As a species, we humans are very resistant to changes of any kind.
Examples can be found throughout history, from our great Luddite forefathers smashing up machinery that had started to take their jobs in the 19th century, to our actual fathers getting mad when Coca-Cola changed its recipe in the 1980s, and finally to us millennials, threatening a boycott every time our favorite social media platforms make the tiniest change in design or function.
I personally was never too bothered by Facebook’s umpteen interface changes, nor the fact that Instagram and Snapchat are basically the same thing these days. However, come for my Twitter and I will fight you.
With this in mind, you can imagine my response when Twitter announced it was trialing giving select accounts 280 characters for their tweets, doubling the previous limit. I was fuming. I even posted a GIF of The Fonz jumping the shark.
How could they do that? The character limit for Twitter is sacrosanct – brevity, pithiness and economy of thought is what makes the platform unique. Sure, people had started to get around the limit by posting screenshots of longer text, or threads of tweets that often numbered in the hundreds when telling a longer story, but you could still avoid them – just scroll past. But with this change, my timeline would become infiltrated with solid blocks of unavoidable diatribes.
I was adamant – this will ruin Twitter for me and be the thing that kills it off for everyone else.
But then, a funny thing happened – nothing. 280-character tweets started appearing in my timeline and – unbelievably – the world carried on turning. Once the experiment was extended to Twitter’s entire 330 million active users and the initial novelty wore off, users seemed to revert to their regular modus operandi, sending tweets that were significantly less than the 140-character mark, let alone the new extended limit.
So, why change? Well, Twitter itself has spun it to be all about making things more equal, its argument being that languages like Japanese can convey more meaning in 140-characters than English can, whereas languages with longer words on average (such as those that don’t use the Latin alphabet) struggle with what it calls “cramming.”
Still following? Twitter’s justification means – in theory – people tweet more often, making it a better platform. In other words, one that makes them more money.
It will take a while to see whether that idea bears out, but anecdotal evidence from my own timeline suggests little has changed. While writing this, I scrolled back through my feed to find a long tweet that really stood out – it took me until 48 tweets down to find one.
In our tech PR world, it has made things a lot easier. Tweets that talked about interoperability, virtualization and cloudification often fell victim to cramming, but the relaxed limit means our clients are able to more accurately convey their message on one of their most important platforms.
#280Characters may yet prove to be an overall hit or a spectacular miss, but for now, it has been met with a collective shrug GIF.