Twitter beyond 140 characters


Twitter is in big trouble. The user growth has stopped and the world is waiting to see if Jack Dorsey can turn things around. One of the latest rumors is that Twitter will soon resort to one of its biggest gambles yet, and remove its signature 140-character limit, which has always been of the key differentiators of the service. Can this be true? Does this even make sense?

Let's start at the beginning. In my opinion, Twitter’s two main competitive advantages (compared to Facebook) are:

  1. real time stream, which means relevancy. I’m not saying it's better than Facebook’s filtered stream, but it certainly delivers a different way of consuming content.
  2. density of information, resulting from the above-mentioned limit, which means speed. This, again, makes a big difference in examining information, compared to similar services.

The combination of the two is what makes Twitter Twitter. At first glance, it seems increasing the tweet limit to 10,000 characters would totally mess up this user experience. But this doesn’t need to be the case, if the expansion is done properly. Actually, people have already been adding more characters to tweets by embedding print screens of quotes or articles as pictures. Why should additional tweet text be any different? The solution is simple, this upgrade has to be in the form of a text attachment.

Twitter embedded text

A simple workaround of adding text as a picture that everybody's been using.

A link uses 23 characters of a tweet. A picture takes 24, the same goes for a poll or a quoted tweet. This logic could be applied to "extended tweets" as well, and as since I'm a big fan of Twitter, I'm truly hoping this is the way Jack will go. Information on the web always comes in multiple components. Google use titles and (meta) descriptions in search results, emails have a subject and a body, Facebook embedded links use a similar information structure, ditto for articles on news sites, etc. This actually makes sense. The microblog becomes the blog, if required, and everybody's happy.

Twitter beyond 140 characters

A simple solution that solves a lot of problems and doesn't change the core user experience.

But if I’m wrong and actual tweets will support 10,000 characters in a single text field, Twitter is probably done for it. Removing this character limit feature will simply make the service too generic and not useful for many cases it is used for at this point. Lately, a lot of power users have already left Twitter, and if the rest of them leave as well, there won’t be any good reasons for new users to come in the first place.

UPDATE (23.2.2016): Awkward... It seems Twitter's Jack Dorsey has been talking about the same thing a few weeks before this post, which I somehow missed.

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written 23.1.2016 21:20 CET on chronolog
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