Are We About to See the End of Twitter?

Tech January 6, 2016

Since its existence, Twitter has been its own unique animal (a bird, as it so happens). The 140-caracter limit was noted by some early on as a hindrance, as time has gone on however, it’s held by the masses as one of its greatest features and the trademark why which so many know it.

Far from being a hindrance, however, the 140-character limit has come to be not only what the social networking service is known for, but actually one of my personal favorite features.

Unlike Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus, and other sites, Twitter requires brevity. No seven paragraph essays on what you had for lunch. No dissertations about the long line at Walmart. No, with Twitter, less is more.

Now, however, the social network giant is potentially making a choice that could seal its fate: changing the 140-character limit to a mind-numbing 10,000. Re/code has the scoop:

Twitter is currently testing a version of the product in which tweets appear the same way they do now, displaying just 140 characters, with some kind of call to action that there is more content you can’t see. Clicking on the tweets would then expand them to reveal more content. The point of this is to keep the same look and feel for your timeline, although this design is not necessarily final, sources say.

The design aspect is key. Making Tweets bigger by adding more content or bigger pictures has diminished user engagement in the past, according to one source. That makes sense. If tweets take a long time to consume or take up more space on your screen, it’s likely that you’ll view (and engage with) fewer of them. So Twitter is trying to add more content without disrupting the way you currently scroll through your timeline.

It’s hard to tell if changing the character limit will make much of a difference for Twitter. CEO Jack Dorsey has been looking for ways to jumpstart user growth for some time, and the company has thrown a number of product updates at users (including new event summaries called Moments) to make this happen. None of it seems to be working, and giving users more real estate to share their thoughts may not be the answer.

Still, it’s an important update in what it represents: A willingness to change one of Twitter’s most established product features. The 140-character limit has been around as long as Twitter has; it’s part of the product’s personality. Expanding the limit is a sign that Twitter and Jack Dorsey are willing to make serious changes in hopes of luring new users. Twitter is also tinkering with the idea of changing its reverse chronological timeline — another core Twitter feature.

The problem with making “serious changes in hopes of luring new users” is that a change this drastic (completely removing the core feature that makes it unique) alienates current users.

Now the question remains: if Twitter ends up taking the plunge and making the service that much more like Facebook (they’ve already added a “like” button) and other services, will they be sealing their own fate?

My take is an absolute yes—if you lose what makes your service unique, you’ve lost your service. But only time will tell.

That said, what do you think? Will Twitter survive or even lure new users as the service hopes?

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