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Twitter goes full #280. Who cares? (and 4 other questions)

Stop the presses: This week, Twitter announced that it’s testing a game-changing, Earth-shattering development – doubling the maximum length of tweets from 140 to 280 characters. We’ll pause here to let you catch your breath.

The blog post announcing the move claims Twitter is doing this because they “want every person around the world to easily express themselves on Twitter”. The double-count change seems to be primarily for Twitter users writing in Romance languages – the post points out how much easier it is to fit your tweets into 140 characters when you’re writing in Japanese, Korean or Chinese.

In typical Twitter style, the announcement itself started trending on the platform, with most users seemingly annoyed, disinterested, or sarcastic about this update.

If you want to see this topic dissected from every single angle, your best bet is to go follow the trending #280Characters hash on Twitter. But for a quick read, here are 6 questions we have now off the back of this announcement, starting with…

1. Who cares?

I asked Adam Noakes, Croud Australia’s Head of Strategy, for his initial thoughts on the update. He got back to me with two words: “Who cares?” And this seems to be a prevailing sentiment on Twitter.

In all honesty, this update isn’t the game-changer some media groups are making it out to be. The new 280 characters rule is still significantly shorter than platforms like Facebook allow. Another sentence or two won’t make a massive impact – and on top of that, this new feature is only being rolled out to a few users for a start. So the answer to “Who cares?” Probably President Trump and others who get the feature first (though no word yet if he’s one of the chosen ones). Until it’s rolled out to a bigger audience, don’t expect too much else from this.

Unless, of course, you’re German:

2. Where’s our edit button?

If you follow the #280Characters tag, you’ll notice one thing that keeps coming up again and again – people are more interested in an “edit” button than this new character limit. At the moment, if you regret a tweet you send out into the world, you have two options: try to clarify your tweet with more follow-up tweets, or delete it (and pray no one screenshotted it).

An edit button would certainly be a welcome edition, particularly now that platforms like Instagram and Facebook have allowed this for some time.

No word yet on an edit button from Twitter, but perhaps they’ll take note of the chatter in the wake of this new announcement.

3. Will Twitter lose its poetry? Was it ever poetry?

Another common point of conversation around this: Twitter’s 140 character rule spawned a new medium that in many ways was a new genre of art.

It’s true that Twitter’s character count has spawned some wonderful comedy, beautiful turns of phrase, and brief nuggets of wisdom. Will the upping of the character count bastardise this art form? Well, as one Twitter user puts it – you don’t have to use all 280 characters, you know.

On the flip side, Twitter’s shorter character counts were one of its main points of differentiation. If you were to explain the difference between Facebook and Twitter to someone who didn’t know much about social media, the first thing you’d probably say about Twitter is that it limits your word count. Without that differentiation, will Twitter lose some of its identity?

4. Will this lead to new “best practices” for Twitter?

For a long time now, best practices for Twitter have been to keep posts under 110 characters, which allows enough wiggle room for people to retweet you without an extra hashtag or mention.

If the 280 rule goes Twitter-wide, we expect this will impact this best practice rule – but how? It’s unlikely that longer tweets will be more engaging, given that the most engaging Facebook posts still seem to fall right around 40 to 100 characters. Still, it’s an interesting question to ponder – and something to watch.

5. Is this a sign that Twitter wants to be a news feed?

Twitter has always lagged behind Facebook in terms of users (though it’s frequently claimed that their user base is more engaged than any other platform). While that may be true, we have to wonder if the 280 character count change is a sign of something larger.

Given that more than half of Twitter users say they use the platform to get news, perhaps Twitter is aiming to give journalists (and armchair journalists) a chance to dive somewhat deeper into the complex issues discussed on the platform every hour of every day.

While it’s not an enormous change in character count, the ability to add another sentence, or at least spell words out in their entirety rather than in Tweet-speak, could be enough to make a more compelling point.  

What do you think of Twitter’s latest announcement? Are you pro 280 characters?