Audacious Fox

Aliza Rosen and Ikuhiro Ihara, writing for the Twitter blog:

We want every person around the world to easily express themselves on Twitter, so we’re doing something new: we’re going to try out a longer limit, 280 characters, in languages impacted by cramming (which is all except Japanese, Chinese, and Korean). […]

We understand since many of you have been Tweeting for years, there may be an emotional attachment to 140 characters – we felt it, too. But we tried this, saw the power of what it will do, and fell in love with this new, still brief, constraint.

In languages that use more complex alphabets, you’ll often see single characters that represent multiple words. This Google translation of “Good morning, friends!” into Japanese results in only 9 Japanese characters, compared to the 22 characters required for the English equivalent. According to Twitter’s research, the current limit leads to less tweeting, which, for a public company with shareholders, is obviously a problem. I disagree, but I understand.

To see what these longer tweets look like, take a look at this — exactly 280 characters — post from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

Is this a good change? I don’t know. 140 characters demands tight editing and brevity. Writing a complex thought in a sentence or two is difficult, but I always saw this limitation as the best feature of Twitter. Even if you scrap the live video, pictures, polls, and direct messaging, a service with a stream of short text snippets would still be uniquely Twitter.

That said, this doesn’t appear to be a change that’s being rushed out the door. Recode first reported on a possible extension to the character limit back in September 2015, and then again in January 2016, under the internal codename, “Beyond 140”. And, to be fair, we’ve had the 140 limit for over a decade now. I can understand why Twitter would experiment with changing the formula.

However, during these past ten years, tweeting has managed to remain remarkably distinct from “blogging”, primarily due to a tweet’s succinctness. There’s something special about a place where celebrities, professional athletes, and world leaders all have to edit down their thoughts to the core. I worry that a larger character limit will open the door to Twitter feeling (and looking) a little more like every other social network out there, and a little less like Twitter. Becoming more like Facebook might be good for Twitter Inc., but a change like this is irrevocable. Doubling the amount of content a user can post will fundamentally change Twitter; the question is whether it remains recognizable when they’re done.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017