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January 6th, 2016

Twitter’s 140 Character Limit May Not Be Long For This World

One of the most persistent rumors in tech is back: Reports are circulating that Twitter may build a product allowing posts of up to 10,000 characters, quite an increase from the current 140. According to Recode’s Kurt Wagner (a former Vocian…we’re all very proud), currently 140 characters would still display in the stream, but with a “Read more” call-to-action to reveal the entirety of your long-form thoughts. This news has sparked much soul-searching and hand-wringing — on Twitter of course — about the implications for the most important question of all time: What is Twitter?Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 7.12.22 AM

Considering this is still far from official, speculation is somewhat premature. But the news invites consideration about what’s behind Twitter’s product roadmap, which lately seems driven mostly by desperation for new users. Investors are pressuring Twitter to become what many people (myself included) maintain it never will be: a mass product.

With details sparse, some quick thoughts on what may be in Twitter’s future:

  • Yes, this basically makes Twitter a blog platform. And yes, it opens up questions about how Twitter might better integrate with Medium. Unlike other blog platforms, though, this would encourage primarily intra-network sharing similar to RTs, maybe akin to Tumblr reblogs. Platforms like WordPress and Blogger grew through links, but this would be more in the model of Facebook Notes, where the point is to keep people on-domain.
  • It’s unclear how this appeals to the new users Twitter wants to attract. Anybody looking for long-form publishing has a wealth of alternatives available to them. WordPress, Tumblr, even Facebook all have long-form options, so it’s not as if a 10,000-character limit is a big market differentiator. Twitter has always been about quick hits and breaking news, and it’s hard to see how adding long-form posts will work within the existing Timeline, especially on mobile, where everyone else is moving in the direction of fast, low-impact consumption and engagement.
  • If the problem truly is, as some have speculated, that links and photos eat into character count, then that’s the problem to fix. I’m certainly not an engineer (though I do have a cool hat), but there has to be an easy way for Twitter to make it so links and photos don’t eat into character limits. Give me 140 characters of actual copy to use instead of 115 or 90 if I want to add a link, or a link and a photo.
  • No one was asking for this “problem” to be fixed. Again, Twitter is by its nature more attractive to the power user set. And what they’ve actually been asking for is more robust editing functionality, more flexibility within the character limits, real changes to how abusive messages are dealt with and more.
  • Twitter, like Facebook, wants to eat the media. Many have likened this concept not only to Facebook Notes but also to Instant Articles, speculating that Twitter wants media companies to use this to publish natively on the platform. This plays into the death of links as currency on the Web in favor of a platforms-as-publishers model, and it’s easy to see Twitter offering publishers some sort of new in-post advertising unit.

One additional thought from Christopher Barger:

I feel like Twitter right now is the guy who’s breaking up with his long-time girlfriend because he’s got a crush on the pretty young woman who works at the Starbucks next to his office, and he wants to ask her out. He’s not guaranteed that the new girl will be interested, but he takes her daily banter and her smiles as flirting…so he’s basically slashing and burning with his current girlfriend because he thinks he can do even better. But if the Starbucks woman turns him down, he’s alone — so it’s a pretty big (and some might say stupid) risk.

There’s a lot more to find out as these initial reports are developed. And the finished product may look very different from what’s being discussed now. One way or another, everyone who uses Twitter should be ready for even more changes to the platform in the not-too-distant future.

About the Author
Chris Thilk works on the Client Services team, part of Voce Connect, developing and executing social media strategy. You can follow him at @christhilk on Twitter.

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