Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Twitter’s 140 Character Limit May Change

Once again, the news media is reporting that Twitter may be reconsidering its 140 character limit:

Twitter Inc. may be preparing to raise its character limit to the thousands from the current 140 for tweets, a person with knowledge of the matter said.

The maximum number of characters in a post could be raised to as much as 10,000, said the person, who asked not be identified as the changes haven’t been decided. A tweet that long would be roughly equal to a 20-minute speech. The number could be half that, depending on how users respond to trials, the person said.

I think there is a decent case that 140 characters is too confining, but 10,000 characters (equivalent  to 10,000/5=2000 words) would be a very significant change, and probably an excessive change.  According to research, about 1500 to 2000 words is optimal for a blog, so Twitter would be heading into all-out blog territory with a change like that.  Which seems excessive.

Here’s are a few changes that I think would help bridge the 140 character limit issue without going overboard:

·         Allow one link, without it counting toward  the 140 character limit.  A lot of tweets are basically meant to drive people to blogs or other websites anyway, so this change would facilitate that, allowing the tweet to be a more effective lead-in to the blog or website.  It would also make the use of Bitly-type shortening unnecessary.  A lot of people don’t like being directed to “mystery-meat” URLs, anyway.
·         Allow one image (reasonably compressed), without it counting toward the 140 character limit.  Twitter is much more visually oriented now, so that would just acknowledge that fact.
·         Allow two hashtags, without them counting toward the 140 charater limit.  Hashtags are also a fact of life on Twitter, so this change would acknowledge that reality.
·         Then, consider raising the character limit, to perhaps 500 characters, equivalent to 100 words.  That would allow for the expression of more complex ideas, without losing the value of enforcing brevity and clarity on the user.

I think the above changes would also help Twitter in its efforts to increase signups and monetize the service.  It would maintain Twitter’s role as a short-form communication tool for small communities, but also acknowledge its role as a blog and website driver for larger communities and businesses.
And here’s an XKCD comic, elaborating on the peculiar nature of Twitter, in a very Twitter-like manner:

The site “Explain XKCD” helpfully explains the comic for us.

This comic plays off of an old shaving cream product's Burma-Shave advertising campaign employed on American highways from 1925 to 1963. These ads used short poems, each line arranged sequentially on a sign along a highway, the last line always being "Burma Shave", the name of the shaving cream. Originally these ads only described the product, but others included driving safety messages.  Twitter is a messaging service where your messages are restricted in length, so to get a longer easay sent you will need to break it up in smaller fragments — like the Burma-Shave messages. 

And you should think about going hiking this coming year, to get away from social media for a while. :) 

The Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, on the west coast of Canada is an excellent choice, as you will discover after reading this fascinating book  (about 100 Kindle normalized pages for only $0.99) :


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