Twitter and 280 characters

A few days ago Twitter upped the number of characters per tweet from 140 to 280 characters. It's an interesting development that sparked ire from many and praise from nobody (the silent majority just get on with their lives).

I wanted to leave a few thoughts about this here. Because, as you might have noticed, I've become quite critical of the way Twitter has turned what once was a thriving ecosphere of bloggers in return for a thriving company - at least when it comes to users, not so much when it comes to actual profits.

I think that the lowering of the character limit is a step in a direction which is quite directly linked to the fact that in the end, people do like to read and write more than just those few characters. Just take a look at this trend that emerged during the last few years: the "thread". Instead of trying to convey whatever they need to in 140 characters, people instead create twitter threads, and naturally, you can write as many tweets as you want to make up that thread. It's a direct result of people wanting the immediacy and interconnectedness of Twitter, while still writing blogpost-length pieces. Creating threads of snippets that then make up one big piece is one solution - a bloggerization of Twitter in a way. It's also a clumsy and cumbersome way to both write and read.

Upping the character limit to 280 characters is then not that stupid of a thing to do. People will write longer pieces anyway, only now those threads don't have to comprise twenty tweets, but ten. It's still clumsy though and I think we're moving towards a total nixing of the character limit. It's what Facebook did and it's something Twitter should have done from the start. By now, barely anyone but those who consider themselves the guardians of something like classic Twitter really cares about the character limit. What Twitter lives off of is the fact that it's now a social network with a focus on the written word, and that's its strength. Why create artificial limitations? Because some people bemoan the fact that they're not forced to keep their texts brief? That's akin to smokers who bemoan lax smoking laws that keep them from quitting smoking. It's a way to look at things, but it's a stupid one.

And if we're honest, by now a person's Twitter page is basically what a blog consists of, by definition:

  • tags
  • links
  • pictures
  • videos
  • comments

The only thing missing is a title to tweets and generally, finding a title to a blogpost, especially if you blog often, is usually the hardest part about the whole damn thing - just look at my rather uninspired title.

Now, do I think that development is a good thing? Well, I do and I don't. If it were up to me, we'd all use our own blogs, but have them linked in one way or another to facilitate discussion and interaction. The thing is, we were almost there back in around 2000 to 2005. With tools like Technorati, a good feed reader and a bit of commenting discipline, the network of blogs felt both connected and individual. It was the heyday of personal blogs, but I'm under no illusion that we'll ever be able to find our way back there. With companies like Twitter and Facebook and their stranglehold on networking and the ensuing communication, getting people to pack up their stuff and spend even a few hours a month on maintaining their individual place on the web is a thing of the past.

Still, I think people should take a good, hard look at the way they're using Twitter (and Facebook for that matter) and decide whether it wouldn't be worth a shot to move to a platform that affords them full creative freedom, both when it comes to format and content, instead of trying to cram their thoughts into the idiosyncracies of a service that wasn't ever meant to be used that way.