According to fairly substantiated rumours circulating the tech world, media outlets, and the Twittersphere, Twitter — the social network known for brevity — is about to take users “Beyond 140.” Re/code first broke the news that tweets could soon reach new lengths: 10,000 characters, to be exact, “according to multiple sources familiar with the company’s plans.” This major shakeup has been in the works since at least September 2015, when direct messages were increased to 10k characters. Many see this as CEO Jack Dorsey taking a bold step to find ways to increase the number of users and their engagement. Shareholders are keen to see these metrics grow, as they would restore confidence in the embattled, once-darling tech stock. Increasing Twitter’s iconic character count is not the only way Dorsey has sought to encourage more engagement since he took on the role of permanent CEO just over three months ago; Twitter Moments — which synthesizes content including Vines, tweets from celebrities and general users alike, and a brief description of trending topics — capitalizes on the Twittersphere’s near-instantaneous exchange of newsworthy information, which further asserts Twitter’s position as the go-to newshub.
Twitter #10k Characters in the First 90 Days
Naturally, when the news broke, Twitter was flooded with tweets about #Twitter10k. It was a pretty meta response: the hashtag mirroring life. Testing out the new word limit, two Guardian journalists were charged with covering the story using the full 10,000 characters, but had trouble reaching the word limit. “Filling digital space is its own kind of art blah blah blah blah blah.” The promise of seemingly endless tweet-space is alluring, but ten thousand characters is a lot of digital real estate. As with any overhaul to a social network, the change has generated a lot of opinions. Some are negative and sarcastic. Others are more supportive. Others more pragmatic, sensing that this will only make a big difference if people used the 140+ character feature in mass numbers.
Is a 10,000 Character Limit the Answer?
Increasing the character limit is Twitter’s latest — and many would say biggest — product rollout thus far. Interestingly, the change is essentially a major product retooling, the first in Twitter’s nine-year history. Here’s Dorsey, in his own words, confirming, to the cheers of ranters and ravers, that Tweet storms aren’t going anywhere. This won’t mean that users will be word-logged in trying to get through a lengthy blog post when they want something short and sweet; Twitter engagement would grind to a halt and users may as well click over to Medium. Medium, founded in 2012 by Twitter co-founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone, quickly evolved into the Internet’s op-ed page. First envisioned as Twitter’s longform partner, the blogging platform-social network hybrid benefits enormously from Twitter’s exit traffic and has thrived as a result. That’s great news for Medium, but not so much for Twitter. Of course, Medium isn’t the only social platform that’s benefitted from Twitter’s penchant for driving the site’s inbound traffic elsewhere; in fact, most other social networks do, making Twitter the departure lounge of the social web. The 140-character limit, perfect for pithy and at-times sophisticated clickbait, is both Twitter’s defining feature and it’s Achilles’ heel. Changing this limit will change everything by establishing clear boundaries around the Twitter platform, ensuring that engagement stays within its walled garden, and enabling context to once again play a role in the platform that had, until now, encouraged mindless scrolling and shortened attention spans, rather than informing, enlightening and educating users with the internet’s impossible breadth content.
“The Design Aspect is Key,” According to Re/code.
Naturally, introducing more content means that content will take longer to consume, which runs the risk of potentially reducing engagement, something Twitter needs to avoid at all costs. Twitter has seen this happen in the past, a company source told Kurt Wagner, the author of the Re/code piece. Consequently, the basic design of the timeline isn’t going to change in a meaningful way. The redesign is envisioned to keep the 140 character limit on the surface level, while encouraging users to click a call-to-action, propelling them into longer-form Tweets. As an active social media user and a fan of Twitter since the early days, I’m strongly in favor of Twitter #10k. I’ve got several reasons why, but my thinking starts with one simple, often-overlooked word when sides are drawn in any debate: context. Consider this article, for example. Instead of drawing my line in the sand at the start, I’ve spent the time outlining why Twitter is considering increasing the character limit: context. Users will still benefit from the platform’s brevity while maintaining access to more context and more information, all without leaving the platform.
The Best Twitter Experiences Happen Within the Twittersphere
More often than not, news breaks on Twitter. Look at the role it played in the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movement. And yet, once the moment has passed, Twitter’s utility begins to fade, since it lacks the capacity to provide context or depth to a story. Once a story has broken, the audience wants to know what it means: in its current format, Twitter can’t deliver the information we need, and so we go elsewhere. When it was a smaller social network, some accounts, such as @CNNbrk worked hard to deliver enough information so that users didn’t need to click away. In a funny yet unsurprising twist, James Cox originally created the account to announce CNN breaking news headlines on Twitter before selling it none other than CNN. And that was just before it hit 1 million followers way back in 2009. A modern equivalent is @SavedYouAClick, which currently has over 207,000 followers, and aims to keep news and engagement on Twitter, where the most interesting and relevant interactions on the web take place. Introducing more content through #Twitter10k is a natural evolution of what users have been trying to do for some time, especially considering how many users screenshot longer passages of text that would normally exceed the character limit. The lengthier format will finally reassert the importance of context in a world where shorter attention spans make serious, well-reasoned debate on important issues difficult or even impossible. Giving users the space to contextualize and elaborate on their differing and nuanced viewpoints will improve the quality and quantity of our national discourse.