In a world of increasing information and decreasing attention spans, social platforms must evolve to survive. This is extremely evident in Twitter’s announcement this morning. Via Twitter’s blog, Senior Product Manager Todd Sherman introduced the newest modifications to the online social news service: in the next couple of months, photos, @names in replies, and much more will no longer count toward the distinctive 140-character limit.
Currently, photos, videos, GIFs and polls take up 23 characters of a tweet. Include more than one and they quickly eat away at your characters of valuable text, even with automatic shortening. In a venue where every character counts, having these back will allow users and brands the chance to have more freedom and provide additional context within their posts. Tweets can be more descriptive, quotes more rich, and all 140 characters utilized to their maximum potential.
In addition to character modifications, Twitter is also adjusting a few other ways in which users view and engage with their own tweets, including the way mentions are viewed in user’s timelines. New Tweets that begin with a username (the @ handle) will now reach all your followers. Furthermore, users will soon be able to quote and retweet their own tweets, an action previously unavailable.
In January, CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted his own thoughts about character constraint, and argued that he and his team see users tweeting screenshots of text anyway, so why not just expand the character limit and allow those words to be included in the tweet? The idea of allowing up to 10,000 characters per tweet, while previously tossed around, may be end up being just that: an idea. While these tweets could potentially still appear in one’s timeline in a shortened format, with an option to “expand” similar to existing tweets that now employ additional media, critics argue that not only is this amount excessive (10,000 characters is approximately three pages, single-spaced in 12-point font) but also goes against Twitter’s trademark of quick, concise and impactful information. While 140 characters minimizes space, it maximizes the potential for creativity and forces users to be intentional with each letter, exclamation point, hashtag, and emoji.
In the beginning, the 140-character limit had more to do with practicality than brevity. Back in 2006, when the platform launched, the creators wanted users to be able to send tweets via their phones. If you’re having a hard time visualizing what a cellphone looked like in 2006, it may help to remember that the best-selling phone of the year was what was lauded as the “ultra-slick” Motorola Razr. Full QWERTY keyboards hadn’t yet been widely adapted, and music-capable phones were beginning to rake in big money for companies like Verizon Wireless.
In order to send tweets from a flip phone, they had to fit within the character limit of a text message, which just happened to be 140. It was one of the first platforms to allow this sort of on-the-go accessibility, in a time where logging on to the internet via your cellphone was often a rare and expensive accident rather than part of your daily routine.
Ten years later, it seems ludicrous that critics at that time saw little potential in a flippant, character-limited communications platform. Today Twitter boasts over 310 million active users and has proven value as a catalyst for creating real and tangible change, breathing life to revolutionary uprisings, giving a voice to the underserved or highly controversial, transforming politics and reinventing customer service. This next line of modifications will continue to serve these needs, in addition to those that will undoubtedly come along with each tap of a finger.
This post was written by Kelly Arnold, a sophomore at Hope College studying communications and a summer 2016 #UMSocial intern. #StaySocial with her: @KellyAArnold
Copy edited by @NikkiSunstrum, Director of #UMSocial