My day always starts with  Twitter.

I login to check my social stream to see who has retweeted an article over night, if anyone has made a comment, and if there is a troll lurking about. Today, when I logged in, I was met with a blank screen in HootSuite. After investigating a bit more, it turns out that the popular social media platform  is down on a global scale.

It's not so "popular" since you can't even access it.

And, it is never a good sign when one social media company has to post a status update on another social media site. Kind of a big oops on that one.

According to this TechCrunch report, the service is down in London, Switzerland, Bangkok, and New York--although it looks like people in Silicon Valley can still access it. The service is down for hundreds of millions of users.

For a quick refresher course: Twitter is fourth-largest social media service with 350 million active users. Facebook is by far the biggest with 1.5 billion followed by both LinkedIn and Instagram with 400 million users each. Snapchat is growing fast with 100 million users and becoming a more visual Twitter replacement.

The Twitter outage is troubling enough if you depend on the service, but it's not quite as worrisome as this statistic: In recent months, the Twitter user counts have leveled off. The first report of hitting 300 active users was way back in April of 2015. Adding 50 million users in nine months is incredibly slow growth by social media standards.

I've written about this before, but the biggest problem with the outage is that it is a sign of a deeper problem, one that will not be so easy to fix. We haven't seen the "fail whale" in some time. It's back in spades. Jack Dorsey returned as CEO in October in an effort to resurrect the stock price, which has tanked ever since. It really dipped last Thursday to just over $17 and is now hovering around $18.

What's the underlying problem? My theory (and you knew this was coming) is that Twitter has failed to innovate. That's the real "fail whale" here. The service has stuck to the same basic format of 140-character tweets without adding hardly anything new. As I reported recently from CES, they are trying to partner with hardware companies and become more of a utility like the gas company with services embedded into that new headphone set or your front doorbell, but the underlying problem is that people are not drawn to the service anymore.

The most remarkable change might be to extend the character limit up to 10,000 (or about 2,500 words). That change would turn Twitter into Medium essentially, the blogging company founded by Evan Williams, the other brain behind Twitter. My guess is that Twitter would have to do more than change the character limit. They'd have to reinvent the entire company, and that might not be a good plan. I doubt turning a micro-blogging company into a blogging company will work.

What will work? Twitter has to do something brand new that is surprising and drives people to the site all over again. It will have to be more than real-time video broadcasting as they do with Periscope. It will need to involve more than captioned photos, which SnapChat basically owns. And, anything they do to provide better photo effects and filters will look like an Instagram clone.

Failure to innovate is a recipe for disaster with any startup. I'd like to see more hardware integration, so they've made a good first step. Ultimately, the company needs to become an Internet of Things juggernaut. Everything should tweet, including your front door bell, your car, your printer, and the speakers on you desk. Everything. Twitter should be the notification system for everything and everyone. The company should stick with short messages as the best differentiator, but take it to a global scale and own the short message market. That will make Twitter indispensable and drive new traffic, making it the utility of the Internet.

Are they listening? I'm not sure. I can't send them a tweet right now.

Published on: Jan 19, 2016