Twitter is a lot of fun while watching a sports game. You can tweet your witty comments to your absent friends. And Twitter lets you participate in a global zeitgeist. Twitter has been around for five Super Bowls now and has published statistics from three of them: 2008, 2010, and 2011. Each graph is roughly similar; a sustained increase in activity and tweet spikes around the big plays.
One fascinating difference is 2011 is the first year when Twitter activity went up during the halftime show. In 2008 and 2010 twits took a relative break during halftime. In 2011 halftime is the biggest sustained tweet activity for the whole game.
Why more tweets this halftime? One guess is it's because the Black Eyed Peas were completely awesome. Despite the terrible sound the show was fantastic. Or maybe it's demographic. The Black Eyed Peas presumably skew to a younger, more connected audience than Tom Petty in 2008 or The Who in 2010. Also Twitter is now more an integral part of American entertainment, all the way up to will.i.am planning to tweet during the half-time show (foiled by #attfail).
Another interesting datum is the impact of the Super Bowl on Twitter traffic. In 2008 tweet traffic during the game was sustaining 1.25x a typical day with spikes up to 2.5x for big plays. 2011 is the same: 1.25x sustained increase with spike of 2.5x for the ending of the game. Surprisingly consistent pattern.
This year Twitter also released absolute numbers: sustained 2000 tweets / second, up to 4000 at spikes. That's a hell of a lot of traffic for a real time distributed system. A lot of database updates, cache invalidations, message propagations, and message deliveries. Compared to the fail whale months Twitter has been doing awfully well recently. If that kind of systems problem interests you, Twitter is hiring.