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Here's a Nice Holiday Gift Idea: Change Twitter's 140-Character Limit

The character limit just doesn't make sense when you consider how the service has evolved.

Julia Tim / Shutterstock

In the spirit of Black Friday, I’m sending along my holiday wish list to Twitter. I’d like a better search feature, please. And the Direct Messages tool could use a facelift, too.

But if there’s room for just one gift this year, I know what’s at the top of my list: Changing the 140-character limit.

Since Twitter’s founding in 2006, all tweets have been constrained to 140 characters. It made sense in the early days. Users initially received tweets as an SMS (text message) which had a 160-character limit. No one wanted to receive three or four texts to read a tweet on their phone.

This restriction worked when Twitter started; tweets were text only. Now, I rarely find a tweet in my stream that doesn’t include some kind of visual attachment — a photo or video — or a link to a Web story. The service has evolved, and I hope the tweet restrictions evolve with it.

So here’s what I propose: Keep the 140-character limit the same, but exclude things like links, photos or user mentions from counting toward to the total.

If Twitter wants to encourage engagement and discussion around important topics (or even unimportant ones), it needs to give users a chance to explain why they’re sharing something with their followers, or allow them to jump into a conversation with other users without being hampered by mentioning two or three user handles.

Adding a link to a tweet takes up 22 characters — or roughly 16 percent of the tweet’s real estate. A photo takes up 23 characters.

There are certainly benefits to a limit. It forces users to be concise, and in many ways, one of Twitter’s greatest differentiators is that all the content is so easily consumable. You probably wouldn’t use Twitter if every post was a lengthy essay. And users already do enough damage to themselves and others on the service in 140 characters — we don’t need to give the Twitter trolls any more scope than they already have.

But the initial idea for Twitter gave users 140 characters of text, and that’s what Twitter should uphold.

The good news: Twitter appears to be open to the idea. At the company’s analyst day earlier this month, CEO Dick Costolo was asked if Twitter plans to change the limit. “We don’t have religion about anything,” he replied. “We’ve had a detailed set of discussions inside the company on the leadership team around not having religion that cuts off the debate about the kinds of experiences we should create.”

Translation: We’re not married to anything about the product, so anything can change.

https://twitter.com/dickc/status/536578475470389248

Twitter investor Marc Andreessen, who’s known for “tweetstorming” single thoughts or arguments that span multiple tweets, called for a similar change last weekend. Looks like I’m not the only one with a Twitter wish list.

https://twitter.com/pmarca/status/536403970135056384

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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