For years, there have been rumours flying around that Twitter would one day remove their 140 character limit.

It appears that day could be close, as on Tuesday (January 5th, 2016), Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey gave the biggest hint yet that this may become a reality.

In his post Dorsey explains:

“We’ve spent a lot of time observing what people are doing on Twitter, and we see them taking screenshots of text and tweeting it.” (Dorsey’s post was shared in the form of a screenshot of some text).

“Instead, what if that text … was actually text? Text that could be searched. Text that could be highlighted. That’s more utility and power.

Twitter’s 140 character limit is a byproduct of its early limitations as an SMS-based service. To some users, it feels outdated. While to others, it’s the most integral part of what Twitter is.

This feels like a great opportunity to take a deeper dive into what makes Twitter special and share our thoughts on the potential 10,000 character update.

Let’s get started.

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What makes Twitter, Twitter?

If you asked most people what makes Twitter, Twitter, the 140 character limit would be on cusp of almost everybody’s lips.

However, in his Tweet, Dorsey explains that maybe the 140 character limit isn’t what makes Twitter so special:

“What makes Twitter, Twitter is its fast, public, live conversational nature. We will always work to strengthen that. For every person around the world, in every language.”

On reflection it seems the restraint of 140 characters isn’t what makes Twitter so powerful. Instead it’s the real-time connection to what’s going on in the World.

140 characters is a constraint we all work with, yet we’ve already started to find workarounds for it and much like the Retweet, this rumoured feature could be inspired by the way Twitter’s community use the product – as Dorsey mentioned many people now take screenshots of text and tweet them.

Will Twitter become mainstream?

Some of Twitter’s recent updates have hinted that the platform is aiming to go ‘mainstream.’

Changing ‘Favorites’ to ‘Like’s brought them in line with other platforms like Facebook and Instagram making Twitter feel more familiar to new users as Kevan explained a little while back:

According to Twitter’s announcement post, the star was potentially a bit confusing for users, particularly those who were new to Twitter.

Favoriting was a bit of a difficult concept to grasp (e.g., can more than one thing truly be a favorite?). Liking is a bit more universal, likely due in part to Facebook’s ubiquitous use of the term.

The notion of Twitter going mainstream was also a topic Gary Vaynerchuck opened up about when Favorites became Likes:

The dirty little secret about Twitter is that it never fully went completely mainstream. It never went to a billion users. It’s already smaller than Instagram from a mainstream standpoint. I wouldn’t call it a niche product, but it’s definitely a product that I would argue is confusing. Watching the “grandmas” of 2007 and 2008 jump on Facebook and Twitter, what always struck me was how quickly “grandma” understood Facebook and how utterly confused she was with Twitter.

As a new user signing up to Twitter for the first time, I could imagine myself questioning the 140 character limit and it feels like it could add friction and make the platform tougher for me to understand as a beginner.

If this update goes ahead, it feels like a move that could make Twitter a little more consumable and understandable for the mass market (as well as open up many more revenue streams for Twitter).

More thoughts from the Buffer team

Courtney Seiter (@courtneyseiter)

My initial reaction to this Twitter rumor is that it was a total game changer that would make the experience of Twitter fundamentally different.

Then I thought about how Twitter has already created an incredibly rich media ecosystem through introducing elements like embeds, video, Vine and Twitter cards while keeping the essential “Twitter experience” more or less intact.

This puts this potential change in context, as another step towards keeping attention focused on Twitter for a longer time.

As Slate points out:

“In all likelihood, the text of tweets themselves will remain capped at 140 characters in most cases… As a result, your Twitter feed will continue to look much the same as it does today. The difference will be that, for certain tweets, you’ll have the option to click or tap a button (“Expand,” perhaps) to view the full article or blog post without leaving your Twitter feed.”

For marketers and publishers, this could shape up be an interesting challenge — -especially if your overall social media goal is traffic back to your website.

While we can’t know what the future holds, this feels like a great reminder to be mindful of digital sharecropping. Twitter’s goals likely aren’t quite the same as your business’ goals, and that’s good to keep in mind.

For me, this been a great reminder to diversify my social media holdings, giving equal love to Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn (not to mention emerging networks like Instagram and Snapchat), knowing that there the only guarantee in social media is that everything will keep changing.

Marcus Snyder (@marcusnyder)

I’m actually really excited about this one! I feel like “change,” “possibilities” and “opportunities” are often caught up in a harmonious love-triangle of sorts, and this scenario seems to perpetuate that notion for me.

A self-imposed constraint of 140-characters might be a fun one for some to hang on to in order to preserve the original spirit of what made Twitter, Twitter (confession: in a similar fashion, I neurotically keep all of my Spotify playlists under 45 minutes – the amount of time that would fit on one side of a 90-minute mixtape). For others, those extra characters could be used to add additional context, which might make Twitter a more viable channel for distributing their content, enriching the platform as a whole.

Zooming out a bit, I can see how this might feel a bit like Twitter is raising the walls under the guise of giving us more freedom with our updates. It only makes sense that they’d want to keep users on their site or in their app longer by allowing updates with more complete thoughts or additional context, after all, that’s how they make money.

As for me, I think that I’m okay with all of this, mostly because I’m super fascinated to see how the social media space continues to change shape and evolve!

Best reactions from around the web

This topic has really got the Twitter community talking and below we’ve rounded up some of the best reactions we’ve found:

Over to you

Thanks for reading! We’d love to hear your thoughts on this and join the conversation.

Do you think Twitter should remove the 140 character limit on Tweets? What do you think makes Twitter so special? Let us know in the comments below.

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Written by Ash Read

Content crafter at Buffer. I’m fascinated by storytelling, entrepreneurship, and travel. When I’m not writing, you’ll usually find me on a football pitch or basketball court.

  • http://theproductpoet.com The Product Poet

    I’m in favor of removing the 140 character limit, but do so by not counting handles and links in the character count. In fact, over 80% of the people I polled in a Twitter poll thought the 10,000 character limit was a horrible idea (https://twitter.com/ProductPoet/status/684498207359905792). Lastly, I love Twitter and would also welcome an edit button (but somehow notate the tweet was edited – like in FB). Cheers! Love the post.

  • http://www.petrpinkas.blogspot.com/ Petr Pinkas

    Can’t wait to see where it goes. Actually I think the same as Courtney – the 140/160 limit doesn’t make sense know. It’ll be very interesting where Twitter will go, but I hope it’ll go the right way for users.

  • BJ Love

    Twitter would have to do something innovative otherwise it will lose to other social media with its current limitations.

  • Clara Quinn

    Twitter should create an algorithm or something that excludes tagging, hashtags, and picture links from being included in the character count, all while keeping the 140 max characters. I go to Twitter for quick updates, not lengthy posts. Dramatically increasing the character limit goes against what the product was built to do in the first place.

    • vivalapa

      Couldn’t agree with you more Clara! Twitter is already like Facebook on speed. But It still just about works because if you manage your account properly, in 15 minutes iyou can dive in, interact, follow, and share interesting articles which attract by short, to the point tweets. I’m a solo business owner and already there aren’t enough hours in the day for all my SM accounts (even using Buffer!). I’ve been a Twitter user since 2011 and seen many changes but this would be one too many.

    • Tanya Jones

      Exactly what I was going to say after reading the article. 10,000 characters in one tweet would be too much IMO, even with an “expand” option. But 140 characters that includes an allocation for links, images and hashtags is very limiting. It’s also what causes those tweets where every word is a hashtag link (rotten to read) – not complaining, I just don’t enjoy them so I skip over them.

      So if links, images and hashtags were over and above the character limit that would help a lot.

      As a media content provider, I don’t mind the idea of having our content expand within Twitter. Yes we want traffic to our website, but if content is presented properly, with the right links and information worded to entice, then that will be achieved and with a better quality audience who have actually read something we’ve posted and truly want more. I’m ok with that.

      One thing I would love to see improved is a more linear approach to their “conversations” – the claims that Twitter is deemed to be conversational made me laugh. Myself and 4 other authors got a conversation going on Twitter once. While it was entertaining to be sure, it was worse than Abbott & Costello!! (And almost as funny!!)

      Twitter is fantastic for “real-time” information and I love it as a quick research resource from reliable sources to gain access to insights, industry pulse and more in-depth articles. But a “conversation” tool it’s not and the comment about grandmas is soooo true. My mom has little problem with FB but Twitter is still Greek to her after a couple years of trying.

  • http://www.nobullbodybuilding.com Marc David

    “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

  • http://sm.frenchdiaz.com/ David French

    In my opinion, what makes Twitter is the requirement to get your message across in a minimal amount of bandwidth/text/whatever.

    Judging by the poor spelling, and wordsmithing that we see on other social media sites, If Twitter increases the character count too much, we’re going to end up with rambling, incomprehensible manifestos being sent out by users.

    Right now, Twitter requires it’s users to put some serious thought (most of the time) into how best to convey their message.

    I like the idea of excluding links, names, and hashtags from the count.

  • http://amywright.me Amy Wright

    Thanks for sharing the Buffer perspective, Ash. I like the character limit. It forces us to be extremely concise and creative with our words, but I agree that it isn’t the only thing that defines Twitter. Real-time information, a welcoming community and the ability to reach out to just about anyone are some of the qualities I treasure. They will have to tread carefully with this one, but I’m curious to see how it turns out.

  • Hens Zimmerman

    I’m all for it. I bet tons of people will still post mini updates, while it allows others to be more verbose. Good one twitter!

  • http://www.drivingtomojave.com/ Carrie Sommer

    I love the 140 character limit – it forces us to get to the point.

    • Tom Erik Skjaeveland

      Agree!

  • http://www.TrafficGenerationCafe.com Ana Hoffman

    At the moment, Twitter is more of a ‘link sharing’ platform vs ‘thought sharing’. It loses people to links all the time.

    A greater character limit might keep people on Twitter – reading, clicking, re-tweeting, conversing. Exactly what an ad-driven platform needs.

  • http://aberrantcrochet.wordpress.com Julia

    Forget the supposed “benefits” to my business to be able to blab in longer sentences. If Twitter goes too big with it’s word “limit” I won’t read it anymore. The feed/ticker is already overwhelming to keep up with even within my niche. And for me, I like that I can send a quick blast from my phone without sitting at my computer to type up a giant piece. And reading similar short quips from others. It’s quick public communication and conversation and it’s great. In this case, I think more is *not* better. Though I don’t mind the idea of excluding links from the limit. If they make Twitter into *not*Twitter, then someone is going to try to recreate Twitter as it was. It works because it’s not Facebook or anything else! If they remove what makes it unique, then why stick with it at all?

  • http://alwaysarocker.blogspot.in Vishal Kataria

    It’s true that grandmas find Facebook easier than Twitter (it applies to moms too here in India). However, who enjoys Twitter will swear that s/he spends thrice as much (or more) time on Twitter than on Facebook. The platform is addictive because of the speed with which we can skim through content without having to take a lot of action to engage with it. Read a tweet in 2 seconds. Liked it? Tap –> RT or Tap –> Like. Maybe check the person’s profile and hit ‘Follow’ if you like what you see. No restrictions…

    The ‘Expand’ option could work if Twitter would like to keep people on its platform for more time like Facebook does. However, by changing the interface to make it appear more mainstream Twitter may gain more users, but at the expense of the current loyalists.

  • http://blessayfrombritannia.blogspot.com/ Guy R Bailey

    I find the whole thing really depressing. Why alienate your existing enthusiastic userbase and change something that works just to chase these magical dollars that all these new users are supposedly going to bring in?

    If people use Twitter and not Facebook BECAUSE it’s not Facebook.

  • Tim

    As I’ve tweeted before. Twitter needs to take small steps, their ecosystem is fragile to change. Apps need updating, approved and published and their web interfac is getting cluttered with other attempts to raise revenue.

    The first step is to remove tags from the word count. This will allow for full use of the tweet for comment, but allow for maximum tag exposure. Also marketeers will be free to use as many tags as they like, in the 1,000s for maximum Tweet exposure.

    Also it reduced disruption to the users time line becuase the space taken by the tweet in their time line is the same (without showing tags by default) a button can be available to show/hide tags, there is space.

    The issue with he 10,000 limit is marketeers will just consume the space with 1,000s of tags anyway filling the users timeline, making twitter less attractive. So Twitter will have to create a tag show/hide button anyway.

    Take the smaller step, analyse and move forward.

  • http://karmicallycoaching.com/ Vatsala

    I agree with Clara Quinn’s suggestion. I like the short to the point tweets and can always follow links to read more. Would it mean if someone writes a long tweet with images that I might experience a blog post? Unless of course Twitter also puts in a Read More link and allows users to check what’s happening and move on.

  • http://hedstrominternetconsulting.com/ Steve Hedstrom

    Great discussion on the topic already, so I’ll simply quote my tweet from 1/6/16:
    “Ha ha ha NO! @twitter #Twitter10k”
    Totally nailed it in less than 140 characters! Have a fun Friday Bufferers! 🙂

  • http://goffcreative.com Sara @ GoffCreative.com

    As someone who writes… A lot… I have to say that the challenge of Twitter’s 140 character limit is quite nice for me.

    I could even credit Twitter with getting “to the point” faster in other areas of writing.

    I think a slight extension would be fine, but 10,000 characters? I’d likely spend less time looking for valuable content to curate via Twitter.

  • felicia.cristofaro

    On the one hand, I feel like the 140 character count is part of Twitter’s integral makeup. On the other, I’d really like to see how the social media platform would adapt without this restriction. I think it would allow people to really expand their capabilities and horizons on Twitter!
    I would consider limiting the count to something around 300, 350 characters. Twitter is still a place where people go for high-level, quick and dirty updates and excerpts. There’s no need to clog up everyone’s news feeds with lengthy tweets/articles.

  • Wally Wiki-Tips

    Seem to me that a smart move would be for “Twitter” to develop two platforms… Twitter & TwitterPlus. This would provide an “A – B Split Test” by giving users the option as to which platform they prefer.

    It may be discovered that both platforms are viable, beneficial & profitable.

  • http://the-best-blog-on-the-internet.epizy.com/ The Best Blog Online

    That would be nice if twitter allowed 10000 characters in the description because that will be helpful for us internet marketers.