Twitter, Good Faith, Skepticism, and Open-Mindedness

Yes, this is another piece about Twitter. But it’s also not really about Twitter.

Jack Dorsey all but confirmed a report that Twitter are going to allow up to 10,000 characters in tweets (likely as a kind of media item attachment):

We’ve spent a lot of time observing what people are doing on Twitter, and we see them taking screenshots instead of text and tweeting it. Instead, what if that text… was actually text.Text that could be searched. Text that could be highlighted. That’s more utility and power.

I wrote a piece saying I thought it was a pretty good idea. Surprisingly, not everyone agreed with me; for example, @chiller tweeted this:

Things no @twitter user wants:
– Moments
– Non chronological tweets
– Tweets from people we don’t follow
– Promoted bs.
– More than 140 chars

I have a few quibbles with that, not least that I do want more than 140 chars (ironically, the author could have used the full word ‘characters’ if more were available). But that tweet has 6,800 retweets at the time of writing, so perhaps I’m in the minority.

Will Oremus wrote a piece for Slate saying that Twitter are making this change just because they want to keep people on the platform in a ‘walled garden’:

What’s really changing here, then, is not the length of the tweet. It’s where that link at the bottom takes you when you click on it—or, rather, where it doesn’t take you. Instead of funneling traffic to blogs, news sites, and other sites around the Web, the “read more” button will keep you playing in Twitter’s own garden.

Who should we believe? Jack, when he says this is just standardising user behaviour? Will, when he says that Twitter are not doing this for users but as a land grab? Or @chiller, when they say that users don’t want this at all?

I don’t know. I suspect there might be a little bit of truth in all of those positions.

Perhaps that’s fence-sitting. However, there are two things that I think are important to remember when we’re talking about situations like this: Cennydd Bowles’ plea for good faith, It’s Not What You Think; and Carl Sagan’s explanation of good science, The Burden of Skepticism:

It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas. Obviously those two modes of thought are in some tension. But if you are able to exercise only one of these modes, which ever one it is, you’re in deep trouble.


Also published on Medium.