140-character limit

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In what some might see as a major policy shift, the Twitter 140-character limit is to be updated. This is to give users the wherewithal to express themselves better. The policy change though falls far short of what many people wanted. Or were hoping for. The new update still keeps the 140-character limit, but links or urls and and photos would not be part of characters counted.

140-character limit

Looking at it critically, it is almost no change at all because links, at most, normally take up 23 characters. Even with the facts that urls were automatically shortened by twitter, it was still long enough to take up over twenty characters. In 2010, Twitter attempted to loosen this restriction when it launched the t.co link wrapping service. But six years down the line, users still wanted more leeway on how many characters they could post in each tweet.

Keeping the 140-character limit is a far cry from what users were expecting since the beginning of this year. Back in January, the rumours were rife that Twitter was planning to relax the 140-charater limit to as many as 10000 words. Instead, two months ago, in an interview on a major US TV network, Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter announced that the company still intends to keep the 140-charater limit for the foreseeable future.

This was a big blow to most Twitter fans who felt that move was a good way to reverse the #RIPtwitter hashtag that has being trending for a while now. The hashtag was just a fun way to banter about how Twitter has become a dinosaur that refused to evolve with the times. This is a very valid point. The 140-characger limit was introduced at the beginning of Twitter a decade ago. Then smartphones were not common, so the character limit was introduced to make it possible to send tweets through SMS text messages using ordinary phones. But the world is now beyond those kind of phones. Smart phones rule the roost. But still Twitter refused to remove that restriction.

140-character limit
Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey

However, Twitter users found a way to get over the restriction. They do these by posting a photo on their timeline. The photo contains text instead of images of people or places. With this method, users can write as much as they wish to, snap it and upload it to Twitter to count as just one character. Also, four years ago, Twitter launched what it called Twitter cards. These card were just an upgrade on what users were already doing with photos. With Twitter card one could write more texts, cram in many photos, links and all sorts of contents into just one tweet. This was in a bid to make it easier for people to express themselves more. After all, that is the point of Twitter. This move was also meant to attract big firms, media companies, advertisers and other top-end users to the platform. Four years down the line, that move seems to have tanked. Twitter is not growing as expected.

The lack of growth of Twitter is in sharp contrast to its rivals like Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. These brands have experienced phenomenal growth in the last four years with Facebook and WhatsApp now having over 1 billion active users. Perhaps, it was in response to this lack of progress that Twitter last month added Periscope Sketching to its video service, Periscope. This was a blatant copy of the same feature in Snapchat. All in a bid to attract more users. Earlier in the year, they even changed how tweets appear on a user’s timeline. Now, the algorithm timeline was used to show important tweets first. I guess they saw how successful it was on Facebook, so they decided to copy the model.

It is very likely we will see more of these changes coming to Twitter as they try to remain relevant. But I find it surprising Twitter did not go all the way and just remove the 140-character limit. That is what users want. And in the race for survival, doing things in half measures will not help them.


photo credit: lifestyle.com; insightssuccess.com