Get ready for changes at Twitter. Over on Re/code, writers Kurt Wagner and Jason Del Ray have got the inside word that the micro-blog giant is 'building a new product that will allow users to share tweets that are longer than the company's 140-character limit'. What that means, exactly, is unclear. Does that mean longer tweets? An integrated blogging option? The one thing that is evident is that Twitter is looking to make changes - a senior Twitter employee told Re/code that:
"People have been very precious at Twitter about what Twitter can be and how much it can be evolved. Having Jack [Dorsey] come in and say it's okay makes all the difference in the world."
For all those people who refute rumors of any such change, saying they're 'not what Twitter's about' or 'not what Twitter is', what you know of Twitter and how it works may be set to evolve.
Impetus for Action
So why change Twitter? Plenty of people like it already, their user base is solid (316 million monthly active users) and their revenue results are beating expectations. Does Twitter really have to change?
Yes and No. Despite having good revenue and user numbers, Twitter's biggest, current challenge is growth. It's not that people don't like Twitter, you can pretty much look around you anytime and see a bunch of @handles and hashtags and pointers to a wider Twitter conversation about an event or topic, but new users, in particular, are still often perplexed as to what Twitter is and how to use it.
Twitter growth has slowed considerably, even stalled in the US market
The challenge for Twitter, in this regard, is to show how valuable and engaging Twitter content is and to highlight Twitter's place as the real-time news platform, the place to go for breaking news and trending discussion. It's clear Twitter has the upper hand on this front - the recent MTV VMA Awards was the most tweeted about, non-TV event in history, generating more than 21.4 million tweets from across America. Twitter has cemented its place as part of our wider media process - but that user growth remains a concern, particularly as the platform will, inevitably, be constantly held up for comparison against Facebook's massive 1.44 billion audience. And while that level of growth might be unattainable for anyone, Twitter should, at the least, be able to hold out competition on growth from newer players like Instagram, right? Instagram, which hit 400 million monthly active users last week.
In order to maintain its market position, Twitter needs user growth - engagement is great, revenue increases are obviously major, but ongoing growth is also a requirement. And to do that, Twitter needs to find ways to better showcase its value to new users, or extend their functionality to increase time spent on the platform. An increase in the length of tweets or Twitter content could be a way to do just that.
So what could a new productm, free of the 140-character limit, be? In the Re/code piece, the authors note that Twitter execs have been investigating the idea of removing things like links and user handles from the 140-character count, along similar lines to the recently added 'retweet with comment' feature. Such changes would be minor, in the wider scheme of things, but would allow for more text in tweets, which could, theoretically, open up interaction on the site.
But such changes would be difficult to actually implement - if @handles are no longer included in the character count, you could, theoretically, include 20, even 50, @handles in a tweet and create this huge, monster message that would take up entire mobile screens, a capability that would no doubt be adused by spammers and blast marketers. No doubt Twitter would have some way around this, but you get my point, it'd be difficult to build parameters around such an addition in any workable way.
More likely, and more controversially, Twitter could be looking to add in an on-platform blogging option, much like LinkedIn has done, and that Facebook is now looking to do with their recent update to 'Notes'. Such an option has been suggested before - even respected tech evangelist Robert Scoble has suggested Twitter should look to integrate with Medium on longer form content. Such an option was noted in a recent LinkedIn Pulse post by UDrift CEO Chris Nunneley, who even put together a few basic mock-ups on what a Twitter blogging addition might look like.
A mock-up of what a Twitter blog option might look like
"Twitter needs more user engagement," notes Nunneley. "You don't get an increase in user engagement by keeping the platform level. Instead, you achieve higher engagement levels by giving users wonderful new capabilities."
He may have a point, and definitely Twitter has been investigating options on this front, with it's much-discussed 'Project Lightning' leading the way, a new way to uncover relevant, topic-driven Twitter conversations and make the platform more accessible to outside viewers.
It's possible that the addition of a long-form content element could play a part in a wider roll-out of Lightning, with Twitter providing curated collections of subject-relevant material, comprising of tweets, Periscope content, Vines and long form posts (possibly from an integration with Medium). Such an offering would create a more comprehensive and immersive Twitter experience - imagine if a hub like this were in place for something like the MTV VMAs, making it the home of that event, the best way to experience it in real-time without actually being there. Twitter has the tools to facilitate this, it has the data on most popular content, through links, along with most popular tweets - adding in long form content here could be a positive move.
What Twitter Is
How a possible change to Twitter's 140-character limit might play out is entirely speculation, as is the idea that Twitter would ever implement such a change either way. No doubt this option is in discussion - Re/code wouldn't be reporting it without reputable source info - but the only people who truly know Twitter's future direction are the people in the board room at Twitter HQ. The speculation has been that Twitter won't be making any major moves until they have a new CEO in place, but the suggestion in this report is that Jack Dorsey, the interim CEO, is looking and acting more like the man for the job. Maybe his permanent appointment will come soon, and if it does, maybe today's reports indicate that big changes are coming. And soon.
Main image via MOSO IMAGE / Shutterstock