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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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Twitter puts up its Periscope. Will mass adoption of livestreaming follow?



Today, Twitter’s livestreaming app is live in the Apple App Store.

Cue “Periscope Election” hype! More seriously, it’s a slick app: easy to sign up, browse, network and, most importantly, livestream. 



Twitter once asked us “What are you doing?” Now, Periscope asks us “What are you seeing?” 



When I logged on, I saw windows into our shared worlds from all over the globe. 



The Periscope privacy policy & Terms of Service more or less mirror Twitter’s, with a bold reminder that livestreams & archived videos are public. There’s at least one exception: no livestreaming pornography.



Fast wireless broadband service, social networks, and powerful smartphones with great cameras create a new context for livestreaming services, which has led tech companies, entrepreneurs and huge corporations to bet big on them.



I downloaded Stringwire as well this week, but it’s not on par with Periscope’s features, UX or integration. I wonder if NBC Universal will create clear incentives for its use.

As I found some time ago, Google Hangouts can also be streamed live to YouTube. There are an awful lot of a Android devices in the world; I’d keep an eye on how that evolves, along with Facebook’s video features. 

I also wonder about who will use these apps and where. Established celebrities can find their audiences. This morning, I saw people tuned in to see Mario Batali cook this morning. As with Vine and YouTube, unheralded talent may find success as well. 



Most of life is, however, mundane by definition. I look forward to seeing how Periscope and other apps help us choose and share moments that resonate with the rest of humanity.



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After encountering many angry eggs, U.S. Ambassador to Libya quits Twitter

Today, Ambassador Safira Deborah tweeted that she would stop using Twitter herself because doing so was distracting from the twin goals of “peace and stability” that the United States of America had in Libya. It was unclear whether it was her communication choices that led to the decision, the reception she encountered on the platform or some combination of the two factors. Twiplomacy created a timeline of her tweets, if you want to see them natively on Twitter.

The ambassador tweeted out a 8-part statement today, working within Twitter’s character limitations. She offered context for her initial decision to use the real-time social media platform, stating that it the “only way to reach out” for public diplomacy, in the context of Libya’s security situation and that her goal was to “encourage a transparent dialogue with all Libyans.”

SafiraDeborah@SafiraDeborah: “Dear Tweeps -and not so dear Tweeps- when I opened a Twitter account last year it was to encourage a transparent dialogue with all Libyans,” she tweeted. “Given the security situation in #Libya, Twitter was the only way to reach out and I am pleased to have developed a following of over 49k .” [Mon, Mar 23 2015 17:54:09]

What she found on Twitter lately appears to have led her to conclude that such a dialogue was not possible:
“Unfortunately, it seems there are some more focused on parsing and distorting “tweets” than reading actual statements of US policy,” she tweeted. “I have from time to time gone on strike against Twitter militias and those who resort to vulgar personal attacks in lieu of arguments. I have concluded it is best to cease efforts to communicate via Twitter insofar as it distracts from our goal of peace & stability 4 #Libya.” [Mon, Mar 23 2015 18:05:40]
Thumbnail for U.S. Embassy - Libya (@USAEmbassyLibya) | TwitterThe ambassador clarified that, while she would go silent, the United States delegation to Libya would continue to use Twitter on the embassy’s official account,@USAEmbassyLibya.
“We shall continue to post official statements on our embassy FB account. To all those responsible & thoughtful Tweeps out there, thank you.
She then offered thanks and tweeted the Arabic phrase for “goodbye.”
“Getting to know thoughtful, dedicated Libyans via Twitter has been an inspiration & given me great hope 4 Libya’s future. I wish you well. Masalaamah.”
There was some context for her apparent decision, from a few hours before the statement: the ambassador tweeted about violence in Tarhouna, a town to the southeast of Tripoli, and experienced a wave of angry tweets in response.
“Terrible news today from #Tarhouna where 8 innocent displaced #Tawergha killed in air strikes. This violence serves no one’s interests. My last tweet based on sources on both sides. Numbers may need correction but bottom line remains: violence serves no one. Fascinating reactions when I didn’t assign blame just decried the ongoing violence. Says so much about #Libya and why peace so difficult. Condemning violence also means condemning the reported killing of Colonel Hibshi’s family members and innocents who support Dignity. This info followed info on the other strikes: both are wrong and we condemn both. The violence must cease. Period. The unacceptable violence in #Tarhouna against innocents-whether Col Hebshi’s family or others-underscores the need for Leon to succeed. P.S. Sadly, I have begun to block those who use vulgarity or call for harm to me or my family. Disagree with me but do so with dignity.”
If you search Twitter for her username, the response to her decision to leave a field of engagement in what might fairly be described as an information war was heated. In the wake of this choice, it will be interesting to see whether the State Department offers any additional guidance for its ambassadors using social media to directly engage the people in the countries their mission is in. Will angry, abusive tweets that harass or threaten ambassadors prove sufficient to poison the well for public diplomacy in less than 140 characters?

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As “Meerkat Election” hype grows, the presidential primary winner is Twitter

The New York Times “First Draft” and Politico Playbook picked up the “Meerkat Election” idea today, so get ready for the hype cycle to wash through the commentariat. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush “meerkatted” yesterday — which is to say, used an app integrated with Twitter on his smartphone to livestream an event online. If that doesn’t sound revolutionary in 2015, congratulations: you’ve been paying attention to mobile technology over the last decade.

When you read posts that predict Meerkat’s prominence in 2016, keep a couple things in mind.

First, Twitter did change how political reporters covered the campaigns in 2012, so everyone is looking for the “next thing,” particularly in the New York and DC media world. Politicians and media using a shiny new app that “conquered all at SXSW” makes for easy copy and gets clicks. The integration of Meerkat into Twitter means that social network will drive more attention and adoption, although the app’s access to the company’s social graph bears watching. By the time 2016 rolls around, Twitter’s native live streaming function may be the new new killer campaign app. Steel yourself for the “Periscope Election,” friends.

Second, when you hear hype about technology like this breathless account in Politico from political reporters and operatives, be extra skeptical. Remember, 2008 was the “MySpace Election” and 2004 was to be the “Friendster Election. Heck, 1860 was the “Telegraph Election!” (Ok, the last one isn’t quite true, but you get the idea. )

Third, at present Meerkat videos are not archived on the site or embeddable . While that could certainly change in the months before the election, particularly if the startup gets funding, it is a consideration for journalists. That doesn’t mean, however, there isn’t another option: Ben Rubin, the developer of the app, told me that you can save Meerkat streams to your phone and upload the archived session to video sharing platorms like YouTube, an ability I subsequently confirmed. 



“We are in the business of the participation, not video-on-demand,” he commented.

 Finally, livestreaming is not new to American politics. Presidential candidates like Senator Chris Dodd were using uStream in 2008. Ask President Dodd if it changed the election. A couple comments on Medium add some context, including one by Matt Browner Hamlin, who worked on the Dodd campaign.

Livestreaming was available in the last two presidential campaign cycles, but it didn’t fundamentally change our politics. It didn’t even shift the primary in 2008, as Browner Hamlin noted on Medium

To state the obvious, the Dodd campaign’s innovative use of live streaming technology and public engagement via streaming video did not move the needle an inch in the Democratic presidential primary. Maybe it’s because we were eight years ahead of our time. But more likely it’s because the forces of political sentiment in America are too big to be influenced by one technology platform or one medium of engagement.

A covert video did affect Governor Mitt Romney’s campaign, but the reality of small video cameras had been part of the fabric of our lives for years before.

I wrote this post entirely on my iPhone, so it’s fair to acknowledge that media has evolved in recent years. (I’ve also been guilty of hype about new platforms myself.) 

It’s also fair to acknowledge that Meerkat does something that defines innovation: it makes it easier to livestream on your phone. 

 “I think that because we remove friction to watch or go live (everyone can consume or contribute on the go with one click) it makes it easy for people to gain a larger audience while keeping the intimacy with the audience,” commented Ben Rubin, via email. 

 Faster connections, powerful smartphones and much high social media adoption do change the context from past election cycles, but will they change the outcomes or the dynamic? 

We’ll see. The White House press secretary is doing a Meerkat interview today: maybe someone will ask him whether the size of the lens, camera and screens used to view it are a revolution or an evolution.

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Metastatic media

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If the medium is the message, what are we to take of a service famous for short text messages evolving into a medium that can be embedded in other messages? The social media platform has, taking a page from YouTube, taken an important step to make media created on its platform metastatic, spreadable and shareable.

While the ongoing to more pictures and video isn’t going to make Twitter into the next Instagram — it’s its own thing — the social platform has certainly come a long way since its text-based origin in 2006!

When I joined Twitter in 2007, I thought it was interesting, combining presence technology with mobile publishing and microblogging. A year later, I saw much more potential in the service than the sarcastic dismissal it tended to receive in the media and business worlds. It wasn’t until a disputed election in Iran in 2009, when online discussion and sharing of documentary evidence leaking out of that country led CNN to change its coverage, that the world started waking up to what Twitter would eventually become. While my embrace of Twitter has led some commentators to consign me to a triumphalist, intolerant cult of scolds, I continue to hold that there’s considerable value to be found here, premature eulogies notwithstanding.

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Twitter co-founder @Jack Dorsey endorses multi-tweet ‘tweetstorm’ as clever

In a series of 17 tweets today, Jack Dorsey endorsed the multi-part “tweetstorm” as a “clever” way around the famous 140 character constraint of Twitter, the social media platform he co-founded in 2006.

“The folks using Twitter daily created the @username, the #hashtag, and the retweet, all within the constraint of 140 characters,” he tweeted. “The @, #, and RT have become cultural movements and have influenced every social and communications service since. Even offline. The “tweetstorm” and #/tweet syntax is a (clever) way around the 140 character constraint. Once again created by people using the service!”

What the co-founder of Twitter had to say in the latter half of his tweetstorm is worth noting as well, particularly in the context of the public social media company’s earning’s report next week. He defended Twitter CEO Dick Costolo from criticism, which in recent months has included a Wall Street Journal feature and influential investors on Wall Street.

Dorsey also highlighted recent product improvements at Twitter, including group messaging and video,

@Jack’s endorsement of the tweetstorm is likely to carry some weight with both users and Twitter itself, although he hasn’t been in a position to directly implement product design for some time. Previously, new features like the #hashtag and RT have been built into the Twitter platform after users adopted them. For that to happen again with the tweetstorm, Twitter would have to alter its publishing interface across operating systems to accommodate series or perhaps acquire an app like tweetstorm.io that enables easier creation.

One of Twitter’s most voluble users, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen (@pmarca), may be the must public adopter of the tweetstorm format, making news with series on Bitcoin and many other topics. Vox.com co-founder Ezra Klein is also a fan of the format, sending tweetstorms about whatever he’s covering with some frequency. Other users are as well, like digital media manager Justin Whitaker:

If Twitter does formally adopt the format as its own, don’t expect universal excitement.

Some observers and users of the platform don’t care much for the tweetstorm convention, even going so far as to say that “the tweetstorm trend must be stopped,” as Charlie Worzel did last year:

The fundamental criticism of the tweetstorm™ goes beyond the simple “get a blog” mentality. At its root, the tweetstorm™ feels like an abuse of power/influence or, at the very least, a slightly inconsiderate, oblivious way to engage with people who’ve chosen to follow you (granted, users can obviously choose to opt-out at any time with an unfollow). In earnestly embarking on a tweetstorm™, the tweetstormer™ is tacitly admitting that he or she has many important things to say and an infinite listener attention span in which to say them.

For my part, I can’t say I care much for the convention. While it is more accessible to all than using screenshots of text to get around the character constraint, a form that writer Mat Honan has dubbed the “screenshot, I tend to think that if you have enough to say that many tweets are required, you and the people you want to read whatever you are choosing to communicate will be better off if the series is collected into a blog post and edited.

I took a (decidedly unscientific, highly biased) poll of my followers on Twitter about the practice and confirmed that ‘tweetstorms’ are not beloved by all, but some people do like them.

All that said, now that Jack Dorsey has endorsed tweetstorming, I suspect we’ll see more of them, not less. What I can co-sign, however, is the value Dorsey ascribes to Twitter’s role as a platform for expression and connection around the world.

While the platform and product is still imperfect, not equally representative of all of humanity or absolved from addressing ongoing issues with censorship and abuse, I’ve found that it to be a valuable place to invest time and attention for the past 7 years. I hope that feeling endures.

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