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It’s somewhat sad that something as seemingly innocuous as an update to a social media site can cause so much online furore.

Twitter’s recent announcement, in which it said it is poised to increase the tweet character limit from 140 to as much as 10,000, has thrown keyboard warriors everywhere into a frenzy. 

I’m not going to use this post to talk about what this change would mean for marketers, but rather to put forward five reasons I think it’s an unbelievably stupid idea. 

For reference, here is the original tweeted announcement in full:

And here are the reasons it would be a terrible move.  

1. Brevity is best

I’ve put this point at the top because, to me, it is the biggest issue here. 

One of the best things about Twitter is that it forces people to be brief. Every word counts, so they lose the filler.

Ernest hemingway

Isn’t that a good thing? Shouldn’t it be protected in this ocean of increasingly awful content we call the internet? 

Sure, people will still be able to post 140-charcater tweets if they want. But they won’t, will they? Not always. Not given the choice. 

I get it. I’ve worked in social before and I understand how frustrating it can be when if you just had one or two more characters you could write ‘the perfect tweet’. 

But the fact that it’s challenging makes it more interesting, whether you’re a social marketer or an individual trying to make jokes about The Apprentice.

Take that away and you’ve just got another place for people to ramble.

Which leads me to my next point...

2. Twitter will lose its USP

There are plenty of social networks where you can waffle on for 10,000 characters. Of all the mainstream sites of its kind, Twitter is the only one that forces brevity. 

Effectively it is getting rid of the only unique selling point it has. From a business point of view, I cannot understand the decision. 

Perhaps it is catering for marketers and advertisers who want to write ‘richer’ content to get their ‘valuable’ messages across.  

Utterly pointless. Nobody is going to expand a tweet from a brand in order to read a load of marketing tripe. Fit your message into 140 characters, however, and you might have a deal. 

3. We will lose the ‘live’ feeling

In a recent Guardian article, Leigh Alexander and Jeff Jarvis argued that it would ‘be wonderful if you had enough space, enough characters, for (your tweets) to have a context forever.’

Then they went on to ask, ‘Do people even live tweet anymore?’ 

Clearly these are two people with a hopeless lack of understanding as to one of the key reasons Twitter is so popular with users. 

When something happens – a terrorist attack, a natural disaster, or any huge news event – Twitter is the go-to place to get live updates. 

It has fundamentally changed the way we consume news. For the better, in my opinion.

Bystanders become amateur journalists, and wherever they are they can instantly share information or images with the rest of the world. 

I, like many, am a complete news junkie, and I enjoy the short, snappy updates you get on Twitter during big events. I don’t want that to be diluted by needless words.

Twitter’s 140-character limit lends itself perfectly to live news. Let’s not ruin that.

4. The site will become a sea of marketing slurry

This is the one that will piss users off the most. And without the users you really don’t have a potentially money-making business anymore. 

As a consumer, Twitter is my second favourite social network, after Instagram, when it comes to branded content. 

The short character limit means brands have to rely more on imagery, while forcing them to be interesting/exciting/funny/whatever in very few words. 

What we’ll see with an increased character limit is marketers filling the site with the kind of long-winded, self-important guff that makes me avoid branded posts on other sites. Or posts from celebrities or ‘influencers’ for that matter. 

I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m pretty sure most people – marketers included – don’t want their Twitter feed to be polluted by content that is both crap and longwinded.

Plus, as I mentioned earlier, if people are given the choice whether to expand a branded tweet to see beyond 140 characters or not, they almost certainly won’t. So, really, what’s the point? 

5. It’s just a really weird thing to do

In the simplest terms, it just seems like an utterly odd decision.

It’s almost as if the people running Twitter have never actually used Twitter. Like they don’t understand what makes it appealing in the first place. 

I get that Twitter needs to make some changes because – despite its popularity among celebrities and the general public – it is clearly giving its accountants (and investors) a headache. 

But I just can’t see how this will help its cause. 

Maybe I’ll be proved wrong in the long run, in which case I’ll delete this post and deny that it ever existed, obviously. 

What do you think?

I’ve put my opinions across. If you agree with them, great. If you don’t, even better. 

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.  

Jack Simpson

Published 6 January, 2016 by Jack Simpson

Jack Simpson is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

252 more posts from this author

Comments (27)

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Charlotte Farquharson

Charlotte Farquharson, Project Manager at EconsultancyStaff

Broadly speaking, I completely agree, but a slightly larger character limit for some forms of twitter use (Q & A's spring to mind) might be useful, it's all well and good to fit a question into 140 characters, but for an answer it is fairly limiting if the issue is more complex than asking a celeb their favourite colour is.

9 months ago

Jack Simpson

Jack Simpson, Writer at Econsultancy, Centaur Marketing

@Charlotte - Fair point! I'm sure the update will improve certain elements, but generally it feels like a death knell to the user experience that made Twitter so popular in the first place.

I could end up being proved completely and embarrassingly wrong, of course... :)

9 months ago

Troy Clark

Troy Clark, Consultant at Applaud Media LLC

Agree with the USP argument, the 140 character limit is a significant part of Twitter's branding. The limit forces succinct communication, which requires finding the core of ones message, and eliminating the filler.

9 months ago

Stefan Tornquist

Stefan Tornquist, Vice President, Research (US) at EconsultancyStaff

I think we'll have to stay just as good at using our first 140 characters. One still has to sell the idea in an instant, and nothing different there, though perhaps we;ve got a bit of room to breathe and not worry about the photo tag URL, etc.

9 months ago

Jack Simpson

Jack Simpson, Writer at Econsultancy, Centaur Marketing

@Stefan - To be fair I've always thought photo tag URLs etc should be exempt from character count, so I guess this solves that problem at least.

9 months ago

Stefan Tornquist

Stefan Tornquist, Vice President, Research (US) at EconsultancyStaff

Started thinking about this in terms of publishers and Twitter as walled-garden...and not surprisingly there's already an article.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2016/01/05/twitter_isn_t_raising_the_140_character_limit_it_s_building_a_wall.html?wpsrc=sh_all_dt_tw_top

9 months ago

Rusty Williams

Rusty Williams, Co-Founder at AnswerStage

I disagree and have been arguing that it's time for Twitter to "kill the sacred cow" for many months now. 140 characters is a weird geeky artifact and has just by chance become equated with the brevity that makes Twitter unique. There are other ways to maintain brevity without requiring people to write Gr8. Here's is a post I wrote in July (if you're interested in a longer-form articulation) : https://medium.com/@rustyw/killing-the-sacred-cow-it-s-time-to-extend-twitter-s-limit-beyond-140-characters-e96c7ba0a21d#.o928tfiwf

9 months ago

Hugh Gage

Hugh Gage, OWNER at engage digital ltd

From a public utility PoV I agree that retaining 140 character limit would be best. I wonder what kind of pace a public uprising / protest would progress at if everybody was writing 10k word Tweets. I should think people would give up reading and it would loose momentum.

But from a Twitter rev generating PoV maybe it makes sense. More words might = more marketing utility and I can understand their efforts to try and generate more income. Loss making Twitter might one day mean no Twitter at all and that would be bad.

9 months ago

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Tom Chaplin, Brand & Communications Manager at Leighton

100% agree with you Jack. I work in marketing and yet the thought of my feed just being an unending stream of marketing noise fills me with dread. The trend for (mostly celebs and sports people) screen-shotting bits of text (mostly to apologise for something) does not seem a valid reason for the huge character increase. The essence of what makes the platform great will be, in my opinion, lost. Also agree with you - I always thought photo tag URLs etc would eventually not count in the character limit. Just that would do me!

9 months ago

Andy Headington

Andy Headington, CEO at Adido LimitedSmall Business

My first reaction is that yes, I agree that losing the 140 limit is a bad idea, only in that it could potentially ruin the experience and thus, one of the major USPs of the site. The main reason I use twitter is to find, connect and read about people who I want to read from. Lots of others are image lead or I have to 'know' them, whereas I have none of that with Twitter. Will character limits change that? No.

I guess from Jack/Twitters POV, by allowing marketers to post more content, it gives users more chance to stay on the site rather than click to go somewhere else and thus time on site and potentially engagement will go up. Whether that trade off in user experience is worth it remains to be seen but at least they are trying something different.

9 months ago

fred esere

fred esere, Product Manager at Autotrader UK

Hey Jack, Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I see it differently though, and would like to point out that the way you've approached this is one of the core reasons why innovation is nearly impossible in many co-operate organisations. The fact is, neither you or Jack know for sure if it's a good idea or not, because as far as I know, none of us can read the future.

This is why I would say that on this occasion his approach is a brilliant one, because he knows that he doesn't know the answer (hence his emphasis on the need to explore the idea) if it's a bad idea, they'll find out soon enough, hopefully they'll learn something from it and perhaps they may find something they never saw or thought of before.

That's how innovation happens, through experimentation, risk and the freedom to fail. The way I see it, to truly innovate, we have to resist the temptation to conclude that ideas are bad ideas, without having tested them out and objectively proved them to be so. If Jack was a junior team member and he had this idea, I can picture a senior executive saying “it’s a dumb idea” and that’l be the end of it. I genuinely believe it’s one of the main reasons companies die & will create a culture that will make them obsolete in a short time. Just my 5cents

9 months ago

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Anna Hartley, Marketing Manager at Aztec Event ServicesSmall Business

Totally agree. Very bizarre and defeats the whole point of creating 'teaser' tweets that start a conversation and/or lead to more content via links. There is enough waffle via blogs and badly written articles already. Twitter was cleverer than that.

9 months ago

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Jason Riseborough, Head of Online at ArupEnterprise

I like the fact Twitter has opened it's character length, however I do have concerns that suddenly people will start using Twitter in a similar way to email and start blasting out long posts with no substance.

Will be interesting to see the impact on engagement levels, does this mean the end of bit.ly links as we can provide all the content in one post? Oh I do hope not.

Agree with @Charlotte's point around Q&A - this now allows us to become more informative with our responses, however have always been impressed with how 140 characters ensures a succinct reply.

9 months ago

Alison Jobson

Alison Jobson, Director at Straight Marketing Limited

I completely agree and am going to share that on Twitter in 140 characters or less!

9 months ago

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Jamie Fay, Marketing Strategy & Analytics Specialist at Unknown

It could be a great way of increasing dwell time whilst retaining the look and feel of the platform. The fact users have to click to view more then 140 chars means marketers will still need to be concise to drive engagement.

All other platforms are working out ways to hold on to users better/longer, its just that Twitter is a bit late to the party.

It is a change not without risks however. Lets see if the bean-counters and fat-cats are rewarded...

9 months ago

Justin Jeffries

Justin Jeffries, Web Manager at My Family Care

If only everyone could have kept comments to fewer than 140 characters, I'd have got through more of them ;-)

(I agree on the USP argument.)

9 months ago

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Laura White, Trainee Digital Marketing Co-ordinator at GBG PLC

As an avid twitter fan, I do think it could benefit from a *slight* character increase.. maybe 200 or 300? But, to paraphrase Love Actually.. "10K is a lot of characters, David". Surely, if marketers (or anyone) require 10K characters there are other platforms??

9 months ago

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John McNeil, Director at McNeil Creatives

Brevity will always prevail.

9 months ago

Kiri Barker

Kiri Barker, Marketing Manager at Consolis

My response in less than 160 characters - I agree completely Jack!

9 months ago

Nic Newman

Nic Newman, CEO Nic Newman & Associates at Nic Newman & AssociatesSmall Business Multi-user

Nobody knows if this is a good idea or not. It depends how it is implemented and how Twitter users react. Fred is spot on in suggesting that knee jerk reactions kill innovation. We make progress by trying new things and learning from them

9 months ago

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Stuart Isbister, Managing Director at The Worm that Turned Ltd

Totally agree although perhaps if they excluded urls and photo's in the count it might help.

Did no-one tell them that people tweet pictures of images because people like pictures (that still say a thousand words even if they are just pictures of words)?

Strikes me as a company that has lost sight of it's product...

9 months ago

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Stuart Isbister, Managing Director at The Worm that Turned Ltd

of course it could open up the market for a micro blog of even shorter length - twtt.co.uk ? :)

9 months ago

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Stuart Isbister, Managing Director at The Worm that Turned Ltd

*photos *its - not sure where the grocers apostrophes came from - must have been the extra character freedom. Apologies.

9 months ago

Ian Jindal

Ian Jindal, Founder and Editor in Chief at InternetRetailingSmall Business Multi-user

Good arguments, well put. There are two core considerations for me. Firstly a focus on meaningful differentiation. I see the brevity as core and valuable, not just an archaic restriction to be dumped. Your phrase "sea of marketing slurry" is a delight, and covers the vomit-fest of self-promotion in all other publishing networks.

The second consideration is that Twitter has been a 'generous connector' in terms of outbound links. In fact, it's a "point at things" engine where people post links, now images, and thoughts, but with the effect that the "big amount of reading" is done on the source page (the blog, the publisher, the article) and not 'on twitter' itself. With so many "destinations" competing to entrap you, Twitter is a happily non-clingy hub.

I offer these as thoughts only, noting value I've found in twitter over the years. We can't stop them doing whatever they wish. We don't pay for the service, we don't own it. Perhaps it's time for a Mebo/Bebo/MySpace moment when a bubble pops, or the locusts swarm to a new field.

9 months ago

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Laura Neasham, Marketing Manager at Kuoni Travel

It's becoming more like Facebook; and with Medium, a potential integration of the two platforms is on the cards. Leading with such an excessive character limit, has won back some headlines, too. Well done, Twitter.

9 months ago

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Akin Ladapo, eCommere/Digital Consultant at 24Seven Group

One thing is constant and that's change; in this case I find it annoying. The thought of a more content to consume in a feed in today's day an age!

As a marketer the flip side is that it helps align posting and managing Twitter content with other social media platforms, making tasks a little easier.

In light of @Ian's comments about Twitter being a 'point at things' engine, this change makes sense, it gives them a chance to leverage this position. Something key with Facebook dominating the share of active users on social media and other platforms growing fast - this may give them a bit more rocket fuel.

No doubt there'll be a a set char limit for teaser content and read more, like Facebook. I think the big question is what is this really setting the foundation for on the Twitter platform?

9 months ago

Adam Candlish

Adam Candlish, Commercial Director at DataIQ

I don't use Twitter very often so have no fixed view on whether this is right or wrong. I do however loath how, like text messaging did, Twitter has forced abbreviation of so many English words, and those have now permeated into wider society and communication and become the norm. If removing the character limit would mean people wrote in English using real words, then I'm all for it. Lol!

9 months ago

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