With its problems of trolls, fake news and dwindling profits, Twitter has given its users the most aimless update yet.
The latest update for Twitter is causing controversy as the social media platform announced that it will be changing the number of characters to play with from 140 to 280. It’s the platform’s attempt to level the playing field between different languages as Japanese users can convey twice the amount of information per character compared to Spanish, English or French.
In a tweet on Tuesday (26th September 2017), CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey said:
This is a small change, but a big move for us. 140 was an arbitrary choice based on the 160 character SMS limit. Proud of how thoughtful the team has been in solving a real problem people have when trying to tweet. And at the same time maintaining our brevity, speed, and essence! https://t.co/TuHj51MsTu
— jack (@jack) September 26, 2017
Tweets Force Concision
Twitter first started in 2007, just before the smartphone revolution. The idea of having only 160 characters was devised from the limitation of SMS messages (160 characters minus 20 for the username), which was used by many early adopters to post to their accounts. A few years later, posting by SMS was rendered obsolete by apps and web clients, but the character limitation remained.
It is this shortness of the tweets that made the social media platform popular with its users. For users who wanted information on an event in short chunks, Twitter is the go-to platform. For journalists, it’s a place where they can gather their sources for breaking stories and gauge reactions. It also forces the user the best way to construct their tweets – similar to how journalists remove the filler from their articles to add impact. It is this conciseness that has created some of the internet’s most viewed content.
It is also quicker and more efficient to consume content on Twitter – it’s what makes it addictive. Having only 140 characters mean that you are able to consume a vast amount of information as it happens and reply just as quickly. It’s a lot simpler and more efficient than going to a news site or watching TV to get the information you need.
But everything I just said here doesn’t need twice the number of characters. An increase of characters only means the less number of tweets a person can consume. Twitter’s own research shows that only 9% of tweets hit the 140-character mark, but would be interesting to see how many of these tweets were abandoned.
What the update should’ve done
What is obvious is why Twitter has opted for this update. Twitter in its current form isn’t making money and its advertising platform is much less effective and more expensive compared to Facebook and Instagram. It has to attract new users and encourage more engagement if it has a chance to turn up a profit. It has added the ‘Explore’ tab and ‘Twitter Moments’ to encourage people to do this (which I think are great tools) but obviously isn’t drawing in as many people as they’d hoped. Twitter’s new methodology is to implement 280 characters so users needn’t put the effort to tweet and then they’ll come in droves – all without the consideration how this would affect the quality of the platform. Hurrah!
But when this update hasn’t worked, what will come next? 580 characters? 1160 characters?
For Twitter to become profitable, first it needs to address the two huge elephants in the room – the trolls and the bots. 280 character tweets aren’t going to solve this, it’s only going to exasperate it. Compulsory two-factor verification will prevent a large chunk of this.
Secondly, it has to stop trying to take on Facebook for social media dominance – it will never win. Instead, it should embrace its niche and listen to its core users who are crying out to Jack Dorsey to keep the 140-character limit. In addition, Twitter should continue expanding the ability to connect with users outside of an account’s preferential bubble. This itself would create interesting engagements and debates.
And lastly, people have already found ways around the 140-character limit. Screenshotting from their notes app, creating threads, creating their own Twitter Moments or linking to blogging platforms, such as Medium, is extremely common. If Twitter is so keen on having 280-character tweets, a compromise to only allowed verified users to access to this “privilege” may be acceptable.
Twitter is great as it is. Sure, it has its flaws but this new update to 280-characters only hinders the quick and fluid consumption of its content. Don’t believe me? Read Jack Dorsey’s tweet again and note how bored you are halfway through.
And scarily, imagine what apocalyptic hell Donald Trump could unleash if given 280-characters.