For years, there have been rumours flying around that Twitter would one day remove their 140 character limit.
It appears that day could be close, as on Tuesday (January 5th, 2016), Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey gave the biggest hint yet that this may become a reality.
“We’ve spent a lot of time observing what people are doing on Twitter, and we see them taking screenshots of text and tweeting it.” (Dorsey’s post was shared in the form of a screenshot of some text).
“Instead, what if that text … was actually text? Text that could be searched. Text that could be highlighted. That’s more utility and power.
Twitter’s 140 character limit is a byproduct of its early limitations as an SMS-based service. To some users, it feels outdated. While to others, it’s the most integral part of what Twitter is.
This feels like a great opportunity to take a deeper dive into what makes Twitter special and share our thoughts on the potential 10,000 character update.
Let’s get started.
What makes Twitter, Twitter?
If you asked most people what makes Twitter, Twitter, the 140 character limit would be on cusp of almost everybody’s lips.
However, in his Tweet, Dorsey explains that maybe the 140 character limit isn’t what makes Twitter so special:
“What makes Twitter, Twitter is its fast, public, live conversational nature. We will always work to strengthen that. For every person around the world, in every language.”
On reflection it seems the restraint of 140 characters isn’t what makes Twitter so powerful. Instead it’s the real-time connection to what’s going on in the World.
140 characters is a constraint we all work with, yet we’ve already started to find workarounds for it and much like the Retweet, this rumoured feature could be inspired by the way Twitter’s community use the product – as Dorsey mentioned many people now take screenshots of text and tweet them.
Will Twitter become mainstream?
Some of Twitter’s recent updates have hinted that the platform is aiming to go ‘mainstream.’
Changing ‘Favorites’ to ‘Like’s brought them in line with other platforms like Facebook and Instagram making Twitter feel more familiar to new users as Kevan explained a little while back:
According to Twitter’s announcement post, the star was potentially a bit confusing for users, particularly those who were new to Twitter.
Favoriting was a bit of a difficult concept to grasp (e.g., can more than one thing truly be a favorite?). Liking is a bit more universal, likely due in part to Facebook’s ubiquitous use of the term.
The notion of Twitter going mainstream was also a topic Gary Vaynerchuck opened up about when Favorites became Likes:
The dirty little secret about Twitter is that it never fully went completely mainstream. It never went to a billion users. It’s already smaller than Instagram from a mainstream standpoint. I wouldn’t call it a niche product, but it’s definitely a product that I would argue is confusing. Watching the “grandmas” of 2007 and 2008 jump on Facebook and Twitter, what always struck me was how quickly “grandma” understood Facebook and how utterly confused she was with Twitter.
As a new user signing up to Twitter for the first time, I could imagine myself questioning the 140 character limit and it feels like it could add friction and make the platform tougher for me to understand as a beginner.
If this update goes ahead, it feels like a move that could make Twitter a little more consumable and understandable for the mass market (as well as open up many more revenue streams for Twitter).
More thoughts from the Buffer team
Courtney Seiter (@courtneyseiter)
My initial reaction to this Twitter rumor is that it was a total game changer that would make the experience of Twitter fundamentally different.
Then I thought about how Twitter has already created an incredibly rich media ecosystem through introducing elements like embeds, video, Vine and Twitter cards while keeping the essential “Twitter experience” more or less intact.
This puts this potential change in context, as another step towards keeping attention focused on Twitter for a longer time.
As Slate points out:
“In all likelihood, the text of tweets themselves will remain capped at 140 characters in most cases… As a result, your Twitter feed will continue to look much the same as it does today. The difference will be that, for certain tweets, you’ll have the option to click or tap a button (“Expand,” perhaps) to view the full article or blog post without leaving your Twitter feed.”
For marketers and publishers, this could shape up be an interesting challenge — -especially if your overall social media goal is traffic back to your website.
While we can’t know what the future holds, this feels like a great reminder to be mindful of digital sharecropping. Twitter’s goals likely aren’t quite the same as your business’ goals, and that’s good to keep in mind.
For me, this been a great reminder to diversify my social media holdings, giving equal love to Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn (not to mention emerging networks like Instagram and Snapchat), knowing that there the only guarantee in social media is that everything will keep changing.
Marcus Snyder (@marcusnyder)
I’m actually really excited about this one! I feel like “change,” “possibilities” and “opportunities” are often caught up in a harmonious love-triangle of sorts, and this scenario seems to perpetuate that notion for me.
A self-imposed constraint of 140-characters might be a fun one for some to hang on to in order to preserve the original spirit of what made Twitter, Twitter (confession: in a similar fashion, I neurotically keep all of my Spotify playlists under 45 minutes – the amount of time that would fit on one side of a 90-minute mixtape). For others, those extra characters could be used to add additional context, which might make Twitter a more viable channel for distributing their content, enriching the platform as a whole.
Zooming out a bit, I can see how this might feel a bit like Twitter is raising the walls under the guise of giving us more freedom with our updates. It only makes sense that they’d want to keep users on their site or in their app longer by allowing updates with more complete thoughts or additional context, after all, that’s how they make money.
As for me, I think that I’m okay with all of this, mostly because I’m super fascinated to see how the social media space continues to change shape and evolve!
Best reactions from around the web
This topic has really got the Twitter community talking and below we’ve rounded up some of the best reactions we’ve found:
- Re-Code: Twitter Considering 10,000-Character Limit for Tweets (the post that broke the story)
- Slate: No, Twitter Isn’t Ditching Its 140-Character Limit. Here’s What It Might Do Instead
- Fast Company: How Twitter Users Reacted to the Latest Rumour
- The Guardian: Why Twitter would be right to expand to 10,000 characters – in 10,000 characters
Over to you
Thanks for reading! We’d love to hear your thoughts on this and join the conversation.
Do you think Twitter should remove the 140 character limit on Tweets? What do you think makes Twitter so special? Let us know in the comments below.