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.