10,000 characters? That’s more room for Twitter to...
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Jan 06, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

10,000 characters? That’s more room for Twitter to fail: Menon

Imagine Donald Trump tweet-ranting for 10,000 characters. That’s the word ‘loser’ 2,000 times


There are less than 1,500 characters in the Gettysburg Address.

That’s including spaces. So the entire speech could fit into a single tweet in the weeks ahead. That’s when Twitter is reportedly raising its character limit. The current max of 140 could spike to 10,000. If Abraham Lincoln was around, he could tweet his remarks and even tack on John F. Kennedy’s 1961 Inaugural Address. He’d still have about a thousand characters left for hashtags.

If you’re not on Twitter, you’ll care about all of this as much as a non-gambler cares about changes to Lotto 6/49. But for most regular users, blowing up the 140 is like killing the soul of Twitter. Which is why for much of Wednesday, the leading trend worldwide was #Twitter10K.

How much fear and loathing is the prospect of essay-length tweets generating? Think Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift at the VMAs in 2009. Now pour a can of New Coke over that memory. Then close your eyes and imagine Donald Trump’s feed when he’s able to tweet-rant for 10,000 characters.

That’s the word “loser” 2,000 times in a row.

Twitter needs to do something, investors will say. The stock is sputtering. Growth has stalled. You can see where this leads: “Hey, if we lift restrictions, more people will join.” Maybe. Maybe not. But the flip side for sure is you run the risk of alienating users and triggering a mass exodus.

One of the great things about Twitter is the 140-character limit. Brevity elevates thinking. Story links are prefaced with essential bones. Political and cultural observations get meatier. The fat is burned off. Quips become sharper. Even the fights, of which there are too many, tenderize in a skillet of succinctness.

There are no runaway, status-update trucks in a Twitter timeline. The 140-max serves as the speed bumps. There is a governing law.

So what happens when you remove this law? This is what Twitter should be worried about. The problem is not tweet length. The problem is there is already too much noise everywhere else. If anything, the elegant rhythm of 140 differentiates Twitter from that noise. It makes it more like Morse code and less like the complete works of Marcel Proust. It becomes a filter.

Chucking the filter is like removing the emission controls from a car. Lord, the pollution. Textual smog. Suddenly, you’ve got new users screeching around in Camaros, pumping 10,000 characters out the exhaust pipe. Cough.

Will this elevate the discourse? Will it provide more context? No, it will create a civil war. This will become New Coke versus Classic Coca Cola all over again. The new users, with no memory of the old governing law or filter, will not improve the experience. They will hasten its demise. They will turn the site into something else. That something else may be fine in an altered way.

But that something else will not be Twitter.

Then a day of boozy reckoning will come for co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey.

“Why did I do this?” he will tweet out to Twitter’s last 16 users. “I’m sorry.”

Core competence and market niche used to be concepts valued by businesses. For social networking sites, this means understanding what separates you from the pack. Understanding your brand. Understanding your future allure. All of this helps potential users calibrate their own expectations. Consistency becomes a virtue.

I’ve never used Snapchat. But I know exactly what to expect if my daughters join in the years ahead. I have yet to post anything on LinkedIn. But not a day goes by in which I don’t receive an email from so-and-so asking to join my network, a network that exists only in theory. I pray my wife never leaves me. Why? So I never have to join Tinder or spend six hours a day in single boredom on Instagram.

By detonating a core feature — and aping Facebook or Tumblr — Twitter is only harming Twitter. It is telling the world, “We are open to radical change.” This is also telling existing users, “Sorry, you’re not good enough.”

Of course, Twitter should do everything it can to survive and thrive. But annoying the faithful doesn’t seem like a wise means to that end. In closing, not a single sentence in this column is longer than 140 characters.

Toronto Star

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