The Twittersfear

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The Twittersfear

As Twitter seeks to increase their character limit from 140 to 10,000 it would seem as though Jack Dorsey is writing a rather uninspiring ‘back to the future’ sequel titled ‘forward to the past.’ Here his revolutionary social media platform actually makes a shift that harks back to the surge of the less successful model – seemingly rendering his USP redundant. Or so it would seem.

As is stands, whether you’re a journalist, a head of state, an International Corporation, or just simply a 16-year-old schoolchild posting song lyrics that echo your broken heart – you are forced to contain your message within the constraints of 140 characters. To this end, Twitter has without realizing, created its own creative dialogue that its global base of users incorporate into their 500million tweets a day. Behold the ‘RT’ and ‘DM’ requests, the ‘#FF’ and ‘#TBT’ crazes, the dropping of apostrophes that would haunt copy editors of years gone by, the using of abbreviations most didn’t even know existed – it’s all part of the magic of twitter.

Earlier this year ‘The Sun’ made headlines as it dropped its website paywall, realizing that to compete in a saturated field, they had to provide quick, free and easy to read news. So why, when Twitter fulfills all three of these criteria, is it trying to change the simplicity that founded their success. Why, as FT columnist Sebastian Dorsey so candidly put it, is Jack Dorsey (CEO of Twitter) risking ‘destroying his social network.’ Does allowing for the inclusion of extra text turn Twitter in a backwards move towards the likes of rival social media site Facebook, or towards popular blogging site, Tumblr.

Analysts have expressed their concern in Twitter’s proposed move explaining how it could ‘alienate’ the existing users. Perhaps my favourite comment on the move comes from Richard Holway, chairman of TechMarketView, who compares the move to an electric car manufacturer announcing the release of a new a petrol model. “What the hell is the USP of Twitter if it allows tweets that are 10,000 characters long?” It’s clear this proposal has riled the masses as well as the experts with #Twitter10k being the top trend of its own website on Tuesday. Irony if you’ve ever seen it.

As is no surprise to any of us, the technology industry is one that is constantly innovating, which brings with it constant challenges for companies to find new ways to make money and increase their number of users. Robert Srimsley, the FT’s managing editor suggests that longer tweets could in fact mean bigger business for Twitter, opening up greater possibilities for advertisement. He discusses the likely move of an ‘expand’ tweet, similar to the current ‘expand media’ option seen with photos and videos that stop them clogging up your news feed.

It is worth finally remembering, before we all throw up our arms in uproar, that users do already regularly cheat the 140 character limit. We often see screenshots of longer text from the ‘notes’ section of the users’ iPhone or links to external sites. Worryingly, I have seen many a tweet where the user has linked the rest of the article to rival company Facebook for example, where they type out the rest of their thoughts in full. Is this perhaps a move by Twitter to centralize information thereby stopping twitter merely being the go–between platform, and deterring users from clicking through to an external, rival site. My worry is whether 10,000 characters would distract from the instant replies, provocative comments and witty comebacks that so often follow a tweet. And if so, yet again we lose one of the fine beauties of twitter.

Of course, no one has ruled out this all just being a PR stunt by Twitter in the first place, albeit a strange one following a difficult year for the company. Who knows what changes Twitter will or won’t decide to make, but one thing is for certain – I know which instant news-digesting-social media platform I’m heading to to gauge reaction when they do finally make a decision…

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