Could Twitter be scrapping their 140-character limit?

Twitter has always been synonymous with brevity. The strict 140-character limit on individual tweets has set this microblogging platform up as one of the world’s leading communications media, equally beloved by customer service departments, celebrities and campaigners.

Those character limits also provide a USP in an increasingly saturated social media marketplace, so many people were surprised when Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey hinted a fortnight ago that his platform could radically increase the character limits of individual tweets to no less than 10,000 characters. Dorsey’s comments ignited a debate about whether this would be the making – or breaking – of a social media platform already competing against the visually-driven Instagram, the more conversational structure of Reddit and the ubiquitous Facebook. The latter continues to dominate social media, and part of its success is attributed to Facebook allowing users to be as expansive or concise as they wish with each status update.

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Here, then, are two competing arguments about whether or not Twitter should change its modus operandi. See which one you relate to more closely:

YES

The internet is an ever-evolving platform. We’ve already bid an unsentimental goodbye to dial-up modems, crude HTML hyperlinks, and homepages configured for 800×600 screen resolutions. Why should social media platforms have to remain in their original guises? Twitter’s 140-character limit was designed to occupy a single SMS message-worth of space back in 2006, but that’s positively anachronistic in today’s world of 4G and fibre broadband.

The proposals would see tweets still displayed across 140 characters as now, but suffixed with a [Read more] box. People can read on if they’re interested, and if they’re not, their user experience wouldn’t be different to the present-day Twitter. Timelines would retain their current aesthetics, but users could go into far more depth about a topic if they chose to. Twitter could effectively become a proper blogging platform, potentially reducing a requirement for separate Blogger accounts or standalone websites.

Of course, tweets can already contain more than 140 characters of information, if they include a weblink. That directs people away from Twitter to external websites of unknown quality and provenance, often ensuring that users don’t return to Twitter during that browsing session. Expanded tweets could make Twitter more of a one-stop destination for information, as well as facilitating far more comprehensive search functionalities.

NO

The fact that a huge majority of respondents to Jack Dorsey’s (longer than 140-character) tweet expressed opposition to his plans illustrates that this proposed change isn’t being driven by Twitter’s users. By signing up and creating an account, you accept that 140-character limit – it’s a known entity from the start. Indeed, Twitter’s brevity has attracted 300 million users, many of whom have been deterred by Reddit’s wordiness or the rambling nature of many Facebook posts. Eliminate the character limit, and you eliminate Twitter’s USP.

Of course, this isn’t about improving the user experience. It’s about Twitter enjoying more control over its users. Every time someone clicks an in-tweet weblink, they’ve effectively logged off from Twitter. They can’t see more ads, they can’t be tracked any further, and they can’t unwittingly hand over personal information that could be of value to ad agencies. By doing everything it can to keep people on-site, Twitter wants to build further capital out of targeted advertising. It will also own content that presently belongs to third-party websites, which will enable it to make ever grander claims to advertisers (and shareholders) about content volumes and the average length of user visits.

Sales and marketing agencies are understandably delighted at the prospect of 10,000 character tweets, chattering excitedly about being able to harvest larger volumes of user data and having more display time for adverts. Increasing the length of tweets 70-fold may be logical from their perspective, but it doesn’t necessarily offer benefits to the grassroots army of Twitter users. There’s a real danger that Twitter could become little more than an advertising platform, where personal tweets are lost in a sea of 9,995-character promotional messages and aggressively targeted advertising. In such circumstances, users could simply depart en masse, slowly killing one of social media’s golden geese in the process.

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