Why 140 Characters Isn’t Enough

Shakespeare said that brevity is the soul of wit. He would have loved Twitter. Nowhere do you find more wit, and nitwits, attempting to say something important with constraints that go against our natural bent to communicate.

With billions of tweets posted over the last nine years, Twitter has become the most vocal site for saying very little.  Hundreds of millions of people daily share their thoughts, feelings, experiences and encounters with others in a never-ending collective stream of consciousness.

Twitter has never increased the character limit from 140 characters, but in many ways recent attempts to increase the limit without actually doing so demonstrate that perhaps the time is right to revisit the hard limit.

It began several years ago with services that would allow you to tweet much longer tweets, with URLs sharing beyond the limit that link to more complete content. 140 characters just didn’t cut it.

Then Twitter began allowing us to embed photos into our tweets. The photo itself snags a certain number of characters, leaving us with less room for commentary. And if a picture does indeed say a thousand words, in spirit Twitter was providing us with a tool to say more without upping the limit.

Twitter then added video embeds so you could say more with your tweets. Taking a page from Facebook direct upload videos, Twitter has gotten the message. People want the ability to say what they want to say in their social stream, regardless of original intent or limitations.

Now, Twitter has improved the retweet functionality by allowing you to add comments to retweets in a simpler manner. They have effectively provided 116 more characters so you can comment on another tweet in context.

And, of course, the ever-growing list of third party apps which extend the functionality of Twitter speak to the desire for people to do more with the platform.

So what would the harm be increasing the character limit on Twitter?  Here are some questions I would pose.

How many times do you write a tweet that longer than the 140-character limit and feel frustration that you have to turn your “and” to “&” and your “What do you think?” to “Wut u think?” in order to ration characters? I suppose Twitter isn’t doing much to contribute to correct spelling and grammar? IKR?

On the other hand, how often have you composed a short tweet, well within the limitations, and thought “Gee, I’m so glad that character limit is in place.”

The fact is, unless you are just enjoying the challenge of saying a lot in a very tiny space, you don’t really think about the tweets that fit. You just tweet.

Which leads me to the big question:

Would increasing the character limit be the white flag of surrender, and in doing so, cause the site to lose the very identity that is Twitter?

Certainly, the purists would flail about wildly and say that Twitter is dead. And they would do it with 140 characters or less. They’d say that Twitter has become Facebook.

In some respect they might be correct. After all, Facebook has 4x the daily usage that Twitter does. Facebook did lists, photos and videos before Twitter. And the latest incarnation of Twitter profiles looks more like the Facebook cover.

To be fair, Twitter did originate the hashtag, which is now used on Facebook (and everywhere else, for that matter.)

I submit that an increase in the character limit would allow for more engaging discussion.

I’m not suggesting Twitter increase the limit dramatically. And I don’t think that we would suddenly see extra-long tweets dominating our streams. It’s not that we WOULD say more, but that we COULD should the post merit.

No other social network limits what you can say, and this may be a reason that more people are using Facebook than Twitter. Your platform is only as good as the people who use it. If Twitter wants to play hardball with Facebook, I suggest they give their members more freedom to engage and converse.

It was cute and novel when it all started. Now Twitter’s 140-character limit is a self-defeating boundary which keeps individuals and businesses back from more deeply engaging.

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