The 140-Character Limit: Making or Breaking Twitter Usage

Alysen Smith ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Source: Twitter
Source: Twitter

Perhaps one of the fastest-developing forms of social media in recent years, Twitter is a platform for users to share, communicate, and read about virtually any topic of interest. A one-of-a-kind microblogging network, Twitter operates under one fundamental rule: all posts, known as “tweets”, must be limited to 140 characters in length. This limit has been a distinguishing and defining aspect of Twitter’s identity as a social media website; what makes it different from other popular websites of its kind, such as Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, and Pinterest, is that its users can only share posts of 140 characters or less.

In recent news, however, officials and staff at Twitter, inc. have been considering the possibility of introducing “long-form content” to the website—essentially doing away with the 140-character limit. A topic of much debate, this idea has received varied praise and criticism from online blogs, magazines, and tech-news sources such as E! Online, PC Magazine, Re/code, and many others. It seems that the prospect of a Twitter without a character limit has a lot of conversation stirring.

Some opponents of removing the 140-character limit on Twitter argue that doing so would reduce the ease of browsing that users are drawn to. Evan Dashevsky, writer for PC Magazine, writes that “The human brain is designed to see patterns. That’s what makes Twitter . . . such a great funnel of information.” Further explaining that tweets under 140 characters are favorable for the purpose of quickly and easily scanning through a feed of information and disregarding what’s unimportant to users, Dashevksy writes that expanding the limit would make “the river of global information . . . untenable.”

Maybe Steve Martin To Go's advice might not even be necessary. Source: Twitter
Maybe Steve Martin To Go’s advice might not even be necessary. Source: Twitter

In addition to this argument, other rivals of an expanded character limit claim that this move would detract from the website’s more substantial defining characteristic. Jacob Kleinman, writer for the popular tech-news website TechnoBuffalo, writes that “Twitter’s 140-character limit is what gives the social network its unique style.” Eliminating this fundamental and long-standing rule from its website will inevitably spur conversation about different ways in which Twitter can set itself apart from other popular social media sites.

Although there has been much criticism surrounding the proposal of this change, supporters of the idea have equally convincing claims in favor of it. While most proponents of the 140-character limit make arguments for users reading tweets, many advocating to get rid of the limit argue in favor of those posting tweets. Eugene Wei, the former head of product for Flipboard, stated that the limit “alienates a lot of people who hate having to edit a thought multiple times just to fit it in the arbitrary limit.”

Moreover, supporters of ditching the limit reason that Twitter users have figured out ways to get around the 140-character limit anyway. Some post screenshots of lengthier pages of text, while others post “tweetstorms”, a term commonly used to describe a series of continuous tweets in response to a user’s own previous tweets—effectively connecting fragments of a post into a cohesive series of linked tweets. These and other ways to dodge the 140-character limit arguably defeat its purpose and invalidate its effectiveness and enforcement.

Talk of expanding or eliminating Twitter’s foundational character limit has been a source of tremendous disagreement amongst opinionated internet voices. Some bloggers and online writers suggest a compromise on the matter: it has been recommended that Twitter should introduce a “read more” link option on tweets. The idea is that users can scroll through their Twitter feed and will only view the first 140 characters of a tweet, regardless of its full length, with the option to read more of tweets of their choosing. The topic is still being deliberated on by Twitter officials for now, but we’ll have to wait and see which side’s arguments eventually prevail.

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