Twitter: Some Modest Alternatives To A 10K Character Limit

on Tuesday, Jan. 5th

Today Recode reported that Twitter is looking into raising the limits on Tweets from 140 characters to 10,000 characters. Which promptly led to a hell of a lot of Twitter users asking: why? What’s the point of Twitter if not short and punchy interchanges.

Of course it is a little more complicated than a simple raising of the “speed limit.” The first 140 would be visible, according to Recode, and the rest would be behind a cut. Essentially turning Twitter into a really limited blogging platform.

This still misses the point of what makes Twitter cool. It would also lead to even more headaches as people complained about each other only reading the “headline” as opposed to reading the “whole tweet.” Which would surely be countered with folks calling the first 140 the Tweet and the rest an “article.”

You can see why Twitter is doing this. They are scared of Facebook’s power with instant articles. On one level they should be, but copying Facebook isn’t going to make Twitter stronger. It won’t attract people away from Facebook. It will only make current Twitter users who are also stuck in Facebook land thanks to the legion of friends and family who won’t climb out of the walled garden wonder why they are bothering to leave its confines themselves.

Not that there doesn’t need to be some change.

So here are some low-hanging fruit ideas about what Twitter can do to play with the 140 character limit without breaking the magic of the world’s fastest social media network.

You will quickly see they all have a shared theme.

  • Have links not count against the total. You could limit usage to one link per tweet, but shave off the characters that count against the total. Same goes for quoted tweets, the only really solid idea to come out of Twitter last year. (Sorry, Moments team.)
  • Have images not count against the total. Again: limit it to one image, but this would provide more room for expression.
  • Have the first (or first couple) of @-replys not count against the total.
  • Let up to three hashtags not count against the total.

Effectively this would make all of the usernames, hashtags, images, and links into metadata. Conceptually this would frame the message of a tweet as the content and everything else as the stuff around the tweet supporting the message.

This is low hanging fruit, and doesn’t require a world full of blog posts hidden behind “read more” cuts. If they still want to create an “Instant Articles” like product just do that. Create a separate product that brings up full articles at top speed/pre-loads them. Whatever the mojo is. Just don’t embrace those conceptually as tweets.

All this still doesn’t deal with the hellstorm of harassment that anonymous accounts are capable of drumming up. Finding ways to make people more accountable for their behavior within the community, or for ways to let people create semi-private spaces to discuss things without leaving the Twitter platform are still targets the company should be pursuing. Because it’s not Facebook that Twitter should be worrying about, but companies like Snapchat where people have begun performing their lives for each other the way they used to do on Twitter.


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