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Increasing Twitter to 10,000 characters feels like a mistake

January 13, 2016

Rumored for sometime, Re/code’s Kurt Wagner (@kurtwagner8) now reports Twitter is going to raise its character limit for tweets to 10,000 characters.

Twitter is building a new feature that will allow users to tweet things longer than the traditional 140-character limit, and the company is targeting a launch date toward the end of Q1, according to multiple sources familiar with the company’s plans. Twitter is currently considering a 10,000 character limit, according to these sources. That’s the same character limit the company uses for its Direct Messages product, so it isn’t a complete surprise.

There is no official launch date set in stone, these sources say. It’s also possible the character limit could fluctuate before it rolls out the final product, which people inside Twitter refer to as “Beyond 140.”

Twitter has been under a lot of pressure to keep up with other publishing platforms, including Facebook and Medium. Twitter has always been compared to Facebook by the financial community – number of users, rate of growth of users and frequency of use. With Medium getting traction as a personal publishing platform, Twitter has felt compelled to keep up with Medium as well.

Though Tony Bradley (@gettechspective), Community Manager at Tenable Network Security, writes at Forbes that 140 characters can feel restrictive at times, Twitter’s short form is what makes it most compelling.

[T]he succinct brevity of tweets on Twitter is essentially what makes Twitter unique. There are already competing platforms and social networks out there that fill the void for longer posts. Facebook comes to mind. Medium is a great example of a platform where contributors can craft essays and long-form articles. Can Twitter be a better Facebook than Facebook, or a better Medium than Medium? Can Twitter evolve into a new Twitter that basically mimics Facebook or Medium and still maintain some element that provides unique value?

If Twitter scraps the 140-character limit in some sort of desperate Hail Mary move to attract new users, it may very well backfire. By abandoning the one thing that makes Twitter unique it risks surrendering its relevance as well.

Sure, Twitter can attract more users and more content with long form Tweets. In this day of content marketing and indiscriminate shotgun distribution, marketers will  jump on “Twitter-publishing.” There will be rampant discussion of where and when to publish on each of about four platforms, including your site or blog.

But I am with Bradley. By surrendering what makes it unique, Twitter could surrender its relevance altogether. Twitter began as a quick sound bite for sharing and collaborating. What’s better than one mind when solving a problem? Two or three minds.

Twitter expanded to an extraordinary news feed. Long or short form news copy moved via this new teletype with links  called Twitter. Rather than just the mainstream media, citizen journalists (you and I) could report and share across this wire.

When news and photos broke from a catastrophic earthquake in China, we got the news first via Twitter. With the police chase for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects we received reports and photos from citizen journalists via Twitter. When Twitter search enabled geo-location of tweets we received news and photos of the guerilla attacks in Mumbai as reported by citizens via Twitter.

Today Twitter quickly moves news and information, most often via links to longer stores. Tweets can quickly be shared and favorited. It’s how we move a lot of news and communicate with the parties reporting the news.

Rather than turn Twitter into something it’s not, Twitter would be better served to improve what if does. Move the media, via people, whether it be text, audio or video.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Per

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