I originally wrote this post in January 2016, but updated it in September of 2017 now that Twitter is expanding the length of tweets. I’d love to know what YOU think in the comments!
After rumors and conversations about this for years, Jack Dorsey announced that Twitter is expanding the length of tweets to 280 characters— double the length of tweets.
Already in the past year Twitter made more use of its space by not counting images and links and tags in tweet counts. But apparently these changes were not enough.
I hate this idea. (Said the grumpy old lady voice in my head, who also yells, “Get off my lawn!”) I don’t like change in general, but I have several actual reasons why I hate that Twitter is expanding the length of Tweets.
WHY I HATE THAT TWITTER IS EXPANDING THE LENGTH OF TWEETS
Short Tweets Define Twitter
Twitter used to be a innovator. It was the birthplace of hashtags and a space for creativity and so much more. For years now Twitter seems to have lost the role of the disruptor and innovator. It seems to follow rather than break new ground. There is less disruption and more falling in line. Small changes like favoriting stars to liking hearts and taking away share counts. Promoted tweets. An algorithm in the newsfeed.
All these, now combined with the expanded Tweet, signal the loss of the organic essence of Twitter’s identity.
I can already see how a longer tweet can help with sharing content. I’m sure I’ll use more than 140 characters…because I can.
But if we cannot count on Twitter to keep its Twitterishness, what makes it different from Facebook? Instagram? What makes Twitter TWITTER??
Short Tweets Teach Great Writing
Though Twitter is one of my tiniest traffic sources, it has been my number one place for connections. It has also become a great place to provide value by way of sharing helpful links.
But more than that, Twitter has been a fantastic editor. It is the strictest and best kind who culls away all the unnecessary bits and those excessive darlings I love. Twitter helps make me a better writer.
What seemed to me a burden at first became a challenge. Varying sentence length in a longer piece like this is important. But the 140 character restraint makes me communicate with brevity and power. It makes me consider each word’s importance and how I can communicate grand ideas into a tiny space. I have to consider the difference between “the” and “a.” Did I NEED a “the”? Or could an “a” do? These are the kinds of questions you don’t have answer when you have unlimited words.
I realized how much I could say in a small space. I realized how often I was wasteful with words. Twitter helped me learn to make every word in a sentence count.
Yes, 280 characters is still short. But it’s DOUBLE the length. That’s significant.
On the flip side, Jenn Herman points out that this expansion may actually help us write better, since so many people were using slang or abbreviations to fit things into 140 characters.
Short Tweets Spark Creativity
Writing in a short space not only forced us to be better editors, but it sparked creativity. Because Twitter is such a great editor, it forces users to not only come up with snappy, powerful tweets, but also has given rise to some truly creative forms of expression.
This post from Mashable shares 8 creative ways people used Twitter, from ultra-short or serialized Twitter stories to choose-you-own-adventure games. I also love these examples of creative brands on Twitter. My all-time favorite, though, is watching Alonzo Lerone share the best tweets from Wendy’s. (You’re welcome.)
Can we still be creative on Twitter? YES. Can we use 280 characters to accomplish the same things? YES.
But I really wonder how doubling length will ADD to creativity. Circling back to my thoughts about Twitter and innovation, how will more characters add anything more than length? This may not HURT creativity (though, again, I love the way brevity forced us to be intentional), but it certainly won’t add to creative uses. We just have a longer runway.
Short Tweets Benefit Engagement
Because tweets are so short, often this means more back and forth in conversations. You can’t say everything in one tweet. So you tweet. Someone else tweets. You tweet. You tweet again. And again. The conversation is way more of a back and forth.
And consider Twitter chats: if you’ve ever been to one, you know that it’s hard to keep up with 140 character tweets in this concentrated conversation! As Madalyn Sklar, host of the Twitter Smarter podcast and Twitter chat points out, expanded tweets are going to make Twitter chats way more challenging.
Engagement will certainly change. Could it make things better? Maybe. But it will certainly have a massive impact on conversations.
In this digital age we all need to adapt. However. There is a difference between being willing to adapt and simply following what other people are doing. Or making changes that fundamentally don’t positively impact the platform.
Brevity has defined Twitter in many ways. Doubling the length of tweets doesn’t seem to be a change that will help Twitter to be a better TWITTER.
We’ll write more.
We won’t necessarily write BETTER.
Do you see pros and cons for Twitter expanding the length of tweets?
I’d love to hear YOUR thoughts! Let me end with my favorite tweet about this subject…
— Brian Barone (@brianrbarone) September 26, 2017