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10k Tweets: Calm down, Internet!

Joe Castelli
Web Engineer

If you’ve been on Twitter at all in the last day or so you may have seen something about the company increasing the character limit on tweets from 140 to 10,000.

Nobody is going to deny that’s a large jump, especially when the 140 character limit has been a part of the platform’s personality for as long as it’s been around. But there’s an element to this that I haven’t seen come up in discussion yet.

Firstly, I can all but guarantee the core Twitter experience we know today isn’t going anywhere. Dorsey & Co. know better than to fill up your entire mobile phone with a spammy 10,000 character tweet. They want to increase the chances you’ll see content you want to dig into, and they probably don’t want to increase costs so dramatically as to increase daily bandwidth by some 7,000 percent. There would be a native call to action (CTA) to continue reading the rest, with your Twitter client fetching the rest if you click the link for it.

Secondly, did you catch that part about a link? How many tweets contain links in them anyway? How many Twitter users read content that a tweet linked them to? What would be so bad about having a native way to access the expanded content? And might this native feature – whose link would certainly be available via Twitter’s public REST API – also be made available to handle general linked content?

The period on this sentence marks 1,459 characters for this blog post, spaces included – a far cry under 10,000 characters. We are talking about seriously big content here. The news outlets’ stories on this topic aren’t even 10,000 characters, and there isn’t a soul at Twitter who would throw that sort of content at you in a giant stream.

I imagine that we’re really talking about is a sort of integrated form of Medium.com, which happens to be founded by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams. I’d expect to see some implementation of a full blog platform to shadow the microblogging we know and love, and integrate a bit more tightly than we’ve seen in the past.

No need to sweat about a ‘character limit increase’ (we’re really talking about separate database records here…) as long as it’s thoughtfully designed, and that core 140 character magic isn’t snuffed out by UX nightmare scenarios and general UI clutter. Twitter’s principles on those fronts are strong, and the talent behind the scenes will solve these problems should they decide to follow through with such a big change to the platform. In the end it won’t be any more earthquaking than it was when they changed from Favorites to Likes. It’s just not that big of a deal.

Remember – in addition to retaining the users it has and adding new ones, Twitter wants to increase the volume of ads it can serve and the price at which they can sell them. If they can essentially get you to link to their own service (a macroblog, if you will) instead of outside sources – even just a little bit – does that not present more opportunity to do both? They’re just building out their ecosystem.

While I do hope they think this through (10k characters is a lot of space for random @mention spam… and at a grand total of 3,271 characters, that’s thrice this piece) I think a properly executed long-form feature that’s native to Twitter would/will be a good thing.

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