Life is Short, Tweets are Longer

On Tuesday, Twitter announced that it will introduce 280-character tweets, which is double from the 140-character standard on the social network.

I know, scary stuff! But, if you can read this still while trying to catch you breath, take a seat because I have something to tell you: It’s your fault, you broke it, Twitter’s just trying to fix it.

Originally, Twitter was simply 140 characters of text. That was all. It was nice and information-dense, but you wanted to add photos. You wanted to add more text in a tweet than possible, so you screenshotted the text of stories or even the notepad.

You even went so far as to start numbering your tweets, or tweetstormin’.

Whatever small restriction Twitter tried to hold onto, for the purity of the product, you just routed around. And now, no one can seriously argue that Twitter is only a place for 140-character bits of text. And why do we think that the text-message character limits of the early ’00s somehow magically stumbled onto the platonic ideal of message length for a social network built primarily from small chunks of text?

How many people even remember the time when you could only send 140 characters in a text message on your smartphone? What keeps texts short, and what will keep most Twitter messages short, is the culture of messaging on a phone, which like all cultures is viscous and will change more slowly than the product. However, you’ll have time to adjust.

So who cares about a doubling of the character limit? It was arbitrary then and it’s still arbitrary now. My guess is you’ll see very little difference in the platform, and maybe the success of the change will give Twitter the confidence to focus on what really matters: the communities that have gathered on the service.

People think that Twitter’s brand is built around the 140-characters. But if you ask me, Twitter’s core identity is contained in the @username. The @ is about the people inside Twitter: people who tweet things they shouldn’t, people who tweet about hurricanes all night, people who love books, people who have rare expertise, and lots of Russian bots.

You see it best at conferences, during TV shows, and when there is a major local breaking-news event. It’s not that Twitter, as a whole, becomes awesome during these moments. Sometimes, in fact, the user experience breaks. But no other product on the internet quickly sorts out who the important individuals to follow for a given event are.

Twitter’s value has always been in these little pro-am micro-networks, hived off from the larger feed, where anyone with knowledge, wit, or skills can become central to the perception of a moment.

And that’s not going to change.