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Why Twitter's 10,000 character limit is pure genius

I love Twitter. I love its brevity. So why do I Iove the idea of 10,000 character tweets, as strongly hinted at by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on the 5th of January, around 10pm UK time?

  • Here’s why: done right, Twitter will be building a huge walled garden of content which they can control and monetise, without spoiling the user experience that has seen it grow and thrive.

At present, many tweets are already more than 140 characters - simply because they contain a link. A link takes you outside Twitter to another web site. Often, that experience is less than wonderful - because you often have to contend with dodgy sites, crappy design, slow servers and bandwidth-hungry sites trying to monetise their clickbait. And Twitter gains nothing from providing this service.

What will 10,000 character tweets look like?

Done right, they'll look the same as 140 character tweets. Imagine the same familiar and much loved limit of 140 characters, but instead of a link, you have a [Read more] link and a button to create lengthy tweets.

This leads you to, say, up to 10,000 characters of text which you enter into, and is is held on Twitter’s servers. The 10,000 characters would be native Twitter content, which they can serve up and use just as they see fit.

They might allow multimedia inclusions, they probably won't allow hundreds of @mentions, they might show ads, they might allow search and indexing, but they very likely won’t allow links - because these links take your eyeballs away from Twitter - for someone else to benefit from. Which is what happens right now on Twitter every day with every link.

Many people think 10,000 characters is a terrible idea

The Twitterverse has been set alight with the hashtag #Twitter10k, with a huge majority showing negative sentiment. The lengthy presentation of Jack's monster-length tweet does not actually help. My first reaction, too was 'What a terrible idea' - but then I thought, and read further - and this was the really important issue about 10,000 characters as raised by Will Oremus, writing on Slate yesterday:

  • "What’s really changing here, then, is not the length of the tweet. It’s where that link at the bottom takes you when you click on it—or, rather, where it doesn’t take you. Instead of funneling traffic to blogs, news sites, and other sites around the Web, the “read more” button will keep you playing in Twitter’s own garden.”  - Will Oremus

Twitter already knows where you go...

Twitter already knows a great deal about where you go when you leave Twitter, because it captures every link (and click) with its own URL shortener - but the simple fact is, as soon as you leave Twitter’s ecosystem, it loses the ability to curate the experience, and to make commercial use of it.

Not good for Twitter's business. They're leaving money lying on the table, and other people are grabbing the cash.

Twitter will own the content that's currently hosted elsewhere

With a change along these lines, Twitter will be able to control the experience of absorbing longer-form content. It can place ads around it, it can allow you to search it, it will ‘own’ it. And it will be used because Twitter users know that other Twitter users trust the Twitter ecosystem more than they trust an external link, and the speed, aesthetic experience and ease of access (done well) will be compelling.

You can still always add a link, but I’d be willing to put a good bet on ‘Read More’ links getting you more clicks.Of course, you still need to be pithy, concise and interesting in the 140 characters which would introduce a monster post of 10,000 characters, otherwise nobody is going to 'Read more’.

Long winded drivel is still long winded drivel.

Which reminds me, time to wrap up:

  • The 140-character limit was, as @Jack acknowledges, a limit created because of SMS messaging, with its limit of 160 characters, which at the time (2006 was ten years ago) seen as a viable channel for tweets. It’s 2016, and you’re no longer limited to 160 characters when you send messages on your smartphone. Times have changed.

I remember when I first joined Twitter, back in March 2007 (I’m @petherick) when many attendees at the SXSW Conference in Austin, Texas started to use it to share news about hot events, talks and parties - and that's when Twitter really started to take off for me.

With this change, we may be witnessing the moment when Twitter really explodes into mainstream use as a social media platform - and still keep its core audience happy, because they love its USP of brevity. Twitter can maintain this, but also allow lengthy tweets - it can have its cake, and eat it. But will the markets understand this? We'll see - watch Twitter's stock price.Brevity aids clarity - this article’s already well over 140 characters.

  • What do you think? Is a 10,000 character limit on Twitter a good or a bad thing?