Is 140 Enough?

Twitter, the source of much derision for anyone who doesn't use it, was built at a time when SMS texting was the primary form of non-verbal communication on "mobile devices" so it was designed to work within the 160-character confines of the system. Since then Twitter has grown like kudzu and most people use it with anything but SMS – the Twitter website, web-based tools like Tweetdeck or mobile apps of various persuasions. That development has led to people suggesting that Twitter increase the character limit which has led, in turn, to others defending the 140 character limit. Here's a simple argument in favor of keeping the limit:

And, that's how we have learned to use the service. Or, as GigaOm's Mathew Ingram put it the first time Manjoo made this argument: "The point the Slate writer misses (or hints at, and then discards) is that if it did this, it wouldn’t be Twitter any more."

What truly makes the character limit so crucial to Twitter being Twitter is the brevity it forces on its users. Ask any writer and they'll tell you that brevity is hard – any fool can take two pages to tell you how to install a light bulb, but it takes some work to tell you in one sentence. Is 140 characters really "writing"? Not in the traditional sense, but if you haven't used Twitter you have no way of knowing how creative and witty people can be in so little space and it's truly a wonder to behold when it's done well. (See the Washington Post's Gene Weingarten for a good example, although the fact that he uses a turd as his icon might be a little off-putting to some of you).

The character limit also promotes sharing, because the less space someone has to write the more likely he is to simply provide a link with a quick (hopefully witty) intro. So rather than reading an unnecessarily long missive about a subject you get to read a quick intro and then view the source piece itself. Here's an example from Weingarten:

"Women may not be any smarter than men, but they are definitely less stupid." My new column: …

Sure, some folks use Twitter poorly, but some people who own Porsches drive like granny going to church and that's not the car's fault. Hopefully Twitter will stick to its guns and keep the 140 character limit. As the article linked to above points out, Twitter can expand and improve its service (i.e. photo sharing, links to expanded posts, etc.) without altering its fundamental 140-character DNA, and if they're smart that's exactly what they'll do.

FWIW, here's a link to probably the worst Twitter account in existence.

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