Twitter Has More Pressing Matters Than 280 Characters

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When Twitter announced at the end of September that it was going to trial doubling the lengths of tweets from 140 to 280 characters, the social media world seemed to go into meltdown – why would they do such a thing? The general reaction from the Twitter community was very negative because it just wouldn’t be Twitter if the tweets were longer.

Twitter is in a slightly tricky spot right now. The simplicity of the Twitter offering is part of its charm, but from a commercial perspective, investors are looking at the network and wondering where growth is going to come from. User growth is slowing down so how can they boost this and keep the stock market happy? One of their solutions is tweets that are 280 characters.

Twitter’s story is that the increase in characters will level the playing field for western languages which need more characters to express themselves than Chinese, Japanese or Korean Twitter users. They have stuck to this story admirably, but they must believe that the change will have a positive impact not only attracting users, but driving advertising revenues. As someone who has advertised a lot on Twitter, the character restrictions in adverts do make messaging tricky so they might have a point: the backlash of increasing ad characters to 280 and not organic tweet characters to 280 would likely be significant (and negative).

While I don’t think that Jack Dorsey will be reading this (if you are, give us a follow Jack), I think that there are other things that should be on the to-do list that would not only increase the user experience, but also help to that commercial challenge:

  • Fake accounts: a study earlier in the year suggested that there were as many as 48m fake Twitter accounts – this is a real turn off for advertisers and while it’s a tough one for Twitter to sort, that number needs to reduce dramatically
  • Abuse on Twitter: Twitter has taken steps towards addressing trolling and abuse, but any simple search can illustrate the scale of the problem. I am sure that this puts people off from joining Twitter
  • Remove URL from characters: it wasn’t that long ago that if you wanted to add an image / media file and a URL to a tweet, these characters would be taken off your 140 limit. Images and media URLs are no longer taken off your 140 limit, but URLs still are – might encourage more corporate engagement in Twitter?
  • Edit button: probably wouldn’t get more users to join Twitter but would make life a lot more pleasant for existing users

Brevity is king on Twitter and the restriction on characters is what makes Twitter unique. If Twitter is looking to drive the user experience and commerciality, it needs to reprioritise the to-do list.

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