If you use Twitter a lot, you’re either really excited or really appalled by the idea that Twitter might soon ditch its 140 character limit.
Since it was founded, Twitter has required all messages be a maximum of 140 characters long. That’s because when Twitter was founded, it was based on SMS, and SMS messages had to be that short to be sent.
(Actually, SMS allowed for 160 characters, but Twitter’s founders wantde to allow room for Twitter handles before each message.)
So, we all went with it. And sometimes, that 140-character limit sparks creativity:
But more often, it’s a pain.
It’s led to never-ending tweet storms, which can be good and informative, but difficult to follow as each one lands between a jumbled feed of other tweets in your feed. For example, this one from Silicon Valley investor Marc Andreessen is insightful, but it’s 13 tweets long!
Twitter’s 140 character cap can also force you to quote a tweet to avoid hitting the limit, simply so you can have your own 140 characters on top of someone else’s.
Often, it encourages people to screenshot a bunch of text and upload it as a photo which isn’t fun to do, and it isn’t actually useful for Twitter. Text, as Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey points out, is much more useful when it isn’t a .png or .jpg file. Currently none of this text gets indexed by Twitter — it can’t be searched or analysed.
Here’s an example of screenshotted text, which Dorsey used to make a point about potentially ditching the 140 limit.
The argument for keeping Twitter unchanged is that people tend to be long winded and overly wordy. Twitter users love that it’s fast and brief; everything is to the point.
Yup, lifting the ban could make Twitter harder to skim. But it sounds like Twitter will still let you write speedy tweets if you want, and it may unfurl the extra text beyond 140 characters so it’s there if you want to read more, but not forced upon you. Kind of like an article. You can see the headline, then click if you’re intrigued and want to learn more.
Either way, if you’re complaining about the idea of Twitter embracing change — and the company needs some strong innovation if it wants to onboard more users — then ask yourself:
“Have I ever tweetstormed, quoted someone else’s tweet, or taken a screenshot of text and tweeted it?”
If you answered yes to any of that, then whether you admit it or not, you’re already supporting a 140-character free Twitter.
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