A long sentence vs. a short paragraph: on Twitter’s character limit change

Last night, Twitter began public testing of a long-rumored, controversial increase to its character limit, doubling the quota from 140 characters to 280. It’s the most significant change to the service since its debut over a decade ago—the difference between a quip and a quote, between a thought and an idea, between an objection and an argument.

To illustrate this, I’ve pasted a few familiar quotations below; each of these fits under the new 280-character limit; the struck-through text would have been cut off under the old 140-character rule.

Winston Churchill, address to the House of Commons, June 1940

“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg address, November 1863

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation… can long endure.

Thomas Jefferson, the U.S. Declaration of Independence, 1776

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Steve Jobs, Stanford commencement address, 2005

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death.

It’ll be fascinating to see how user behavior changes once the longer quota goes live. Until yesterday, every tweet was understandable at a glance. Now, browsing your timeline will require require actual reading (heaven forfend). Will Twitter still feel like Twitter? ■

internet tech

“The more people use Facebook, the more unhappy they are”

‘You are the product’ by John Lanchester

“The researchers found quite simply that the more people use Facebook, the more unhappy they are. A 1 per cent increase in ‘likes’ and clicks and status updates was correlated with a 5 to 8 per cent decrease in mental health. In addition, they found that the positive effect of real-world interactions, which enhance well-being, was accurately paralleled by the ‘negative associations of Facebook use’. In effect people were swapping real relationships which made them feel good for time on Facebook which made them feel bad.”

Lanchester forcefully makes the case that Facebook is a net evil—bad for your mental health and bad for society as a whole.

Cynical about Facebook’s motivations, its suck on my time, and its effects on my well-being, I’ve tried to untangle myself from the service lately. I first deleted the app a few months ago—a divorce that didn’t take, since I reinstalled within days. My second attempt proved more successful, however, and I haven’t used the app since late spring. I do occasionally get sucked into checking Facebook via the web, but that happens less and less frequently. I’m slowly psyching myself up for a permanent account deletion.

What keeps me from pulling the trigger? Family photos, of course. It’s hard to resist the spurts of dopamine I get when friends comment on pics of my adorable two-year-old. That same mild addiction also makes it tough to quit Instagram (which is owned, of course, by Facebook itself.)

internet TV

Letterman’s moving to Netflix. Who’s next?

From a Netflix press release:

“David Letterman, the longest-serving host in U.S. late night television – the original host of Late Night (NBC) and The Late Show (CBS) – is returning to television for a new series for Netflix.

The yet-to-be-named, six-episode series has Letterman combining two interests for which he is renowned: in-depth conversations with extraordinary people, and in-the-field segments expressing his curiosity and humor.”

This makes sense. Letterman has occasionally expressed admiration for Jerry Seinfeld’s highly successful web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (which recently announced its own transition to Netflix).

Conan should have gone online-only when NBC fired him back in 2010.

So… comedians are leading the Internet TV charge. One other star I’d like to see join the fray? Conan O’Brien, who should have gone online-only when NBC fired him back in 2010. Instead, he transplanted his network show to basic cable, where he continues to rehearse the tired late-night talk show model. But his absurd, amazing remote bits would work well as a standalone short-form web series. ■


internet technology Uncategorized

How does Mark Gurman land his Apple scoops?

No wonder Bloomberg hired him.

internet TV Uncategorized

Frinkiac, the search engine for Simpsons screencaps

Behold, Frinkiac, which takes Simpsons quotes as input and returns the corresponding screencap. I’d echo John Siracusa on this:


“Towering achievement” indeed.[1] I quickly found Sideshow Bob’s H.M.S. Pinafore performance using the line “He himself has said it.” Want to see Ralph Wiggum deliver his “That’s where I’m a Viking!” line? No problem. Or Homer’s expression while listening to the National Fatherhood Institute’s hold music? Easy. I could spend all day exhausting the Simpsons quotes that repeat viewings burned into my teenaged brain.

If I ran Fox, I’d buy Frinkiac and build its functionality into Imagine: what if searching for your favorite quote summoned not just the screencap—but the actual video clip? Once you had found your scene, the site would let you embed it elsewhere on the web—or generate an animated GIF (with subtitles) to share on social media. Boom: infinite pageviews.

  1. Here’s more on how this was done.  ↩
internet Uncategorized

How did a month of daily posts affect my blog traffic?

Just before Thanksgiving, I made several “creative resolutions”: I would blog every day, no matter what, and I would avoid checking my blog analytics until Christmas. I was determined just to write—without getting sidetracked by page views, followers, or blog traffic.

I’m happy to report that I accomplished the writing goal. I’ve posted something to this blog for 38 consecutive days—easily my longest streak ever. Every morning, I wake at 4:30, plop myself down on the couch, and hammer the keys until I finish a post (or until I run out of time and publish anyways). I’m more proud of some posts than others, but I’ve at least established some consistency.

I nearly kept my second resolution. I had originally planned to wait until Christmas Day to check my blog analytics. But some creative reflection yesterday made me curious enough to peek at the numbers. I expected a marked increase in readership, after a month’s worth of content. The reality wasn’t quite so rosy:

My blog’s pageviews since November 16.

This pageview data seems so inconsistent that I hesitate to draw any conclusions. (The session and user counts show similar contours.)

Looking at the acquisition numbers, most of my traffic comes from Facebook. Yet there’s little sign of progress on that front; I’ve earned just three Facebook page likes since my blogging stint started on November 16:

Page likes
My Facebook page likes since November 16.

There’s a clearer spike in my Twitter follower count:

My Twitter followers since November 16.

But twenty followers hardly constitutes a major shift. Plus, the uptick has stalled—my follower count has flatlined since the start of December.

I find these graphs discouraging. I didn’t expect a “hockey-stick” trend, but I hoped for modest, measurable progress. I wanted some reward for my diligence—some motivation to write in the upcoming year. Instead, these middling numbers tempt to me to abandon my blog (again). Confession: I nearly skipped writing this morning for the first time in a month.

Understand; I’m still determined to continue making something on the Internet. But between family commitments and my full-time job, I have very limited spare time. I’d rather not spend those precious hours writing posts that no one will read—especially since I’ve sacrificed other hobbies to maintain my writing momentum. For example, I’ve exercised far less often this past month than I’d like.

Maybe I need to make a course correction here. Should I narrow my blogging niche? Rededicate myself to self-promotion? Break out my blog into its own brand? Or should I stop blogging for a while and adopt a different medium? Is 2016 the year that I finally try my hand at podcasting?

One thing’s clear: my consecutive-day streak will likely fall victim to a TV-and-Christmas-cookie bender this week. And that’s okay; vacations should be spent relaxing and recharging. The holiday break provides a good opportunity to reflect and retool for the new year.

Besides, after a month of waking before 5 AM to write, I’m exhausted.

internet Uncategorized

What’s it like to be “Internet Famous”?

Caite Upton’s ineloquent response during a 2007 beauty pageant interview catapulted her to Internet infamy. She spoke with New York magazine about the experience:

Somebody once put a letter in my parents’ mailbox about how my body was going to be eaten alive by ants and burned in a freak fire. And then it said, in all caps, GO DIE CAITE UPTON, GO DIE FOR YOUR STUPIDITY. That’s the kind of stuff people would say to me for two years.

The article features discussions with Upton and a handful of other ex-memes. Among the interviewees are the “Leave Britney Alone” vlogger, the “Evolution of Dance” guy, the homeless “Golden Voice” man, and the “Charlie bit my finger” family.

The conversations cover some fascinating territory. Do online services that allow anonymous comments (e.g. YouTube and Reddit) encourage abuse? Who leveraged their unexpected fame into cash, who didn’t, and who regrets it? How do the celebs feel about imitators piggy-backing on their success? How did they handle the inevitable decline in popularity?

internet Life Uncategorized

Stop sorting your email.

For twenty years now, I’ve sorted my email. I painstakingly classify each incoming message, hoping that my tags will help me find it again later. If folders and cabinets keep paper documents organized, I tell myself, then wouldn’t digital folders help me stay on top of email?

The answer, of course, is “No.” Email folders (and the Gmail equivalent, labels) are a waste of time.

I rarely—if ever—browse archived emails by label. If a message isn’t in my inbox, I use search to track it down, relying on the automatically-generated index that’s standard to every email modern client. Can I recall even one unique word from the message I’m hunting? If so, search retrieves the thread instantly. If not, metadata can help filter down the results—e.g. was there an attachment? Who sent the email? When? Search lets you leverage whatever bits of information you can remember. I’ve grown so used to this approach that I’ve memorized multiple search operators in both Gmail and Outlook.

It’s not just that I labels feel unnecessary; they actually undermine productivity. My commitment to tagging adds friction to every inbox triage. Too often, I leave emails sitting in my inbox simply because I’m too lazy or too busy to label them. Before I know it, dozens of threads have piled up. Automatic filters can help—but setting them up feels like another tedious chore.

A final reason I resent email labels? They limit my email client options. The slickest, most innovative email apps—like Microsoft’s Outlook, or Dropbox’s Mailbox—don’t support Gmail’s proprietary tagging system. I miss out on helpful features like one-swipe archive and email “snoozing.” Even Apple’s vanilla (but solid) offers limited label support. I’m stuck with Gmail’s clunky—but label-compatible—official app.

I want to break free. I’m dropping labels, cold turkey, for the next few weeks. I won’t delete my tagging hierarchy just yet. But rather than classify each email as it comes in, I’ll either archive it, delete it, create a to-do task, or delegate that item to someone else. You know, just like Uncle Merlin says. What I won’t do is add a tag or move the message into a folder.

Will I relapse and binge on labels again? Or will I attain a new level of email enlightenment? I’ll report back in a few weeks.

internet TV Uncategorized

Streaming TV wins—except on Thanksgiving.

Like many millennials, I don’t subscribe to traditional TV. Cable companies overcharge for an inferior, viewer-hostile product. Once you get used to streaming, you can’t go back to TV’s linear air times, limited programming options, and endless sponsor breaks.

… Except during Thanksgiving. Combine extra vacation time with an extended family’s varied tastes, and streaming has some downsides. Its chief appeal—the ability to choose—suddenly becomes a burden. The tribe gathers around TV’s warm, glowing, warming glow, then spends twenty frustrating minutes browsing Netflix. You scroll hopelessly past shows recommended for you—but not for Grandma Marigold. If someone proposes a program, stubborn vetoes and frustrated groans arise from all corners. Some family members play the passive-aggressive card (“Oh, that movie? Well, I can always go in the other room”). Eventually, the feuding factions brook a compromise: a movie everyone can stomach but no one really likes.

Contrast that to cable, where there are fewer disagreements and no tough decisions. The entire family knows that the shows are trash. Everyone resigns themselves to low-quality entertainment: faux-“reality” TV, bastardized movie edits, over-sponsored sports.

There’s something nice about traditional TV’s limitations. One hour flows seamlessly into the next—often, another episode of the same show. Your brain shuts down, and you table your worries: the dead-end job, the mortgage payment, your lonely social life. TV doesn’t make you feel good, exactly, but it drowns out the bad thoughts. A wired, buzzy sensation sets in; it’s—not happiness, exactly, but close. Combine TV with a steady intake of holiday leftovers, and the experience is kind of wonderful.

Kind of. Eventually, your Thanksgiving bender ends, and the hangover sets in. Your head feels hollow. Your eyes ache. You look back in horror at what you’ve done (“I wasted four days watching Property Brothers?!”). Ashamed, you swear never to binge on TV ever again.

But don’t kid yourself. Christmas break is coming, and that 72-hour Mythbusters marathon ain’t gonna watch itself.

internet technology Uncategorized

The “patronage” misnomer

Charles Perry, writing on the Metakite software blog:

This new model, in fact, is the opposite of patronage. Instead of requiring a patron to provide money up front in exchange for an item of value, this new model gives away all the value in advance and requires nothing from those who receive it. It less resembles patronage, or even commerce, than it does begging, or busking if you’re feeling generous.

The rise of “patronage”

For years now, many iOS developers have complained that the App Store makes it difficult to sell quality, premium software. Because free apps dominate the top charts, customers now expect to pay nothing for software. Many devs can no longer charge up front for their work. Instead, they’re forced to lock features behind in-app purchases, embed gross, manipulative advertising, or implement clunky subscription models—just to sustain development and earn a living.

More recently, a new pricing model has emerged: “patronage.” Under this approach, devs give away their full-featured apps, then request user donations to support the software’s ongoing development.

Patronage has proven controversial—perhaps most notably in the case of Overcast. Marco Arment’s popular podcast client recently changed pricing models, dropping its in-app purchase and instead asking users for recurring support.

Marco’s critics contend that patronage in Overcast unfairly leverages the developer’s high profile among Apple nerds (Marco helped establish Tumblr, created Instapaper, and co-hosts the popular ‘Accidental Tech Podcast’). His previous successes (so the critique goes) not only give him a platform for promoting his app; they also afford him the financial means to forgo higher profits in favor of capturing more users. Other podcast client developers don’t share these advantages; that makes it difficult to adopt the same model and compete with Arment on price.

I’m conflicted. On the one hand, Marco earned his advantages. Over the course of several years, his hard work scored him a good reputation and a sizeable audience. Shouldn’t we celebrate—rather than condemn—his achievements? On the other hand, the “Overcast incident” raises some interesting questions. Do developers who “make it” have a responsibility to help others do the same? Can pricing be “predatory” if the seller still makes a profit (Marco says “No”)? More generally, is the rise of the patronage model bad for developers?

The “patronage” misnomer

In any case, Charles Perry is right: “patronage” is poorly-named. That term invites us to compare app developers to classical composers (e.g. Mozart), who served at the behest of wealthy nobles. These aristocrats funded the musicians, effectively pre-paying for new compositions. App Store “patronage,” meanwhile, more nearly resembles street performance; developers share their work freely and hope that their audiences show some gratitude and drop them a few bucks afterwards.[1]

Such “busking” isn’t begging, per se—but it’s close. Like panhandling, it reeks of desperation—the resigned last resort of someone chewed up by the system. After all, wouldn’t most street performers rather practice their art in warmer, friendlier environs? Is the App Store economy so hopeless that developers must rely on charity?

If so, Apple must fix the App Store. Exactly how to do that? I’m not sure, but allowing paid upgrades and free trials seems like a good start. Regardless of the exact solution, let’s hope Apple acts soon—otherwise the app economy may force more and more devs to “set out the hat.”

[Edited on 11/23/15; the “critics” link now points to Michael Anderson’s take.]

  1. If anything, venture capital is the actual “patronage” model: wealthy donors paying up front for a product that hasn’t yet been created.  ↩