Twitter and those 10000 character Tweets

Twitter is allegedly going to introduce 10000-character Tweets, and a lot of people do not like the idea at all.

As the old saying goes, The Devil is in the details, and a lot depends on exactly how they implement this and how people subsequently use it.

A lot of people are assuming a worst-case scenario; that Twitter are simply going to extend the maximum Tweet length and clumsily shoe-horn the results into the existing user interface. That would have the effect of destroyed a lot of Twitter’s unique identity and make it indistinguishable in many ways from Facebook or Google+. The user experience will be degraded a lot if you end up having to click “more..” on every other Tweet just to see that last two or three words. Or worse, if your entire screen is taken up by the sort of rambling poorly-formatted stream-of-consciousness screeds you frequently see on Facebook.

A better and more likely scenario might be a space for occasional longer-form content along the lines of a native rival to Medium, something that can be attached to a Tweet and displayed when you expand it much like pictures are handled now. James Worrad explains why he considers that could be a good thing; there is a place for longer-form content, but not everyone has the time and inclination to set up a blog especially for it, especially if they only post to it occasionally. It’s not something I have any need for, since I already have a blog. Anything I can’t express in 140 characters goes here rather than on Twitter.

But ultimately the brevity and succinctness enforced by Twitter’s existing 140-character limit is fundamental to Twitter’s identity. The user experience and the user interfaces of the various apps are built around a stream of small bite-sized pieces of information, and that’s actually what the bulk of the user base loves about the service. It’s not something that should be messed with lightly.

140-character Tweets and longer-form blog posts are really two quite different things. They have very different life-cycles; it’s common to see links on Twitter to blog or Medium posts from months or even years before if the content is still relevant. In contrast, the life-span of most Tweets can be measured in hours if not minutes.

Nobody knows precisely what Twitter are going to do. They’ve done unpopular things before, most notably the way they cut off so many third-party clients that had been crucial to Twitter’s early growth. They’ve done things that have had unforeseen longer-term consequences to Twitter’s culture before; I still think the worst toxicity of Twitter was encouraged when they introduced the Retweet. They’ve done things that degraded the UX before; look at the way inline images have encouraged mindless sharing of low-quality but emotionally-appealing content generated by sleazy meme-farms at the expense of intelligent conversation.

Those things are the reason why so many people are willing to imagine the worst and don’t trust Twitter not to screw things up.

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