dean.co

Why Twitter must NOT expand beyond 140 characters.

This is a direct response to an article on ReadWriteWeb, just as I disagree with the RWW article not everyone is going to agree with my point of view either. I can live with that as long as you can.

I make no claims to have put a lot of thought into this, it was written in the second half of my lunch break. Again, I can live with that as long as you can.

A small side issue to start with

The RWW article makes it sound as though TweetDeck were the first to introduce “longer” tweets. They weren’t, there are numerous services that have been offering it for years, twitlonger.com for example. Perhaps TweetDeck do something different, don’t really care, that’s not the issue.

Reason 1: Twitter is twitter, twitter is not a blog

If you want to write more than 140 characters on a topic, and you want to do it on a semi-regular basis, then twitter is not your solution. Get a blog. It’s not difficult - if you managed to start a twitter account, then you can manage to set up a FREE blog on WordPress.com. And if you know what you’re doing you could even host your own - how revolutionary…

If you don’t want to set up a blog, you’ve probably already got a Facebook account - so go and post your “longer” piece over there in the ‘notes’ feature. You can then direct people to said post using a link in a tweet. Simple. You’re allowed to do it, it’s not evil.

Reason 2: How long is “longer”

140 characters is great. It’s a hard limit, it makes you think what you want to post. With no limit many existing tweets would probably be 3 or 4 times the length, just because people didn’t ‘need’ to squeeze it into the character limit.

I’m guessing TweetDeck’s “longer” feature has no upper limit on characters, or if it does its probably ridiculously high - again, if you feel the need to post something of excessive link directly to twitter then you’re doing it wrong. Sorry.

Reason 3: I want to read a stream of tweets, not a stream of shirt stories

Twitter is all about the short messages, small burst of info from people you’re interested in. When my twitter client refreshes I can skim over the incoming tweets in a matter of seconds and go back to whatever I was doing. Now, if all of a sudden just a handful of those updates unnecessarily turn into 500-word blurbs simply because there is no character limit, then those few seconds might turn into a few minutes. Twitter is distracting enough already.

Just to be clear, I’m not against 500 word posts, I’m against posts that are 500 words for no reason at all. If you can get your point across in 140 characters then that is fantastic - if you can’t find somewhere other than twitter to post them.

Reason 4: People (and bots) abuse what they are given.

You think tweet spam is bad now? Give the bots unlimited characters to play with and it will go off the richter scale. Hate when people fill their tweet with 10 hash tags for no reason other to be a complete fuckhead? Imagine those same people being able to post 100 hash tags at once.

Reason 5: Languages schmanguages

The RWW article claims that other languages can already send tweets that are longer than 140 characters. No. They can’t.

Characters != Letters

The translated tweet may contain more than 140 letters/words but its still going to be 140 characters. ie. Not polluting my, and everyone elses, timelines.

Go on, argue that its just semantics and that RWW is right and I’m wrong - you’re allowed to, I don’t care. Honest.

Reason 6: Tweetdeck users are not ‘typical’ twitter users

Tweetdeck is targeted at “power users” - I hate the term, but thats what they are. It’s for people who have some weird idea that they “need” to follow 15,000 people, and as a result they need to be able to group them and show them all on the screen at once so that the simple service can be turned into some maniacal global dashboard allowing them to feel like Batman at the helm of his control centre. It makes them feel important and powerful. God knows why.

For the same reason these are probably the people who think the world wants them to post 500 word pieces on why their lunch was great instead of a simple, sub 140 character message - “Today’s lunch was awesome. I love bacon. Om nom nom.”.

Your average twitter user doesn’t need this. And most probably won’t want to follow those that do.

Why twitter won’t do it

The RWW article closes with:

If Twitter wants to continue its expansion into the mainstream, it needs to lose the 140-character limitation and just market itself as the world’s leading ‘real-time messaging service’.

Couldn’t disagree more. For starters Twitter has seen a ridiculous growth in the last couple of years, I doubt it would have been any different if the 140-character limit had not existed. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that the growth wouldn’t have been as vast if the character limit never existed.

As far as marketing itself as a “real-time messaging service”… umm… don’t they already pretty much do that? And in my eyes, which can often be clouded with misdirected rage, the word “messaging” to me means “short”. If they wanted to blow past the 140-characters then they’d have to be marketing themselves as something like a “real-time content service”.

Twitter won’t change the limit, it has no need to. If it ain’t broke…

Less is more. Deal with it.

Now, lets pretend I was a TweetDeck user and I’d just dumped this 1000-word rant into your tweet stream. Would that piss you off? It’d piss me off.