A report/rumor surfaced yesterday on Recode that forces within Twitter – particularly interim CEO Jack Dorsey – are considering dropping the 140 character limit that has always been in place on the network. This is…interesting. There have already been countless hot-takes (many on Medium, which is basically Twitter for long-form posts anyway) about this, with many of those saying that doing so is the only way Twitter survives, an opinion that seems to come from solely looking at success as being defined by user numbers.
Now the Recode report says Twitter “is building a new product” so it’s not clear whether or not the core Twitter service would change or if this would be something that’s tacked on to Twitter as an ancillary service. It could be something that allows you to add a block quote of text. People are already using screenshots of text uploaded as images – colloquially called “screenshorts” – as a work around. It could be an option that allows only Verified accounts to publish longer tweets. It could be…well…anything.
If it’s just a simple expanding of the character could it would, most obviously, eliminate the need for you to keep eliminating words. So Twitter would suddenly become much more friendly to adverbs and adjectives, which are usually (at least in my experience) the first casualties when copy is over 140 characters. Even if they made a minor change and stopped counting links or photos against the 140 character limit that would free up quite a bit of space.
The problems Twitter would face if they do something more are actually fairly significant and would, I think, do more to damage the brand than they would to help it reach a larger audience.
The entire Twitter ecosystem is built for short updates. Longer posts would break how Tweetdeck, Hootsuite and other apps look. The workaround here would be a “Read more” link to expand a longer post but Twitter is mostly about scrolling through and seeing quick updates. And everything Twitter has done over the last couple years has been about bringing more information into the feed – Cards, auto-loading videos and photos, etc – not trying to hide content. This would go against everything Twitter has done to make consuming and engaging with content more of a lean-back experience.
Again, longer posts that are published to a network of friends and other connections already exists in Medium, which just landed a sizable funding round. So it makes much more sense for Twitter to create more ties between it and Medium than it does to build something new for long-form.
Going long-form would also mean it’s expanding the range of sites/apps/networks it’s competing against and that means it would have to substantially change user behavior. It’s the same struggle Facebook Notes, which relaunched to be more of a blogging platform, faces. So it would go up against Facebook Notes, LinkedIn and Tumblr. Probably not WordPress since those are power users, but those are certainly the platforms Medium is competing against so Twitter would face the same challenges.
How exactly this will play out obviously remains to be seen. But it has to be asked if Twitter without the 140 character limit is still Twitter? Yes, they’ve made that a fuzzy line recently with Quote Retweets, no character limit in DMS and other moves but it still stands as a core principle, even if the technical aspects make that more murky. However it plays out it will be important for content marketers to be on the forefront of these changes and make sure they’re adjusting their and their client’s strategies accordingly.