The latest rumour regarding twitter is that the social network and microblogging service is having something of an identity crisis, and considering making a move towards allowing longer tweets. Last August, the network increased the character limit for Direct Messages to 10,000, so the technology is already there for them to allow longer messages for public tweets, but should they release it for the rest of the network?
Twitter’s USP is Brevity
Twitter has always been about brevity. The SMS-length limit on the messages was the entire point of using the network. It allowed people to fire out short status updates, ask quick questions, and get sound bites in response. If you change that, then there is no point using the network over any of the other long-form services. Twitter has always followed the smartphone as it has evolved, and that means adding images and video content to posts, and even sending gifts, but not all of these additions have been good for users. Today, reading Twitter on a phone screen can be a frustrating experience – instead of seeing seven or so tweets per page, you see just one or two with added media. If those tweets don’t interest you, it can take a frustrating amount of time to get to the ‘good stuff.’ Long format tweets would make that issue even worse.
Users Hate Change
It’s true that most users dislike change, and that they will be vocal about any changes coming to a product that they like. Often the change is for the better and the users adapt. But when they don’t, it can be a disaster. Twitter failed to achieve the traction of Facebook, and in response, it is putting a lot of effort into emulating Facebook. It uses similar terminology and images in its user interface, and it is implementing things like autoplaying videos, and even the walled-garden style article preview. It wants to keep users within its own site. From a monetisation point of view, that could be a good thing – but you can only make money if your users choose to come back. How many users will Twitter drive away with these new features? Where will those users go? We’ve already lived through a walled garden once, in the AOL era, and that experiment failed. Will this generation of developers learn from those mistakes and make a garden we all want to be in?