HOWTO: Harpoon The Fail Whale

Twitter’s fail whale has been making quite a few appearances of late and the Twitter stream has been making its feelings on this quite clear: people hate it. For the majority, an appearance by the fail whale feels like a real slap in the face.

Illustration originally by @yiyinglu

To be fair, Twitter is doing a lot of maintenance and upgrades of late and with news that membership in the USA alone has now reached 14 million users, this is increasingly essential.

So, to some extent, we’re going to have to put up with relatively minor things like missing avatars and lost tweets – at least from time to time – while they get their act together. Think of it a bit like sending a letter at the Post Office – for what you actually have to spend, you’re getting a lot for your money.

Still, there are some things you can do to avoid the dreaded fail whale from popping up on your screen.

1. Use TweetDeck

I’ve said it before – TweetDeck makes Twitter much, much better, so why aren’t you using it? If you’ve got a computer with at least 1GB of memory you have no excuse. TweetDeck is a free download and allows you to do cool things like group your favourite tweeters for convenient browsing, set up multiple search panes, easily follow thousands of users, and much more.

When Twitter was really struggling yesterday, TweetDeck kept me notified of their problems (there’s a Twitters status display in the bottom right-hand corner) but continued to update itself. Yes, it’s absolutely true that any external applications that filter off of Twitter’s API are also going to suffer when Twitter itself is down, but with TweetDeck you won’t have to sit there repeatedly hitting the refresh button to get past the whale. 🙂

2. Use Dabr

When was struggling yesterday, Dabr stayed up. Don’t ask me how or why, because I don’t know – it just did. Dabr, of course, is a more fully-featured version of the homepage. It was established for mobile use but if you’re limited to at work I strongly recommend pointing your computer’s web browser to Dabr instead, because you’ll then have access to one-click re-tweets, replies, direct messages, favourites and everything else.

And get this: the ‘replies’ tab actually includes all your mentions, as well as re-tweets. On, it was a nice add-on but I’d have preferred to see it actually working properly before it was implemented. Sometimes it lags by as much as four hours, and it doesn’t recognise re-tweets at all. Fail whale indeed.

3. Do Something Else

It’s very easy to get addicted to Twitter, and to spend more time on there than you probably wanted to when you first opened it up. Maybe when the fail whale appears that’s a good time to walk away? To do something else. Perhaps it’s an omen of some kind. Maybe there’s a subliminal message in all of this?

Twitter is taking a break, maybe you should too?


(Learn more about the history of the fail whale and creator Yiying Lu at this website. Follow her on Twitter @yiyinglu.)