06.01.2016 Super-sized tweets; Is Twitter set to extend character limit to 10,000 to expand its user base?

Twitter has long been renowned for its ‘bite sized’ format thanks to its longstanding 140-character limit. No matter whether you’re the new Pope, Justin Bieber, an anti-war activist or a brand trying to flog widgets, until now we’ve all had to work within the confines of 140 characters when it comes to crafting pithy, memorable, in-the-moment tweets.

When news broke yesterday that the social media platform is considering dumping this limit and increasing the character count – some reports claim to a whopping 10,000, or roughly 2,000 words – Twitter share prices instantly plummeted by almost 3 per cent.

So, first things first, why on earth would Twitter consider axing the feature it is most famous for?

The reason, plain and simple, is what the Guardian calls “the elephant in the boardroom” – Facebook. New CEO, founder Jack Dorsey, is under intense pressure to expand Twitter’s user base beyond the current 300 million and to find sustainable ways of generating ad revenue. Against this backdrop, the service has gradually evolved to become more like its big rival in terms of user experience, to deliver an active and engaged user base to advertisers. It is also grappling with ways of making the service more attractive to those advertisers.

This has been seen with the introduction of the new “moments” feature, which curates highlights tailored to the user. The recently added “while you were away” feature also gathers popular tweets and serves them up to users who haven’t logged in for a few hours.

Under Dorsey’s leadership, the platform has clearly shed much of its reluctance to mess with its basic functionalities as it seeks growth. When rumours of the character limit change provoked outrage from some users, he took to Twitter to address the reports. While not addressing the 10,000 character limit rumour, he did confirm the character question was up for debate.

“We’ve spent a lot of time observing what people are doing on Twitter, and we see them taking screenshots of text and tweeting it,” Dorsey wrote, himself in a block of text posted as a screenshot.

“Instead, what if that text… was actually text? Text that could be searched. Text that could be highlighted.”

For a long time, Twitter’s enforced brevity has been held up as part of its attraction. Fans say it has brought a kind of modern artistic minimalism to online communication, by forcing users to choose words carefully, to become better writers, better communicators. But as anyone who has ever tried to write “the perfect tweet” will recognise, sometimes a little flexibility would go a long way towards providing more context, building a more coherent argument, or completing thoughts that simply can’t be shoehorned into 140 characters without losing meaning. The users that struggle with these constraints increasingly turn to Tumblr or Facebook as an outlet.

A move to extend the character limit would be Twitter’s way of saying “stay with us, you can express yourself here” to users. And the more people they can persuade to make Twitter their social media platform of choice, the better their chance of drawing in advertising dollars.

Reports say the platform won’t be succumbing to long, rambling posts – the 140-character tweet will stay, with the option to click on ‘read more’ if you want. Will this provide a more fulfilling experience for users? Will it provide more freedom for those tweeting from crises to share genuinely helpful or insightful content more quickly?

Hard to say, in the same way it’s hard to predict how the user base will react to such a seismic change. For example, this blog post is just over 3,500 characters, so imagine a brave new Twitter world where a single tweet could be up to three times this length.

Just because that was possible, would users well versed in the art of the brief Tweet simply continue to use the platform in much the same way they always have, while appreciating the additional flexibility?

One thing is certain, Dorsey is under intense pressure to build ad revenue, which means finding new ways to build user engagement and loyalty. We predict this won’t be the last change to be announced from Twitter HQ this year.

We’ll be sure to provide you with analysis of all the latest updates as they happen.