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Why Twitter Should Stay at 140 Characters


Introduction

I’m selfish. I like Twitter just the way it is, which means that it should retain its 140 character limit on tweets. On Slate.com, Farhad Manjoo (@fmanjoo) wrote a piece titled “The End of 140.” Twitter’s 140 character limit relates to the 160 characters available in SMS messages (text messages), for which the service was originally designed.

Manjoo argues that “very few Twitter users now access the system through SMS” and the 140 characters “prevents meaningful interaction between users.” Manjoo urges Twitter to consider a doubling of the character limit, from 140 to 280 characters. I hereby present my reasons for Twitter to “keep it the way it is.”

Makes Us Better Writers and Sharers

When all you have is 140 characters, you get right to the point. Extraneous details get dropped and you become a “pro at prose.” When tweets are more efficient, you win, and more importantly, your followers win. The world would be a better place if other content (e.g. TV commercials, marketing content, conference calls [ha ha]) were limited to 140 characters!

Of course, as Manjoo rightly points out, it does happen that the 140 character limit “turns otherwise straightforward thoughts into a bewildering jumble of txtese.” But I think 140 characters raises the bar and challenges users to do better. Manjoo cites a sample tweet from Senator @ChuckGrassley:

“Pres Obama while u sightseeing in Paris u said ‘time to delvr on health care’ When you are ‘ hammer’ u think everything is NAIL I’m no NAIL.”

Here’s how I would have written the tweet:

“President Obama said: ‘Time to deliver on health care.’ When you’re a hammer, you think everything is a NAIL. I’m no NAIL.”

Eliminated some extraneous details and I’m left with 18 characters to spare. This can work at 140, right?

Link Sharing Works Great As Is

Let’s face it – Twitter is used by many to find and share content. The current system works great. Users post an article title, sprinkle in a few words of commentary and then provide a shortened link to the page. Perhaps they’ll append a hash tag or two. In a world of 280 available characters, tweets become messier and users become lazier.

So I have 140 extra characters? I can keep that long URL unshortened. I can add a few more random thoughts. Yes! I can append another 5 hash tags that are not related. With 140 characters, I can promote a blog posting as such:

In This Era of Digital and Social, The Extended Family is Closer than Ever: http://bit.ly/oySJ18

With 280 characters, it’s too easy for that to become:

In This Era of Digital and Social, The Extended Family is Closer than Ever: https://allvirtual.wordpress.com/2011/07/16/in-this-era-of-digital-and-social-the-extended-family-is-closer-than-ever/

The former is more elegant and easier to parse.

280 Characters Fundamentally Changes Things

And that brings me to perhaps the most important point. Moving from 140 to 280 characters would fundamentally change the entire Twitter experience. It would turn Twitter from micro-blogging to mini-blogging. With 2x the available capacity (per tweet), browsing through your tweetstream takes on a whole new feeling.

Instead of scrolling past short, concrete thoughts, you’d now see short thoughts intermixed with longer thoughts (that could ramble on). With Twitter at 140, I can scan. With Twitter at 280, I’d have to read. And reading through a tweetstream would significantly slow me down and make Twitter less useful for me.

Conclusion

Dear Twitter, I like you (love you?) at 140 characters. Three cheers for the status quo.

Feel free to tweet that. You’ll have 52 extra characters.

Related Content

  1. Why changing Twitter’s 140-character limit is a dumb idea, by Matthew Ingram at GigaOM.

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