Re/code and The Wall Street Journal have reported this week that Twitter is considering expanding the length of tweets from 140 characters to 10,000. Not the first time we’ve heard this rumour, but a cryptic tweet by Co-Founder and CEO Jack Dorsely has added plausibility. Dorsley pointedly posted a screenshot of an article that was substantially longer than the current limit of 140 characters, sparking a ‘will they or won’t they’ debate.
Will Twitter increase character length?
Although to some die hard tweeters, the increase would mean Twitter would lose its conversational nature, it seems that without the change users will continue to be pulled away to other platforms. With users such as Hilary Clinton, who has 5 million followers on Twitter, posting links to Medium, a ‘new place on the Internet where people share ideas and stories that are longer than 140 characters.’ New Miss Universe winner Pia Alonzo Wurtzback tweeted a link that directed her half million followers to Facebook post that subsequently received 500,000 ‘likes’.
“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. Instead, what if that text….was actually text? Text that could be searched. Text that could be highlighted. That’s more utility and power.” Jack Dorsely, Twitter CEO
What is clear, is that Twitter needs to do something, with stock down 50% in the last 6 months, attracting new users as well as retaining existing users will be a top priority. If Twitter does go ahead, it’s expected that it will be quickly followed by a pitch to publishers to host their entire content on Twitter, as already implemented by Facebook last year by their ‘Instant Articles’ feature which gives publishers like The Guardian and the BBC the ability to post articles in their entirety. Facebook has also become less restrictive with its character limit, starting with a limit of 160, increased to 420 in March 2009, 5000 a few years later and now up to 63,206 as of November 2011.
“We want to reach current and future readers, and we aren’t holding anything back” Fred Ryan – Washington Post
Most publishers have taken quite a tentative approach to this new feature, seeming to test the waters with one or two articles a day being published. Interestingly though, the Washington Post recently decided to post their entire content on Facebook with the reason being that young people no longer go to websites for news and are therefore are more reachable via social networks.
“The Post has seen explosive growth in readership over the past year and working with partners like Facebook allows us to further attract and engage those readers.” –Washington Post
Twitters priority is not only to attract new users whilst retaining existing ones, but also to make itself more attractive to investors. Whether this move to allow users to post more content will be a step in the right direction remains to be seen. An announcement is expected by the end of March.