May 13, 2009
Twitter's Bigger Than a Mere Integer
Twitter’s status IDs — the unique numbers that identify each tweet — are about to cross the line where they can be expressed by a signed, 32-bit integer, which only goes from -2,147,483,648 to 2,147,483,648. This might mean that there have been about two billion tweets so far.
This thread reminding Twitter API developers about the change is interesting, even if you don’t understand all of it. Lots and lots of bugs have been caused by programmers thinking: “Pshaw! This number will never get that big…” — and indeed, the system I built for Current’s twitterized election coverage will be rendered inoperational when tweets cross the 32-bit threshold. (Luckily, web apps are a lot easier to upgrade and fix than space probes.)
Okay, I realize this post might be really boring. I’ve always been unaccountably fascinated by the limits imposed by computer architecture — length of numbers, number of colors, size of files, etc.
Also: Two billion tweets! Whoah!