Is Twitter's rumored decision to go beyond 140 characters a good idea?

Is Twitter's rumored decision to go beyond 140 characters a good idea?

Author | Abhinn Shreshtha | Friday, Jan 08,2016 9:26 AM

Is Twitter's rumored decision to go beyond 140 characters a good idea?

There have been persistent rumors this week that Twitter, the microblogging platform, that made a name for itself by letting people express themselves in 140 characters is contemplating extending this limit.

One report in tech website Re/code, cites sources claiming that the new limit could be as high as 10,000 characters and could be rolled out as early as the end of Q1'16. This might not be that far-fetched as Twitter recently increased the character limit for Direct Messages (DM) to 10,000. 

Here, it should be noted that Twitter itself has refrained from making any comments. When contacted, Twitter India too refused to comment. On January 6, a day after the first articles came out, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey had this to say;

Interesting takeaways from the statement include; "We’ve spent a lot of time observing what people are doing on Twitter, and we see them taking screenshots of text and tweeting it. Instead, what if that text … was actually text? Text that could be searched. Text that could be highlighted. That’s more utility and power.”

He also notes that, "We didn't start Twitter with a 140 character restriction. We added that later on to fit into a single SMS message (160 characters)." 

"We are not going to shy away about building more utility and power into Twitter for people. As long as it's consistent with what people want to do, we will do it," he further adds.

If this is anything to go by, Twitter is considering moving beyond 140 characters. How much this will increase by is anyone's guess right now.

A more pertinent question is how will this affect brand campaigns on Twitter. After all, brevity and speed have always been the USPs associated with Twitter. Will brands need to change their tactics on Twitter if this change comes to pass?

"As someone who has spent a long time in social media marketing, I must say that it is very confusing. I really don't know how it will pan out. The 140 character limit was the defining point of Twitter. They have to figure out a way to avoid becoming another Facebook clone," said Gautam Mehra, Business Head (Social Media) at iProspect India.

We saw LinkedIn recently give its flagship app a makeover, which made it resemble Facebook in a number of key ways. Twitter has been including certain 'Facebooky' elements into its look and feel, which is ironic, considering it was not too long back that Facebook was noticed incorporating Twitter features to ts timeline.

But changing a very fundamental feature like the character limit is altogether a different matter.

"At a time when social media platforms are saying that the average user has a 3 second attention span, increasing the character limit is a bad move I feel. It takes it (Twitter) 2 steps back and removes the differentiation between it and other platforms. The conversations we have with brands on the differences between Facebook and Twitter will die down," opined Pratik Gupta, Co-founder of Foxymoron.

Sanjay Mehta, CO-CEO at Mirum India, also agrees that increasing the character limit will erode the essence of the format. However, he insisted on giving Twitter the benefit of the doubt. "If it is a marginal increase then it shouldn't be a problem. We will need to understand what the purpose and logic behind the change is.," he told us.

This latest change, if and when it occurs, is just part of a series of tinkering that new CEO Jack Dorsey and team have been engaged in since the latter half of 2015 as Twitter seeks to catch up with Facebook in terms of numbers while also attracting more advertising revenues.

"Ideas have to be compact and attractive enough to catch readers in a single tweet. Audiences co-create the narrative, when they retweet content that connects with them into their own feeds. The extended character limit may affect the founding characteristic of the platform that delivered intelligent and crisp content," also opined Zafar Rais, CEO of Mindshift Interactive.

Though most of these changes have been welcomed by the advertising community and users alike; the relaxation of the 140 character limit might be a little more controversial, especially, as Mehra, points out, native advertising is becoming more prevalant on digital media. 

One thing that Twitter has done well in recent months is improve the way it allows users to share videos and images. Tools like Periscope, Vine and Moments, all adhere to the central philosophy of real-time, dynamic content. In this scenario, allowing longer posts might rightly be felt as a step in the wrong direction and at odds with this philosophy. Twitter might argue that it only wants to provide more options to its users,and this might well be true, but this seems more of a forced step rather than one thought through properly.

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