Tweet Dreams: Coming Changes in Twitter’s Tweets
“A strength uncontrolled can be a person’s greatest weakness” states the ancient proverb. This maxim certainly describes the social media giant Twitter. While its concise nature (which was once necessary for the technology of a decade ago) has made it perfect for real time communication with the masses, it also served to be the most vexing problem with Twitter.
As Verge writer Nick Statt observed:
“Working around Twitter’s limitations makes it difficult and obnoxious to use.”
This month Twitter took a step that it hopes will solve this issue and vault it ahead of its rivals in the social media world. Word has leaked out that soon the third largest social media platform will no longer count URLs and photos as 23 characters of “tweet.”
When it debuted in March 2006 with the first “tweet” Twitter stood out from the crowd of other social media contenders with its 140 character limit. The reason for this particular character count was rooted in 2006 mobile phone technology. In order to fit a “tweet” into a single SMS message, users were required to limit their message to the 140 characters which left room for Twitter to attach a 20 character user name to the message and fall within the 160 character limit for a mobile text. The creators of Twitter Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, Noah Glass and Biz Stone did not foresee the main use, much less the impact of their creation. “With Twitter, it wasn’t clear what it was. They called it a social network, they called it microblogging, but it was hard to define…,” remembers Williams.
Who would even expect that it would reach 310 million active users in 2016?
Their ambiguity notwithstanding, Twitter was soon making social media news. It became popular across the globe, eventually registering over 500 million users and “tweets” climbing into the statistical stratosphere. By 2012 users were logging 340 million “tweets” daily. It influenced popular language, introducing the term “trending” into pop culture lexicon. The number of followers a person collected on Twitter became a status symbol, with Katie Perry’s more than 88 million followers topping the charts in 2015.
Yet for all of its milestones and success, Twitter has faced difficult times since becoming a publicly traded company in 2013. Its advertising revenue has declined, growth in users has plateaued, and it is more often not see as a networking or information platform but rather as a virtual “boxing ring” where celebrities and politicians conduct very public fights. Those issues have helped to hold the company back from a brass ring it wants–and badly needs–profitability.
This difficult period coupled with calls from some for losing the 140 character has perhaps motivated the announcement of last week, where photos and URLs will not be counted as 23 or 24 characters. This will allow users a full 140 characters to tweet, but are a far cry from the 10,000 characters the company was considering earlier this year. In that instance, Twitter discovered the tight rope it is walking between its faithful base and business interests. The faithful love the enforced conciseness by Twitter’s 140 character limit and strongly opposed the larger limit. Yet, the business world, who hopes to capitalize on Twitter’s popularity to communicate their products’ messages, desire more room to “tweet” out the benefits of their goods and services. Only the future will tell which way Twitter will go.