Twitter: will longer tweets spoil the platform?

Twitter is a strange thing. Founded in 2006, it was initially promoted as a way of communicating with friends about what you are doing right now. It did not appeal to me. Who wants to know all that trivia? Who wants to publish it? Lots of people now on Facebook, apparently. But I digress. I joined Twitter eventually and discovered its two key features, first brevity, and second the ability to choose who you follow and not see tweets from anyone else. It is ideal for broadcasting or consuming news and comment, and that is how I use it. I particularly value it because it is not Google, and provides a way of making things known that is independent of Google’s all-powerful search algorithms.

Now CEO Jack Dorsey has tweeted about the lifting the 140 character limit:

At its core Twitter is public messaging. A simple way to say something, to anyone, that everyone in the world can see instantly.

We didn’t start Twitter with a 140 character restriction. We added that early on to fit into a single SMS message (160 characters).

It’s become a beautiful constraint, and I love it! It inspires creativity and brevity. And a sense of speed. We will never lose that feeling.

We’ve spent a lot of time observing what people are doing on Twitter, and we see them taking screenshots of text and tweeting it.

Instead, what if that text…was actually text? Text that could be searched. Text that could be highlighted. That’s more utility and power.

What makes Twitter, Twitter is its fast, public, live conversational nature. We will always work to strengthen that. For every person around the world, in every language!

And by focusing on conversation and messaging, the majority Of tweets will always be short and sweet and conversational!

We’re not going to be shy about building more utility and power into Twitter for people. As long as it’s consistent with what people want to do, we’re going to explore it.

And as I said at #flight, if we decide to ship what we explore, we’re telling developers well in advance, so they can prepare accordingly.

(Also: I love tweetstorms! Those won’t go away.)

Of course he really tweeted the above as an image:


Will this wreck Twitter? What he has in mind, I suspect, is that tweets become expandable, so you can tweet as much as you like but by default only 140 characters, or a heading of your choice, appears in the feed. In fact this often happens already, except that the link is to an external site, rather than to Twitter.

Twitter’s problem has always been how to monetize the service. The original concept was almost useless for this, until Twitter added “promoted tweets”, which you see whether or not you want them. In 2011 Twitter added images, making it a richer platform for advertisers, and providing an easy way to bypass the character limit. Vine videos, other video acquisitions (SnappyTV in 2014, Perisccope in March 2015) mean that more video appears on Twitter. Brevity is still a feature of Twitter, but much undermined, and likely to diminish further.

The removal of the character limit will enable Twitter to host more content itself, rather than being a place where people post links to other sites. This will keep users on Twitter (or in its app) for longer, which means more opportunities to advertise.

If these steps make Twitter worse for users like myself though, we might use the site less, which is not good for advertising income.

At this point I am resigned to Twitter getting worse, as it has done for the last few years. Nevertheless, I will carry on using it until something else appears which is better. I see little sign of that, so Twitter still has me for the moment.

I also see that Twitter has to be viable in order to thrive. Making customers fee-paying does not work, so advertising has to be the solution.

2 thoughts on “Twitter: will longer tweets spoil the platform?”

  1. I agree with you, I like twitter because I can post something in mind at a glance. I also see less spam because of the character limit. If I were twitter I wont change a thing. But I guess it’s about time for twitter to change. Let’s hope for the best.

  2. While I understand the idea that the limit forces you to be brief, it also forced people to abbreviate in a really annoying manner and became completely unmanageable with modern hash tag use.

    The character limit stops me tagging things/people the way you are supposed to. So at the very least, tags should not count as part of the character limit.

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