“Twitter Isn’t Raising the Character Limit. It’s Becoming a Walled Garden.”

Smart take from Will Oremus, writing for Slate. He posits that Twitter’s rumored move to allow longer tweets is effectively its version of Facebook’s “Instant Articles”:

Twitter, like Facebook, has long played the role of a switchboard that routes people to in-depth stories elsewhere on the Web. This is great for those other sites, but not so great for Twitter, which is essentially giving away one of the Internet’s most valuable commodities: readers’ attention.

“Beyond 140” (Twitter’s code name for the new feature) would essentially replace links to external content with content hosted by Twitter itself.

This makes sense, from Twitter’s perspective (even if I resent the change as a content creator. I would’ve guessed that Twitter might partner with Medium, a closed blogging platform that already hosts writers’ work in a similar way. Medium was founded by Ev Williams, who also co-founded Twitter and still sits on Twitter’s board. But apparently Twitter would rather keep users’ content in-house.

One question about “Beyond 140”, though: why 10,000 characters? Twitter applied that arbitrary limit to direct messages last summer, but how did they arrive at the number? 10,000 characters is approximately 2,000 words—longer than most blog posts and long enough that many users would never even approach the limit. So why not just drop the character limit entirely?

My guess: Twitter considers brevity an essential part of its brand identity. An unlimited character limit would mean that Twitter had effectively done nothing more than build another closed publishing platform. But if the announcement includes a fixed limit (even an absurdly large number like 10,000), Twitter can market the change as a natural extension of its familiar clipped format.