Is Twitter About To Make A Big Change?

Rumors are rife that the microblogging platform will be introducing a new 10,000-character limit.

If you ask the average person what they know about Twitter, whether they are a user or not, they will likely refer to it as a social network where posts are limited to 140 characters. Indeed, Twitter’s defining feature may have seemed like a limitation when the public messaging system was first introduced in 2008, but in time it’s become the very thing that people appreciate about the platform.

So why is it that the character limit made Twitter stand out? In the age of information overload, limiting the length of what people say has a huge impact on what they actually share. People are naturally inclined to think what they have to say is important, so forcing them to boil it down to so few characters means they might think more critically about how to say it. This very often can result in witty, prescient and succinct prose that wouldn’t likely exist on any other platform. As Twitter’s founder Jack Dorsey says: “It’s a beautiful constraint that inspires creativity and brevity”.

So, if the 140 character limit has created and defined an entire new medium when it comes to Twitter, why does the company’s CEO seem to be thinking about changing it? One reason is that Twitter’s Chinese competitor Weibo recently took this step, announcing they would expand their 140 character count to as much as 2,000 for it’s 500 million users over the next month.

Speaking to the South China Morning Post, a spokesperson for the Chinese tech giant said that while most of their users’ original posts don’t exceed 120 characters, “we are extending the text limit to offer greater choice and a better user experience. It will be available to our VIP members from Jan. 28 and the rest of the public from Feb. 28.”

On the heels of that announcement, there have been various rumours that Jack Dorsey would follow suit and even take the move a step further by expanding Twitter’s character count to as much as 10,000 characters. “We’ve spent a lot of time observing what people are doing on Twitter,” Dorsey wrote in an image attached to a tweet published this afternoon. “And we see them taking screenshots of text and tweeting it. Instead, what if that text … was actually text? Text could be searched. Text that could be highlighted.”

So what would this look like in practice? Well, if Twitter went in the similar direction of Weibo, scrolling through one’s Twitter feed would actually look similar, meaning Tweets would be truncated at the 140 character limit. However, if a user wanted to view more of a post, they could simply click to expand it.

It’s unclear how Twitter’s founders feel this would be any different than a blog, or more specifically the blogging platform Twitter’s founders built, known as Medium. After all, since Twitter began people have been using it to paste links to their own writings or blogs with just a little bit of commentary. If the character limit were expanded as significantly as the rumours state, users could bypass the step of putting it on their blog and post entire blogs or articles on Twitter. That might be a good thing, but it could also change the very nature of the platform in a way that users won’t like.

As Shakespeare once said, “Brevity is the soul of wit”. That is, forcing someone to condense their message often results in a more elegant and impactful prose. It remains to be seen if expanding Twitter’s character count will decimate the novel nature of posts on the platform.

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