Everybody’s buzzing about Twitter’s reported plan to ditch the 140-character limit. Then there are the other details that involve omitting mentions and links from the character count. These are dreadful ideas that will perplex Twitter users more than Twitter already does.
The news comes from Re/Code who cited anonymous sources “familiar with the company’s plans” to give Twitter users a way “to publish long-form content to the service.” Twitter executives have also been exploring revamping how characters are counted in tweets and even suggesting that mentions and links should not be part of that count.
Developers—even those employed by Twitter—have been talking about these ideas for at least half a decade, and purists maintain that strictly adhering the Twitter’s classic 140-character model is a big reason why the service took off in the first place. Tweets are digestible at that length. Anything longer starts to get confusing; it convolutes the platforms mission to deliver information quickly and efficiently.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure a lot of people would love longer tweets. That’s why startups scrambled in the earlier part of this decade to come up with services built on top of Twitter that helped you tweet longer form mental meanderings.
Now ask yourself this: When’s the last time you saw a TwitLonger link in your feed and really wanted to click through? When was the last time you clicked through and felt fulfilled but the extra 560 characters some armchair media pundit devoted to explaining how Google Wave was the future of communication? If you answered never to either of these questions, you’ll understand where I’m coming from when I say that overcomplicating Twitter’s blissfully simple product may be a fine strategy for winning over new users, but it’s also a great way to chase people away.
Twitter’s always been eager to incorporate improvised user behaviors into its platform. That’s how we got mentions, hashtags, links, images, and pretty much every other neat thing to make tweets easier. It sounds like Twitter’s just doing this again with the longer tweets, but it also sounds like Twitter’s stands to screw up a good thing. As Eric Limer explained at Popular Mechanics, the death of the 40-character limit started a long time ago:
In May of last year Twitter allowed users to start tagging up to 10 other users in photos, a feat that would be impossible with traditional @mention tagging people. You can hardly fit that many characters in a tweet! Twitter has also removed the 140-character limit from direct messages, and now lets you embed entire tweets inside your tweet at the cost of just one link’s worth of characters. And all that’s to say nothing of the increasingly common practice of tweeting out pictures of entire paragraphs of text.
What’s been preserved, however, is keeping tweets themselves—that is, the text you type into a tweet box—limited to 140 characters. It’s not only the foundation of the microblogging service, it also helps the whole concept make sense as Twitter’s product lineup has become more convoluted. Long-form tweets will sink that foundation. I don’t care if Jack Dorsey likes it. I don’t. Who’s with me?
Illustration by Gizmodo