Twitter Beyond 140 Characters

re/code today reported that Twitter is planning to extend its character limit from the (in)famous 140, to a possible 10,000. Quite a few people have reacted negatively to this but I think that, as long as the implementation is well handled, extending the limit is a good idea—because Twitter is about more than 140 characters.

People confuse arbitrary limits on social networks—Twitter’s 140 character limit, Instagram’s square aspect ratio and limited filters, to take two prominent examples—with their core asset, which is the network itself.

Eugene Wei wrote this back in September 2015, in his article The Network’s The Thing, when Instagram were undergoing a similar backlash after announcing they would extend photo formats beyond the square.

I get frustrated with Twitter the product, but I love Twitter the service. Last year there were a number of good articles written by people in the same state as me, including Chris Sacca in What Twitter Can Be, and Dustin Curtis in Fixing Twitter. This latter piece is especially harsh:

Twitter has fucked up its platform. Twitter has turned into a place where famous people and news organizations broadcast text. That’s it. Nothing great is Built On Twitter, even though it should be the most powerful realtime communications platform on Earth.

About a year and a half ago I became quite hacked off with Twitter, and began to consider what I would want from an alternative system. My initial notes included an increase to 250 characters, allowing simple markdown, and removing @names and #hashtags from the final count. It went further with grouped messages that could only be retweeted as a whole, not individually. Further, less considered ideas included a five second ‘cooling off period’ before posting, showing edits and deletions, and a trustworthiness metric.

You can see my rough concept in this slide deck. I’d toyed with the idea of turning it into a product, but gave up on that as I realised that it was really just a wishlist. But I still think some of the considered features have merit.

I think Twitter needs to change, and that the first step should be to stop counting @names, URLs and uploaded media in the character limit. There are only 140 characters to begin with, let us have all of them! After that, upping the limit (to, let’s say, 200) and allowing further text to be attached, like media is currently. More characters means fewer misunderstandings; as Scott Jenson noted when I mooted this:

So many twitter ‘fights’ are from overly terse messages. 200 isn’t a cure all but it’s a good step in the right direction.


Also published on Medium.