Late yesterday Twitter announced the unthinkable for time-pressed journalists everywhere by revealing it is testing doubling the character length of tweets.
Farewell sweet brevity of 140chars. Hello pointless extra blah-blah-blah #280.
But why oh why is Twitter doing this?
“In all markets, when people don’t have to cram their thoughts into 140 characters and actually have some to spare, we see more people tweeting,” wrote product manager, Aliza Rosen, in a rather wordy blog post explainer about the move -- which even included a graph!
Though not a graph of Twitter's user growth not growing.
(Here, I fixed Rosen's explanation to fit it in far fewer characters: 'We're trying to fix our growth problem.')
While Rosen talked about Twitter wanting "every person around the world to easily express themselves on Twitter", there was no specific discussion about how Twitter's 140 constraint might be exacerbating problematic speech in the public domain.
By, for example, turning nuanced discussion into polarized arguments and irascible abuse. Or "shouty crap" as a colleague more concisely put it.
(Also not in Rosen's post: Any graphs detailing Twitter's problem with abusive behavior on its platform.)
But even if Twitter didn't want to explicitly discuss the problem of trolls and bullies on its platform, it may be hoping the expansion to 280 characters encourages people to tweet less, well, "shouty crap".
Which is indeed a possibility. Though there is also the flip-side possibility that -- for example -- the current president of the U.S. will just get double the amount of newsworthy tweet space with which to threaten nuclear annihilation.
Or, to put it another way...
TWITTER USERS: It would be nice if you stopped people making death threats.
TWITTER: OK, but what if those death threats could be LONGER?
— Mike Drucker (@MikeDrucker) September 26, 2017
Whether Trump, with 280 characters locked and loaded, will suddenly lose the urge to tweet at "Rocket Boy" (10chars) -- and instead feel moved to address the "Chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea and supreme leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea" (103chars) does seem rather unlikely though.
So sure, the case for 280 posits there's at least an opportunity for nuance to exist inside a (double-sized) tweet. But the con says that really depends on who's doing the tweeting.
(Or the 'ttwweeeettiinngg' as it should really now be termed.)
Here's my TC colleague Josh Constine demonstrating how it's perfectly possible to fit a lot of high quality information into Twitter's existing 140 character limit without shouting and/or being otherwise tactless/impolite.
280 character count means less confusing abbreviations & more nuance, lower skimability. But at least it's easier for Twitter rookies
— Josh Constine (@JoshConstine) September 26, 2017
Ergo, it ain't tweet size that matters Twitter -- it's what you do with the characters that counts.
But regardless of whether 280 characters leads to a wider evolution of tone on Twitter -- and in the case of Trump, when/if he gets handed the nuclear codes to #280, to a new deal on diplomacy and a less destabilized geopolitical world (we can but hope!) -- @Jack & co can at least console themselves that advertisers will find plenty of uses for all the extra marketing real estate Twitter is going to be giving them.
See for e.g.
What do you plan to share with 280 characters on Twitter?
— Mi (@xiaomi) September 27, 2017
So, from Twitter's point of view at least, there are a fair few potential pros stacking up under the 'let's kill the tweet' nuclear option, alongside their main concern here: Trying to assuage investors.
Pros like being less likely to be blamed for an overly concise tweet triggering nuclear war.
While disrupting the workflow of the (small) hardcore of users who rely on Twitter to be a reliably dense and largely self-manageable digital information network in an increasingly misinformation saturated and algorithmically controlled world is clearly a lesser consideration.
And at this point in the rapidly escalating story of social media's impact on democracy and society who, indeed, can blame them.
Even if more social media doesn't necessary sound like a great solution to problems being exacerbated by social media. Whatever the social media giants say.
Tech tweets on #280
Below is a flavor of opinions on Twitter's #280 experiment surfaced from the tech space -- which runs a pretty full gamut of views on mega tweets -- from supportive (and/or sarcastic) to indifferent to excited to horrified to snarky to creative to critical to navel-gazing to, well, hopeful that the change might finally break the addictive spell of Twitter...
Can't wait for #bringback140.
We expected (and ❤️!) all the snark & critique for #280characters. Comes with the job. What matters now is we clearly show why this change is important, and prove to you all it’s better. Give us some time to learn and confirm (or challenge!) our ideas. https://t.co/qJrzzIluMw
— jack (@jack) September 27, 2017
Can't wait for 280.
— Bill Gurley (@bgurley) September 26, 2017
I have so many things I've saved up over the past year that are really only expressable in 280 character chunks. We live in amazing times.
— John Lilly (@johnolilly) September 26, 2017
I actually don't have strong feelings about the move from 140 to 280.
But that doesn't make the Tweet below any less hilarious... https://t.co/sms7rpm2WA
— Chris Sacca (@sacca) September 26, 2017
Close your eyes.
Imagine Trump using Twitter.
Now imagine Trump using Twitter with 280 characters.
Now close Twitter.
— M.G. Siegler (@mgsiegler) September 26, 2017
Quite a lot of the rancor on twitter is driven by misunderstanding: no room for nuance or sub clauses. A little more room might help that.
— Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans) September 27, 2017
I may not be a fan of the 280 idea, but I'm a big fan of companies trying new stuff. Give Twitter a break for the moment...
— Dan Gillmor (@dangillmor) September 27, 2017
Twitter just disrupted the entire cropped screenshot of text industry. Brutal.
— Aaron Levie (@levie) September 26, 2017
So, the new Twitter character limit is…
280 in text.
420 in `alt` text *per image*.
Up to 4 images per post.
280 + (420*4) = 1960
— ꧁Terence Eden꧂ ⏻ (@edent) September 27, 2017
omg tweets are now long enough for signatures!
Product Manager, Google
+1 303 555 4787
— Isaac Hepworth (@isaach) September 27, 2017
New 280 character limit from Twitter? Me: pic.twitter.com/zQq4bILv0n
— Shen Ye (@shen) September 27, 2017
280 characters on a mobile device is going to look like reading a book on a Kindle. Welcome to twindle, @twitter users.
— Dr. Chao (@evangelinechao) September 27, 2017
The good thing about going from 140 to 280 is that it may ruin the information density of twitter severely enough to break my twitter habit
— Alex Bowles (@alexqgb) September 27, 2017
The negativity on 280 characters on @twitter is yet another proof that’s Silicon Valley hates change despite being “change agents.”
— OM (@om) September 27, 2017
If this 280 character thing happens I’m changing this Twitter feed to just 24/7 science fiction erotica. You literally can’t stop me.
— SwiftOnSecurity (@SwiftOnSecurity) September 27, 2017
Instead of 280 characters, why not allow people to write longer tweets, then auto-Tweet Storm them (numbered and auto-strung together).
— Nick Bilton (@nickbilton) September 27, 2017
Pray for the studiousness and patience to wade through others' 280 character twitter-novellas, and the wisdom to never write them yourself.
— Pwn All The Things (@pwnallthethings) September 27, 2017
As a bay area tech company, Twitter only had two options to arrive at a selection of the new character limit: either 101 or 280
— Matt Haughey ❤️❤️ (@mathowie) September 26, 2017
Twitter is doing a 2x hardfork and doubling the character limit to 280 chars. First, it segregated the of reply-to's. Just like Bitcoin. https://t.co/HhtNnkXwAS
— Charlie Lee (@SatoshiLite) September 26, 2017
"let me explain why the new 280 character limit is bad by threading together 20 tweets"
— MalwareTech (@MalwareTechBlog) September 26, 2017
Maybe 280 character long tweets were a bad idea after all. https://t.co/d5sWqlyCgv
— Mikko Hypponen (@mikko) September 27, 2017