Should Twitter keep its 140-character limit or should it ditch it? It’s a simple question, really, one that the social network has faced almost since its inception. And yet another report has reared its head this week to suggest that Twitter is very much considering letting users post long-form content through tweets.
Commentators and bloggers the world over have voiced their opinions as Twitter seemed to be gearing up to open tweets to an almost blog-like format, part of its plan to appeal to more people.
According to the original Re/Code report, however, it seems the plans involve “building a new product that will allow users to share tweets that are longer than the company’s 140-character limit” and would “enable Twitter users to publish long-form content.” That doesn’t sound like they’re actually opening up tweets to unlimited characters, as such, merely that they’re working on something that would seamlessly link into tweets, for those who have more to say.
For example, many users currently snap screenshots of text and embed them into tweets to circumvent the character restriction. I think what Twitter has in mind will be more along those lines, i.e. a complementary tool, rather than transforming Twitter itself into an “all you can tweet” WordPress-style blogging platform.
The company has already been chipping away at its true 140-character limit through various means — Direct Messages are no longer bound by the restriction, while users can now quote entire tweets and still have 116 characters to play with. Twitter can do many other things to expand the 140 characters, if it wishes — not including URLs, @mentions, or hashtags in the character count, for example. It is pretty crazy that you essentially use up half of your character allowance simply replying with a URL to two people.
Yeah, it may be a bit of a cheat, but I think Twitter could tweak things and still maintain the core charm of a short-form blogging service. But what if Twitter were to simply open the floodgates?
It’s hardly a revolutionary point-of-view, but there is little question in my mind that Twitter would die. When I say “die,” I don’t mean it would fall off the edge of a cliff. I simply mean it would cease to be “Twitter.” It would be like Coke pivoting into Mountain Dew but still calling itself “Coke.” It would be Twitter in name only.
There is a classic scene in the excellent British sitcom Only Fools and Horses that I can’t help comparing to the Twitter scenario. A loveable-but-dumb character called Trigger, who works as a street sweeper, proudly holds his broom aloft and declares that he’s had the same broom for the past 20 years.
“This old broom has had 17 new heads, and 14 new handles in its time,” he says. But then how is it the same broom? The answer, of course, is it isn’t the same broom.
But despite all the changes, it still feels like Twitter. If it were to fully remove that holy 140-character limit, that would no longer be the case. I think Jack Dorsey knows that, and if he does finally take the reins as the official new CEO, he may well make it easier to post longer-form content, but I just can’t see him ditching the 140-character limit as we know it.