“Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit, And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief: your noble son is mad.”
Shakespeare wrote that, and he was a pretty smart guy. It’s a quote which has seemed particularly relevant over the last few weeks following the news that Twitter was contemplating binning the 140-character limit.
Rumours that Twitter would introduce a new 10,000-character cap, allowing users to post longer-form articles directly to the platform, had some people up in arms. Most feared this fundamental shift in the rules could damage the platform’s real-time, short-form allure.
Earlier this month, co-founder and CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey appeared on US TV to celebrate the platform’s 10th anniversary and put people’s minds at rest by confirming that the 140-character limit would stay.
“It’s a good constraint for us,” Dorsey said. And he’s right. Here’s why 140 characters is a winner.
- No room for waffle.
Yes you can self-reply and go on and on, but making your point in one 140-character Tweet is much more powerful. Like one of Kanye West’s rants, it becomes less impactful the more it goes on. What’s the matter with one pithy post rather than 27?
- Less is more.
Like the best kind of radio sports commentary, live coverage of sport on Twitter is short, sharp and to the point. It’s not an endless stream of detail, it’s the key details delivered quickly. Be it pre-, in- or post-game review, delivering the need-to-know information in a digestible way is key.
— Conor McNamara (@ConorMcNamaraIE) March 14, 2016
- Punchy not prattling.
A real good old-fashioned joke is even more satisfying when there’s less room for maneuver. Just ask Tim Vine.
- Refining ideas.
140 characters is simple. It’s neat. It’s clean. Just like the best ideas. If you’ve got something to say as a brand and you can’t say it within that little box, the idea probably isn’t clear enough to you, never mind your audience. And if you can’t quite squeeze it in, Twitter has provided plenty of other ways to get your point across - GIFs, images, videos, Vines.
"How many volunteers do we have for my evil army?"
384 my liege
"Ok, round them up"
400 my liege
— Sean Leahy (@thepunningman) January 13, 2015
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) March 20, 2016
So it looks like the character count will be staying, but as Twitter looks to expand its reach, drive more sign-ups and grow revenue, you can guarantee that they will continue to experiment. Maybe they'll integrate something like TwitLonger or allow users to embed more text in a post, like the new GIF button. Maybe they will introduce a new emoji gallery as bespoke image-based hashtags continue to grow. Maybe they’ll do something totally mind-blowing we haven’t thought of yet.
But in the meantime, let’s celebrate the 140 character restraint, use it properly and continue to explore the ways in which it can be harnessed. And remember, without it, Ed Balls would be far less well-known.
— Ed Balls (@edballs) 28 April 2011