Leave the 140 Character Twitter Limit Alone

We're sick of people telling us the right and wrong way to use Twitter, and that includes this missive by Slate's Farhad Manjoo  reiterating his call for a longer character limits.

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We're sick of people telling us the right and wrong way to use Twitter, and that includes this missive by Slate's Farhad Manjoo about the platform's recent "expanded tweets" upgrade. Manjoo gleefully reiterates his call for a longer character limits, pointing back to an argument he made in 2011 for doubling character limits, explaining that Twitter doesn't work like it used to. "Now people use Twitter for news, jokes, conversations, and ferocious arguments—and 140 characters is too cramped for all of these things," he writes, suggesting a longer 280 character limit to add "heft" to tweets. Beyond the idea that there is a magic number for the perfect tweet, as self-professed Twitter anarchists, we take offense to the suggestion that we up and change our social media society because Manjoo can't fit his musings into the original Twitter limit.

Yes, we know, the character limit's origins make the current rule moot. Societies make a rule in a specific historical moment, and then evolve them as times change. Twitter, for example, picked that magic number because back then Twitter was very SMS text message-based. At that time, messages had 160 character limits (they still do, but most of us use fancier phones now), so Twitter's founders thought they should stay within that limit. And, voilà: A rule was born. That no longer makes sense, argues Manjoo:

A shrinking percentage of Twitter’s userbase accesses the site through SMS, so the 140-character limit was becoming increasingly arbitrary (SMS users will still see all Tweets, but they won’t be able to see the expanded summaries). Instead, most of us get our tweets on the Web and on smartphones, venues that allow for richer content.

Yes, we know. But that's the decision Twitter made. And, that's how we have learned to use the service. Or, as GigaOm's Mathew Ingram put it the first time Manjoo made this argument: "The point the Slate writer misses (or hints at, and then discards) is that if it did this, it wouldn’t be Twitter any more."

Really, if Manjoo wants a service that gives him a hundred or so more characters, The BCC tells us that Tory MP Louise Mensch just launched a rival service that has a 180 character limit. Her inspiration, by the way, was AOL chat rooms. (Will 40 extra characters satify Manjoo?)

We're not suggesting Twitter (or all civilizations) shouldn't amend archaic rules, but the 140 character limit is Twitter's core idea. Plus, this seems like a dangerous path to go down. "Twitter’s purpose is to reflect everything that’s going on in this crazy ecosystem. If it takes a few hundred more characters to do so, what’s so bad about that?" Manjoo asks. Won't 280 characters eventually feel too short for this increasingly "crazy" Internet ecosystem?

Twitter, however, has already addressed Manjoo's issue without ridding the site of its founding principle, announcing an expanded tweet, which shows more information about an accompanying link. This adds "heft" to a tweet, just like Manjoo wants, without giving Tweeters any more room for their oh-so-important musings, as the example to the right shows. Twitter still has its 140 character limit and Manjoo gets substance. Though, it might not be the exact substance he wants, as this new feature doesn't give him any more of a voice.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.