Why Twitter Should Not Raise the Text Ceiling


I don't know what it is, but so many mainstream magazine-style media publications write about technology from the perspective of old people trying to figure out what the kids are doing these days.

The latest screed in the MSM is that Twitter is going to lose all its customers if it doesn't increase the 140 character limit. To all of you I say: if you cannot write coherent thoughts in 140 characters, YOU ARE TOO VERBOSE. Just because David Foster Wallace wrote page-long sentences, that doesn't mean you can or should. In ANY medium.

The beauty and utility of Twitter comes from its brevity: in quick short bursts you can find information you need on topics you're interested in. You're not meant to be writing sonnets on Twitter, only haikus.

Here are a few reasons why Twitter should under no circumstances raise the text ceiling:

1. Twitter, at its essence, is a stream of headlines about real-time news.

That news may be where Neil Gaiman's speaking tonight, who's censoring the internet in other parts of the world, what feminists are protesting these days, or even what Ashton Kutcher had for lunch. But no matter how carefully you curate your following list, people will post things that are not relevant/interesting to you. And reading 140 characters disinterestedly is not something most people are too bothered about. 280 characters on the other hand? 560? This'll put us in Facebook nuisance territory.

Wanna write a complicated argument in your tweet? Blog it and post a link. If you can't keep it to 140 characters, but don't want to write a full blog post? Write two tweets. If you don't wanna do that? Reconsider how important something is if it can't be pithily expressed in 140 characters, but is not interesting enough to write a full post.

2. 140 characters is not arbitrary:

SMS text messages are 160 characters, which basically allows your handle and another 140 characters. The canard that "no one uses SMS anymore," is stupid and Western-centric. PLENTY of people use text messages to interact with twitter, myself included. You know who else uses text messages? Activists whose political speech has been censored by every other medium. People in disaster scenarios who can't pick up an internet signal. You know, the bread and butter of social media these days. The people who made social media something more than frivolous entertainment.

3. Twitter is not a chat program, no matter how you choose to use it

One of the most frequent complaints about twitter is that you can't hold a linear conversation on it. Not only is it untrue, it's a patently stupid complaint. Twitter lets you write "in reply to" a comment directed at you. Third party clients let you view entire conversations on one page.

If you want to have long, in-depth conversations that track back in a linear fashion? Allow me to introduce you to this wonderful new technology known as...no, I'll let Don Draper introduce it:


In fact, I don't think that there's a single argument against twitter that can't be countered by Don Draper's words there (my words, his face, but who cares).


1. I defend your right to inanity, as long as you KEEP IT SHORT. (I'll still unfollow anyone who so much as mentions a Kardashian, however)

2. Again: If you can't summarize a thought in 140 characters, your thought is probably ill-conceived and lacking in clarity.

3. If twitter really bothers you so much, DON'T USE IT. Enjoy the overload at Google Plus or the endless photographs of cats on Facebook. Leave me to my beautiful information exchange.

There's my polemic. Argue with me in the comments.

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11 Responses to “ Why Twitter Should Not Raise the Text Ceiling ”

  1. I actually really like the limitation, too. It's insta-editor.

    Great to meet you!

  2. I like the brevity of Twitter. To read anything longer at the pace of tweeting wouldn't quite align with the my short attention span :-) Don't blogs, Facebook and emails accommodate people who have a lot to say? Who's trying to write an essay on Twitter anyway?

  3. How funny that I just had this conversation with my husband literally minutes ago! A blogger wanted to talk about my book in conjunction with a post on genetics and I tried to get her to narrow down what she was looking for so that I could give her a few pertinent sentences. She wouldn't, so I sent her approx. 500 words of all my thoughts and said, "Which angle do you want to take?" She (crazily!) answered, "That's a great start; we'll build on every point." For ONE post. Seriously???
    I almost feel like Twitter will be soon be outed by a newer, trendier site that gets you down to 100 words, if not 25! Heck, I should start it, because that's where society is headed - Talk Fast, I'm Busy (better yet, TFIB).

  4. I like the limitations. Or is it a freedom? It forces you to be creative in your post by setting the limitation.

  5. @Kelley great to meet you as well! I've come to appreciate the limits as well.

  6. @Totsymae I find twitter useful to productivity bc it's so quick! If I'm busy with something and need a quick hit of all the big news, it takes like a minute to scan my twitter feed to find out what's getting people excited/angry. I like that it satisfies my limits on time.

  7. @Shelley quick! You need to copyright TFIB! Which is brilliant, btw :)

    That blogger sounds nuts. While I feel that e-readers help to increase reading of longer-form pieces, there still needs to be focus of some sort!

  8. @Rebecca I agree with you. The limitation leads to freedom of communication in a strange way. It's a way of getting information across both quickly and efficiently.

  9. Had no idea there's talk to raise the character bar. Ludicrous. U r so rite. Thx 4 posting! -Just a SheWrites blog hopper - @monicastangled

  10. I haven't taken up the all might Tweet as of yet, for no other reason than it's another diversion that I personally don't need. I know it has some value. But I am not here to lobby either case. I do think the point of it is to be brief. I could see using it to help me with my over caffeinated prose. Thanks for stopping by grrlguide.

  11. @Totsymae: Brevity is the soul of wit. Twitter is all about wit, and if the character ceiling is raised, we're going to witness a slight dumbing down all over.


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