Tech Life

Twitter is testing a longer limit for tweets — 280 characters instead of 140. Aliza Rosen and Ikuhiro Ihara, on Twitter’s official blog, write:

Trying to cram your thoughts into a Tweet – we’ve all been there, and it’s a pain.

Interestingly, this isn’t a problem everywhere people Tweet. For example, when I (Aliza) Tweet in English, I quickly run into the 140 character limit and have to edit my Tweet down so it fits. Sometimes, I have to remove a word that conveys an important meaning or emotion, or I don’t send my Tweet at all. But when Iku Tweets in Japanese, he doesn’t have the same problem. He finishes sharing his thought and still has room to spare. This is because in languages like Japanese, Korean, and Chinese you can convey about double the amount of information in one character as you can in many other languages, like English, Spanish, Portuguese, or French.

We want every person around the world to easily express themselves on Twitter, so we’re doing something new: we’re going to try out a longer limit, 280 characters, in languages impacted by cramming (which is all except Japanese, Chinese, and Korean).

I think this is a good idea. I was a very happy user of App.Net (2012–2017), and one of the most pleasant features of that social network was that each post had a limit of 256 characters. Having stayed both on Twitter and App.Net during the entire lifetime of the latter, I can say the difference in communication and exchanges in the two networks was striking.

In ADN shutting down in March — A love letter and a rant I wrote:

ADN [short for App Dot Net] felt like the early days of Twitter, possibly even better. A basic feature like having 256 characters available in a post, instead of Twitter’s 140, turned out to make a huge difference. Conversations lasted longer, got deeper, and with longer posts, people could explain themselves in a much better way than the average quipping in Twitter’s exchanges.

Still, Twitter being Twitter, some reactions to this upcoming new character limit have been ridiculous. The argument that it’s a bad idea because the 140 character limit encourages brevity and there’s creativity in constraints and so on and so forth — this argument sounds a bit weak to me. Having to express yourself in 140 or fewer characters may have encouraged brevity and all, but it has also led to misunderstandings, oversimplifications, ambiguity, and sometimes even illegible tweets because of too many abbreviations and acronyms employed to cram a desperately overflowing thought in that silly limit.

Such limit, such constraint, has also led to another, more recent habit: resorting to the so-called ‘tweetstorm’, a chain of tweets used to express a thought or point of view more articulately. Sometimes it’s also referred to as a ‘thread’, maybe to differentiate it from the typical rant-oriented nature of the tweetstorm. It’s all good in theory, but when you stumble on tweetstorms/threads made of 30 to 45 tweets, you start wondering if perhaps there’s a better platform to indulge in such verbosity. Like — I don’t know — a blog?

Anyway, like I said on Twitter, having 280 characters instead of 140 doesn’t necessarily mean you have an obligation to be verbose. But it is indeed an opportunity to be more articulate and communicative. If brevity is your forte, I’m sure you’ll still be able to deliver your snark in 140 or fewer characters.

Returning to my aforementioned article on App.Net from January 2017, I also wrote:

The whole atmosphere was different than Twitter’s. To me, it felt more like certain close-knit forums or mailing lists or user groups driven by people who share the same passions, willing to help and have a conversation. I felt a level of camaraderie and ‘tight ship’ I never really experienced on Twitter. ADN felt like a place where people paid attention and cared, not a social network where basically everyone shouts and spills sarcasm from their pedestal, broadcasting themselves more than having a real two-way conversation, like on Twitter (with exceptions, sure, but I have to generalise here, you understand).

Among the things that contributed to give App.Net that atmosphere of community, I would mention the fact that App.Net users were magnitudes fewer than Twitter users — for a long while there were no free accounts on App.Net; having to pay even a small amount of money monthly or annually certainly acted as a filter and subsequently as an incentive to ‘keep the place tidy’ and give it your best. But the longer character limit compared with Twitter’s undoubtedly played a significant part in creating a better social environment. A less crowded place, with users expressing themselves better thanks to longer posts meant having to parse a richer timeline that also progressed at a slower pace than Twitter’s. This was good because you could catch up with your timeline easily, and you could even take a peek at the Global timeline and maybe find someone interesting to follow. On Twitter, I gave up glancing at the Global timeline about two weeks after joining (and it was March 2008; if I joined today, trying to find someone to follow by looking at the Global timeline would be an exercise in futility from day one).

However, I suspect that having such features in place since the beginning (paid accounts, longer posts) was crucial in shaping App.Net’s culture and environment. With this in mind, I would say that extending the limit from 140 to 280 characters for a tweet is something that should have been implemented sooner. Twitter today has a very characteristic culture, nature, attitude. When I manifested my optimism in Twitter users getting more articulate and communicative thanks to this change, one of my followers quipped: Why is it that articulate and communicative are not the words that come to mind when discussing Twitter? He’s right, and he’s directly referencing that culture, nature, and attitude that have been shaping Twitter over the years. Sarcasm, snarky remarks, quick exchanges rather than meaningful conversations, misunderstandings, provocations, bullying, abuse…

Maybe having soon the ability to write longer tweets won’t be enough to change the more toxic corners of Twitter, but to the person who tweeted something along the lines of OMG what am I gonna do with 280 characters? I’ll say: Try to do better.

The Author

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