280. Has Twitter lost its character?

Submitted by on the 16th of April 2018

“I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.” – apparently many people.

Anyone can ramble 

The earliest claim to the abovementioned quote is by French philosopher, Blaise Pascal, in a letter from 1657.

Although it has been attributed to many famous writers throughout history, including George Orwell and Mark Twain, and even though the art of letter writing has been declared dead, cremated and scattered into abyss of time immemorial, the sentiment remains – anyone can opine with a plethora of unnecessary, superfluous and redundant words.

Anyone can ramble. But it takes effort to keep it short.

The short of it

That was the entire beauty of Twitter. One hundred and forty considered characters, including spaces. This paragraph has 140 characters.

In an age where everyone has earned the right to vomit their opinion because Internet says so, the amount of stupidity spewed on a secondly basis is astonishing. The more space they have, the more likely the ‘author’ will ANGRILY BANG THE CAPS KEY TO GET THEIR POINT ACROSS.

But that’s just my opinion.

A safety net of more

According to Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, who may be a little more qualified to comment on this than me, the average length of Tweet has not really gone up.

Perhaps Tweeters have already been conditioned to land their point succinctly. It’s like growing up on bite-sized tasting platters, only to then have a full buffet shoved in your face. You may dabble, but you’ll hopefully go back to the tasting platters.

Even more interesting is that Twitter has also seen a drop in the abandonment of Tweets. This could be attributed to Tweeters having the safety net of the extra characters, taking the pressure off having to say something profound with just a few words.

It all ads up

A total of 86% of Twitter’s revenue comes from advertising ($2.1b in 2017). Traditional brands, those who are more comfortable with squeezing two minutes of messaging into a 30-second TVC, or ignoring the six to nine words rule on a billboard by 25 words, may not have seen the value of paying for such succinct advertising space on Twitter. Doubling the advertising real estate may be a way of attracting these brands (cue five single-minded propositions).

With over eight million South Africans using Twitter, most of which are on mobile, a brand’s Tweet can now take up a fair chunk of the screen, making it sizeably more attractive to brand managers.

The old dogs teach the pups

Like it or not, Twitter is now 280 characters. The fact that we have seen very little change in deviating from the 10-year old 140-character history could signal that this behaviour is well entrenched. New Twitter account holders may start to change this behaviour, but Twitter has shown the lowest growth in terms of new users, meaning that the old guard still dictates proper Twitter etiquette. Between Q3 2015 and Q3 2017, Twitter added just 23 million new users, compared with Facebook (461m), Instagram (400m), WhatsApp (400m), WeChat (313m) and new kid on the block, Snapchat (87m).

Unless there is a surge of new users, who embrace the 280 characters, the short and often cutting Tweet may just remain as is. For now.