Social media: Twitter expands beyond 140 characters
“Twitter’s defining attribute has long been its brevity,” said Mike Isaac in The New York Times. Users are limited to 140 characters a post and no more, giving the social network a pithiness and speed that distinguishes it from rivals such as Facebook and makes it a hub for breaking news. But last week, Twitter announced that it would allow a small group of random users to test posts with up to 280 characters, in order to “eliminate what it viewed as constraints that kept people from tweeting more frequently.” As with all things on Twitter, “reaction was swift—and mostly negative,” said Maureen Lee Lenker in EW.com. Many users said that increasing the character limit would rob the platform of its succinct, clever essence, or give online abusers double the ability to harass their targets. Others questioned the size of the new 280-character cap, pointing out that the 140-character limit was left over from the long-gone days when SMS text messages had a limit of 160 characters, and that the new limit seemed just as arbitrary as the first.
“It’s hard to overstate what a crossroads this is for Twitter, since monkeying with its character limit changes the nature of the service,” said Pete Pachal in Mashable.com. But it’s all part of a plan to attract more users—and perhaps one day turn a profit. Since Twitter went public four years ago, “Wall Street has been very, very disappointed” with the social network’s user growth, which is now stalled at 328 million monthly users; by comparison, Facebook boasts some 2 billion. By offering users a little more space to share and vent, Twitter clearly hopes to lure folks “who may not be as great at compressing their thoughts.” Whining about character limits is admittedly the “most first world–iest of first world problems,” said Dom Knight in The Guardian. “And yet, for those of us for whom Twitter is our primary interface with what’s happening in the world, it’s a major, highly undesirable change.” More words will mean more flab—and less humor, less punch, and less wit. I understand the pressures on Twitter to make money, but “it can’t compete with Facebook, and shouldn’t try.”
Maybe Twitter could have tightened a few rules rather than just loosening character limits, said Virginia Heffernan in the Los Angeles Times. For years, users have been asking Twitter to move more forcefully against hate-mongering trolls. “They have pleaded for no bots, and begged for fewer Nazis.” But instead they get “surplus characters no one asked for.” No doubt veteran users will adapt to the new format, and “probably even find crafty ways to exploit it for humor, cultural commentary, and new kinds of op-eds.” But Twitter has missed an opportunity to address the worst elements on its platform. “That would have been nice. And would have sufficed.”