Your Tweets Are About To Get Longer
In praise of the death of the 140-character limit.
In a conversation with a Twitter spokeswoman, though, I got the sense that the preferential treatment is only temporary, part of a slow rollout of a complex technical change. At the moment, Twitter is letting any site apply to have its content show up as expanded summaries. Over time, it seems likely that more and more sites will be allowed to automatically expand into summaries within tweets. So not long from now, when someone links to a post from Is Ryan Gosling Cuter Than a Puppy?, you’ll be able to see both Ryan and the puppy right in the tweet, and perhaps even cast your vote there, too.
A bigger-picture criticism is that, by offering more and more stuff within each tweet, Twitter risks becoming something altogether different from a quick-update site. This fear rests on the idea that there’s something mystical and poetic about the current character limit. Many people argue that it inspires creativity, and that without it, Twitter would get bogged down in endless talk and too many flashy things. Costolo himself has fretted about this. In an interview with Fortune last year, the CEO was asked whether he felt pressure to make Twitter more dynamic in response to other, more feature-rich social networks. “You know, if you just look in the sideview mirror at what are particular companies doing, and then you start to say, ‘Twitter is going to be the world in your pocket—now with video chat!’—then you lose your way, right?" Costolo said. "So, we're going to offer simplicity in a world of complexity, focus on our goal, while we understand what everyone else is doing."
Expanding tweets isn’t quite the same thing as adding video chat to Twitter—but it’s moving in that direction. The cynical view is that Costolo is rolling out expanded tweets for commercial reasons. In the same way that the new feature will show you a snippet from a new article, supersized tweets would let McDonald’s offer you an in-tweet coupon for super-sized fries.
But I don’t think money is Twitter’s main reason for expanding tweets. The more simple explanation is that small blocks of text are becoming more and more out of step with everything else online. The Web is a bustling place that’s overflowing with pictures, movies, songs, and blog posts. Twitter’s purpose is to reflect everything that’s going on in this crazy ecosystem. If it takes a few hundred more characters to do so, what’s so bad about that?
Farhad Manjoo is Slate's technology columnist and the author of True Enough: Learning To Live in a Post-Fact Society. You can email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter.