During the quiet holiday weekend a blog post from a writer named Startup L. Jackson got a lot of circulation. He says that Twitter's product is okay as-is, and people who say the 140-char limit must be eased are indulging in what he calls "magical thinking." As readers of this blog know, I am one of those people.
I don't say Twitter needs to ease the 140-char limit because it will grow the market, as Mr Jackson suggests, it might or it might not, but that isn't the reason. It's not a grow-the-market move, it's a defensive move.
I don't really want to repeat my last post on this topic, which ran just five days ago, but what the hell, one more time won't kill me.
Twitter has had real-time news more or less to itself since inception. Facebook was busy doing something else. Apple had the totally wrong idea of how news worked. Google had good products, Google News and Google Now, but they weren't doing exactly what Twitter does.
But things have changed. Facebook and Apple are actively pursuing news, and at least in Facebook's case, their product works better than Twitter's. Flipboard has an excellent product, and while they don't appear to be an immediate threat to Twitter, they could be acquired.
News products that are limited to 140 characters have to use pointers to guide the reader to the rest of the story.
Key point -- the new entrants don't have a 140-char limit.
If you think that clicking on a link to read a story is not a serious disadvantage, then go ahead and keep the 140-char limit. But Facebook claims to have done the research, and my anecdotal experience confirms this: people don't click links.
It's easy and non-disruptive for Twitter to ease the limit. The people who really love Twitter as-is will barely notice a difference. Except when they want to read more, they can just click a link, and the full story loads immediately, because the full article is already there, it's in the Twitter feed, just hidden at first. This is very simple, imho totally non-controversial stuff. Don't breeze by it, and think the limit is insignificant. It just cripples Twitter in relation to its new competition.
I've seen this happen so many times in tech. An early leader thinks there's something magic about their product, a newcomer enters and takes the market because they were wrong about the magic. Users almost always go for new power, esp when it comes to them as performance not complexity. That's all we're talking about here. News stories that load instantly as opposed to news stories that require for a new page to load.
It's pretty basic shit, Mr Jackson.
PS: To illustrate the point, I posted this story in full text on Facebook. Let's see which version gets more engagement, the one on Twitter, limited to 140, with a link, and the full text piece on FB.