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Twitter’s 280-Character Own Goal

J.K. Rowling, on Twitter raising the per-tweet character limit to 280:

Twitter’s destroyed its USP. The whole point, for me, was how inventive people could be within that concise framework.

USP is “unique selling proposition”. By doubling the character limit, Twitter has eliminated what made them unique. Yes, there were many trade-offs with the 140-character limit, both pros and cons. But one of the pros is it made Twitter unique. Twitter timelines now look more like Facebook — but Facebook is already there for Facebook-like timelines. Twitter trying to be more like Facebook is like basketball trying to be more like football — a bad idea that won’t work.

Stephen King was more succinct:

280 characters? Fuck that.

Andy Ihnatko:

I like the word-Tetris of making a complete thought fit in a 140-character box.

John Dingell, 91-year-old retired Congressman from Michigan (who is truly excellent at Twitter):

99% of you people don’t even deserve 140 characters.

It’s no surprise that writers, in particular, object to this change. I agree with Ihnatko — the 140-character limit made it a challenge. Fitting certain complex thoughts into a mere 140 characters sometimes felt like solving a small challenge, like one of The New York Times’s tiny little 5 × 5 crossword puzzles.

But perhaps the best commentary comes from William Shakespeare:

Brevity is the soul of wit.

Given 280 characters, people are going to use them, even to express thoughts that could have fit in 140. Given unlimited characters, such as in email, people ramble aimlessly.

That’s why email feels like a dreary chore, and Twitter feels like fun. The fewer tweets that fit in a single screen at a time, the less fun Twitter feels. I’m sure Twitter considered this change carefully, but I’m convinced they’ve made a terrible mistake.