In Hamlet, William Shakespeare coined the phrase, “brevity is the soul of wit” and surely he had a point. In today’s fast moving world where attention spans are ever shorter and information is bombarded at us at every turn, intelligent speech and writing should aim to use few words – right ?
Well we may be about to find out as Twitter, after much consideration has decided to loosen up one of the fundamentals of its platform. Its 140-character tweet limit has been arbitrary from the start and was based around the service being compatible at its launch with mobile phone SMS messaging. This was pre smartphone days and that reason is no longer in play.
That said, for long-term Twitter users it’s what set the platform apart and is its core value. There’s something endearing and challenging about the limit, and as Polonius said “Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit, and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief.”
Following these latest changes, the 140-character limit ostensibly remains the same. The big change is that any photos, videos, animated GIFs and polls posted with a tweet will not count towards the total – saving you a whopping 23 characters to express yourself in words.
Say more about what's happening! Rolling out now: photos, videos, GIFs, polls, and Quote Tweets no longer count toward your 140 characters. pic.twitter.com/I9pUC0NdZC
— Twitter (@twitter) September 19, 2016
According to some sources the company is also experimenting with allowing users to mention others using their twitter handles, without these counting to the character limit. This is not without its risks and could be seen as an early Christmas present for would be spammers, unless controlled in some way. Interestingly, they have at this stage resisted the temptation to exclude links from the character count, which also takes up 23 characters, but don’t be surprised if that happens soon.
There has been much speculation about the length of tweets for more than a year now. One report suggested Twitter was working on a way to expand messages to 10,000 characters—possibly through the inclusion of a link that would open an expanded Twitter card with more content, the way links from media sites already do.
Founder and CEO Jack Dorsey has himself said that the limit was a “beautiful constraint” that “inspires creativity and brevity,” suggesting he is keen to keep it at all costs. At the same time, however, he seemed to hint that Twitter, recognising that more users are screenshotting additional text as an image, may build in support for screenshots down the line, but with some added functionality.
The current question is if this tinkering of the platform is too much for the avid tweeters or not enough for those yet to be won over by its charms. The purpose is the latest in a series of moves that Twitter has been making to try and appeal to new users, and encourage more activity by existing users, since user growth has slowed to a trickle. The company’s stock remains under pressure, having fallen by more than 50% since last year.
Whether any of these tweaks to the service will actually boost the company’s engagement numbers or overall user base remains to be seen and its not without its risks. Another apt line from Hamlet, which Twitter should bear in mind is “This above all: to thine own self be true.”