Twitter to extend 140-character limit. For or against?

Jo Jamieson

06 Jan 2016

It's been widely reported today that Twitter is considering a 10,000-character limit for tweets; a major departure from the 140-character limit in place since its inception in 2006. Needless to say, opinion on the proposal is divided at Harvard HQ. Here, Pete Marcus and John Crossley look at both sides of the argument... Pete Marcus: FOR 10,000 characters  Do you remember the days before smartphones and social networks? It was back in 2006 that Twitter was set up – a year before Apple launched the iPhone and four months before Facebook opened up to all users. Back in those days Twitter was a text-messaging micro-blogging service. Text your message to Twitter’s number and – when you next logged in on your desktop – you’d see that your Twitter feed was updated. That’s why Twitter has always been limited to 140 characters, just like old-fashioned text messages were. Fast forward ten years and a character limit feels like a totally artificial restriction. In a world drowning in data, Twitter’s brevity is nice, of course, but it’s not necessary. For one thing, it already feels outdated given that, as Twitter’s service has got richer, we can now embed videos, GIFs, Vines and images in our tweets. Last night on Twitter, for instance, I watched a four-minute video of President Obama (@POTUS) talking about gun control. In what way is that limited to 140 characters? Technology has consigned the character limit to a relic of history. But more important for Twitter is the need to reach a bigger range of people. As its user growth has stalled it’s trying various ways to attract a more mainstream audience. Scrapping the character limit is part of this effort, which has also seen the introduction of “likes” in place of “favourites”, and Moments to round up big news stories. For tech platforms – especially those that are publicly listed – user growth is everything. You can’t blame Twitter for trying new things to make itself more accessible. John Crossley: AGAINST 10,000 characters  Twitter’s 10,000 character limit will kill it off. Here’s why #RIPmicroblogging In the above statement with a web link and a relevant image, I’ve said everything I need to in less than 140 characters. So why lift the ceiling to 10,000? In Twitter’s desperate drive for new audiences, this could actually force its existing loyal user base away. Twitter’s brevity is its USP. Every character counts. Removing the limit makes copy lazy, and a useful stream of interesting content quickly becomes a torrent of blah, blah, blah... For brands wanting more space to say what they want, will users really bother to click expand? Enticing them on to your website with a punchy tweet is much higher value. Delivered in short, snappy messages, Twitter is great at capturing breaking news, events, and moments in time. A looser character limit kills that, so why move to Twitter when you can do the same on Facebook, Medium, or Tumblr? It was designed for SMS, yes. But we live in the age of Whatsapp. Rather than trying to poorly mimic other platforms Twitter should focus on improving what it has already. For instance, people would love to share their Instagrammed breakfast photos through a "Mayfair" filter, but Twitter displays the snap only as a link. YouTube videos are the same. Rather than forcing users to go with Twitter’s native tools (which can be awkward to use) it should bite the bullet and work with others. If you were wondered what the 10,000 character future of Twitter looks like Tech Crunch have already done a brilliant job. It’s grim.