Recently TweetDeck introduced support for Deck.ly, a feature that allows users to post messages longer than the 140 character twitter limit. The move was something of an experiment in monetization as the link to the expanded tweet takes users to a specific web page which TweetDeck is then able to monetize. I started using the new version and very quickly (like within an hour) was appalled at the user experience impacts of the feature and managed to find a way to disable it.

ReadWriteWeb founder Richard MacManus then tweeted asking for peoples views on whether in fact @hadyngreen was correct in his contention that;

the constraint of 140 makes Twitter what it is

In his post, MacManus makes the valid point that we’re already used to clicking on external URLs within a Tweet – and think nothing about a pop-up appearing with an image or a video. He goes so far as to suggest that Twitter itself will expand its own character limitation in order to make the service easier to understand. He suggests that, in the same way that users of Twitter.com will be able to view expanded tweets within the website in the same way hat they view multimedia content there.

MacManus then makes two assertions;

  1. That existing users will continue to post short tweets and only occasionally resort to longer ones
  2. That removing the limitation will enable Twitter to go mainstream

It strikes me that these two assertions are somewhat conflicting. If indeed removing the limitation would introduce Twitter to the mass market then, by extension, the majority of tweets appearing in the Twitter stream are going to be from people unencumbered by the 140 character limitation and therefore likely more verbose.

The other point about all of this is that if Twitter really wants to expand their user base beyond the early adopters and really start to hit the mass public, they’ll have to do so in a way that works for the billions of people on earth who are constrained by interacting with Twitter via SMS. At the Mobile World Congress last week in Barcelona we saw announcements about Facebook being brought to standard phones via SMS connectivity. This is a massive area of potential for Twitter and, while MacManus is right in saying a longer message can simply be split into multiple SMSs, there are some serious issues around this.

What do you think – is the 140 character limitation a stumbling block to Twitter growth, or is it in fact a prescient limitation that will enable Twitter to grow, especially in the third world? Some thoughts from focus.com users on a question asking whether twitter should ditch the limit;

No. This is what makes it Twitter!!

No- The 140 character limit forces people to be more creative about what they write. Also makes it easier for people to read through posts.

Absolutely not! If you can’t say it or sell it 140 characters you simply don’t need too.

Once you start playing around with the core characteristics of Twitter, such as the word limit, then you gradually begin to erode what makes it Twitter. At that point it starts becoming something else.

If twitter does away with the 140 limit, it becomes a blogging tool.

No way. A tweet is 140 characters or less, anything longer is a post.

The jury, it seems, has decided.

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Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

2 Comments
  • Twitter -> Tumblr -> WordPress.

    3 different sites, 3 different use cases. 140 characters is what makes Twitter so unique. You have to really think about what you are saying and quite often I find myself not responding to tweets as I can’t be concise enough. This is a good thing as it weeds out more lame comments.

  • As a relative newcomer to Twitter I find the 140 character limitation a useful discipline in crafting comments and also a useful limitation when I comes to reading comments from others. Short, sharp and to the point.

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