Monthly Archives: January 2016

Twitter CEO Responds To Furor Over Character Limit With Screenshort

After hours of fierce debate over a report that Twitter was building a way to expand its famous character limit to 10,000 characters, Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey responded by tweeting a picture of a statement, embedded below.

I ran the image through free online optical character recognition software to get the following text:

At its core Twitter is public messaging. A simple way to say something, to anyone, that everyone in the world can see instantly.

We didn’t start Twitter with a 140 character restriction. We added that early on to fit into a single SMS message (160 characters).

It’s become a beautiful constraint, and I love it! It inspires creativity and brevity. And a sense of speed. We will never lose that feeling.

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.

What makes Twitter, Twitter is its fast, public, live conversational nature. We will always work to strengthen that. For every person around the world, in every language!

And by focusing on conversation and messaging, the majority of tweets will always be short and sweet and conversational!

We’re not going to be shy about building more utility and power into Twitter for people. As long as it’s consistent with what people want to do, we’re going to explore it.

And as I said at #flight, if we decide to ship what we explore, we’re telling developers well in advance, so they can prepare accordingly.
(Also: I love tweetstorms! Those won’t go away.)

Quick thoughts after reading this:

1) What are users with disabilities to make of this tweet by Twitter’s CEO? No <alt text> for a screen reader. No blog post. No text at all. Social media platforms should be accessible to everyone.

I don’t think this is a great look for Twitter, on this count, but maybe its developers might fix this issue for the website & apps.

2) Twitter’s cofounder used a screenshot of text, or “screenshort,” to get around the very 140 character limit that’s being discussed. There’s enough demand for this feature that ex-Twitter staff built an app just for that called One Shot.

3) Twitter deserves credit for watching what its users are doing on the platform to get around the character constraints.

“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,” he said. “Instead, what if that text…was actually text? Text that could be searched. Text that could be highlighted. That’s more utility and power.”

You don’t need to imagine what that would look like: Google+ had no such character limit and amazing text search from the start. (Google’s effort had other issues, leading to a complete redesign and relaunch of Google Plus in November.)

Or consider Facebook, which announced universal search last October after years of development.

4) Can you recall Twitter ever effectively asking its users what we want?

Is Twitter adapting to perceived need or an implicit feature request? Enabling people to tweet more text in that could be searched would indeed be more powerful and useful.

Is that what users want, versus, say, an edit button?

Or is it better search of the billions and billions tweets sent over the last decade, now that Topsy is gone and the Library of Congress archive hangs in limbo?

Or the quality filter that only Verified users (like me) have?

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Dorsey said that “as long as it’s consistent with what people want to do, we’re going to explore it.”

I read that as good news. Let’s see what happens next.

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Character Limits Aren’t What Ails Twitter

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Recode reports that Twitter is working on expanding its famous 140 character limit to a 10,000 characters. Users might click “read more” to expand a tweet to the full length.
If it carries through on this change, I think that Twitter needs to retain both high information density and easy browsing of tweets. The existential risk it runs if not is that it would lose product differentiation versus other social media platforms. Facebook has steadily positioned itself as the go-to alternative for media to share news and live stream events. I find that its Mentions app for media is a much better product than anything Twitter provides.
In 2016, Twitter just aping Facebook is risking everything to compete with the biggest social platform on the planet. The question that its executives must be able to answer to media, politicians and the public is why they should tweet (or read tweets) instead of using another platform.
Over the years, I have found that I find the way I use Twitter – to find and share information or news, track live events, learn from others, and discuss ideas – looks like work to many other people. Finding and following (and unfollowing) smart people is crucial to making Twitter useful. Twitter tried to improve this in its onboarding process, using lists of interests, but it’s still not effectively explaining how people who love it and value make the most of the platform.
Twitter tried to address this using Twitter Moments, but I’m not sure it’s working. Character counts won’t either.
I think Twitter will need to invest in Tweetdeck and Tweetbot for its power users, to retain its position as an information utility and preserve the inputs that drive its value to people who prefer to browse, but that’s enough.
Flat user growth suggests that Twitter must make itself much easier to use for mainstream. Elevating user Lists would help, instead of just curating “Moments” internally and publishing them, especially shorn of links. And guess what? Media already make and use Lists. Instead of largely ignoring power users or their frustration, perhaps partner with them? Maybe even offer those users a share of ad revenue if their Lists prove to be the best lens on an event or news or a law or disaster?
I’m obviously spitballing here, but I’m concerned about what’s going to happen to my favorite social media platform in 2016 and beyond.
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Whether you are also are a long-time user or someone who tried it and left, I’d certainly welcome your ideas on what Twitter should do — or be.

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