Twitter losing the shackles of 140 characters: the implications

There have been worried ripples around the tech world this week that Twitter is on the verge of abandoning its long-sacred 140 character limit, but could such a step really change the platform for the better?

For some useful context only 40 per cent of Twitter's active users send Tweets of any length at all, and presumably a further large majority only does so occasionally. That the audience (as with many other digital platforms) aresuch passive consumers of content challenges the assumption that the character limit is in itself responsible for the current stall in user numbers.

It's quite possible that a longer Tweet format would be primarily to enable super users & publishers to natively share content within the app for the wider masses to consume. Facebook's own advances around native articles & its updated Notes, although not in response to a character limit, are clear attempts to make longer form content more readable without having to go anywhere. A similar function from Twitter could see longer article 'cards' expanding to fill the whole screen, but originally being presented in a familiarly short way in stream.

This tweak could shift Twitter from being a directory of links to other people's sites, to a place where you can natively explore, and with that comes more meta data, better searches and further reading recommendations. Persuading publishers to use it rather than drive traffic to their site may yet be the tougher battle!

Casual users could see a benefit from the simplification of some basic functionality (such as mentions, or images) and the removal of them from the character count, making contacting friends and sharing content feel less like you need a degree in programming. Multiple image posts, native tagging in pictures, 'retweet with comment' and other small advances have already eroded this purity so now might be the time to finally clear that up. The Tweets of annoyance and protest will past quickly.

To be more valuable to marketers, and Twitter’s shareholders, the big challenge is growing its user base. Though power users look at it through the lens of puristfunctionality & conversation, new users just want a way to drop into the platform and immediately experience the breaking news, interesting accounts & cultural moments they've heard about. Their biggest barrier isn't having too much to say in a Tweet that it won't fit in, but not being able to fill their feed fast enough or know what to say at all.

Twitter has made many advancements to its sign up process, recommended follower functionality and even logged out experience. The biggest advantage of a longer Tweet product will be that these newly hatched users will be able to walk straight into a richer wealth of native content, rather than a long list of headlines and links that send them off to another website... Only to wonder why they came to Twitter in the first place. As such, an open approach to longer content on Twitter could indeed be a step in its growth ambitions, but I doubt that's because its new users have too much to say.

Jerry Daykin is Global Digital Director at Carat and author of the monthly #DigitalSense Digest.

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