Twitter: a great tool for messaging friends, reading random strangers’ musings on life’s daily events, and having conversations with brands and people you might never engage with otherwise. (Great for poking fun at others, too.)
However, most Twitter users have felt the frustration that comes whenever you have something really interesting and salient to say—only, it’s more than 140 characters long, so you have to do a bit (or a lot) of self-editing before your thoughts can go online. Some might argue that this is one of Twitter’s better features, as it forces you to be concise and interesting with whatever it is you’re posting (or just post 10 back-to-back tweets like a numbered list, which is always annoying).
Not Eugene Wei, though. The former senior vice president for product and marketing at Hulu, and former vice president for product at Flipboard, thinks that it’s time for Twitter to ditch its unnecessary character count.
“The power of Twitter, deep down, is that it’s a public messaging protocol. The 140 character limit is not its secret power. The network is,” Wei wrote.
“Yes, a 140 character limit enforces some concision in writing, rewarding the witty among us, but it also alienates a lot of people who hate having to edit a thought multiple times just to fit in the arbitrary limit. Lots of those people abandoned Twitter and publish on Facebook instead. Twitter could always choose to limit how much of a Tweet to display in the Timeline so as to allow for a higher vertical density of Tweets in the timeline, when people are scanning,” he later added.
And it’s not like Twitter hasn’t already taken away the limit on other aspects of the service. Twitter famously (and finally) removed the 140-character limit for direct messages last month—years in the making, we’d argue. However, the service was quick to note that it’s unlikely this expansion of text will ever hit Twitter’s core messaging.
“You may be wondering what this means for the public side of Twitter. In a word, nothing. Tweets will continue to be the 140 characters they are today, rich with commentary as well as photos, videos, links, Vines, gifs, and emoji. So, start working on those sonnets,” read Twitter’s blog post.
To Wei, that’s not good enough. Adding in a “read more” link to a Tweet is hardly a deal-breaking feature. And that’s just one fix. There are plenty of other changes Twitter could make to really increase the effectiveness of its network for conversations (including fixing the whole bit about putting a period before a user’s Twitter name in replies, or the fact that Twitter use names count in one’s 140-character limit and stifle one’s ability to have a conversation with many Twitter users at once).
Features can and should change, Wei argues. And he doesn’t think that these changes will take away from Twitter’s core functionality, nor will they really alienate users who have gotten used to Twitter’s limitations.
“When social networks come into their own, when they realize their power is not in any one feature but in the network itself, they make changes like this that seem heretical. They aren’t. Instead, these are fantastic developmental milestones, indicative of a network achieving self-awareness. A feature is trivial to copy. A network, on the other hand, is like a series of atoms that have bonded into a molecule. Not so easy to split,” Wei wrote.