Thursday, 1 October 2015

Is 140 characters enough?

There have been recent indications in the media that Twitter might allow users to write messages longer than 140 characters. The company has already removed the character limit for direct messages between users, so it's clearly not a question of data capacity.

PiXXart / Shutterstock.com
But the microblogging service (and, indeed, the whole idea of microblogging) is based on a short character limit. Originally, this was because many users posted tweets from their phones via SMS. But now most people use the Twitter app, so the limit is less of a problem.

So is it a good idea? I mean, if people wanted to post longer messages, wouldn't they just use Facebook instead? Well, Twitter is public by default. Anyone can follow anyone else (unless their account is restricted). On top of that, many celebrities have large Twitter followings that they'd struggle to get on another platform.

Twitter focuses on the here and now. The character limit may help people concisely describe current events - that's one of the reasons it's a great source of breaking news for many journalists. A longer message medium would lack the same immediacy and urgency of its content. And people are forced to be more creative with the character limit too. I like to say that restrictions breed creativity.

What are the potential benefits of removing the character limit? I asked our consultant, Artur Oganov. Here's what he said: 'One problem with Twitter is that it's hard to get nuance into your messages. And tone is a problem too, although that's true of any text medium. Longer limits could help people express themselves more clearly. But I don't think Twitter should lose its USP. If people know one thing about Twitter, it's the short messages. Users won't want that to change.'

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