes Pingdom on their blog. “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.”

At SitePoint, we take Twitter pretty seriously. We also have a very popular Twitter account, with over 20,000 followers, and get a substantial amount of traffic to our posts via links on Twitter, especially those that are heavily retweeted by our followers (which we really appreciate, by the way!). However, so far, nothing has come close on a post by post basis to traffic generated by a Digg front page link, a mention on Slashdot, or a heavily Stumbled post. We do get more steady traffic from Twitter each day across all posts, however.

That lead us to wonder if Twitter could ever replace Digg in a post a couple of weeks ago. Our conclusion was that in a broad sense, it probably won’t eclipse Digg as a source of massive traffic bursts any time soon, but it could definitely become a very valuable tool for exposing useful and interesting links on a user by user basis. One of the keys to building tools to expose links on Twitter, we said, was the retweet.

There are number of tools for measuring retweets, but one of the best is probably Retweetist. Retweetist does a great job of bubbling up the most retweeted items on Twitter each day, but it doesn’t do much to ensure that they’re relevant to me, the reader. The key to that, we suggested a couple of weeks ago, is to weight the tweets of my friends more heavily — those are the people who presumably talk about the things I am most interested in hearing about.

We sincerely hope someone builds a tool like that. In the meantime, if a popular Twitter user tweets about your site, you may want to brace for the Twitter effect.