Just when we thought there was one site left in the world that encouraged succinct and carefully chosen language, the rug has been pulled out from underneath us. On 21 March 2006 Twitter was born. The idea was simple. Jack Dorsey thought it would be a cool idea to use the 160-character limit that mobile phones used for text messaging and create groups for friends to communicate. Twitter allowed room for a user name and therefore imposed a 140-character limit on each Tweet.

Jack sent the first message on Twitter which simply said “just setting up my twttr” and a social media platform was born.

One of the great attractions of Twitter has always been the brevity. If you can’t say it in 140 characters, then don’t say it on Twitter. It is the best way I can think of to limit what Donald Trump has to say – although he can still do significant damage in just 140 characters! He may well be the first person to conquer a country but destroy the world! But I digress.

In the world of social media platforms, Twitter is lagging behind. Facebook now has over 2 billion users followed by YouTube with 1.5 billion; Instagram at 800 million and next in line is Twitter with “only” 330 million users. I believe the attraction of Twitter has been its brevity but the decision-makers of Twitter have decided their growth is limited while they stay true to the 140-character limit. With a market capitalisation of only $14.56 billion, they are keen to increase the value of Twitter.

After spending way too much time examining the length of Tweets, Twitter found that 9 per cent of tweets in English hit the 140-character limit. At the end of September, Twitter started a trial for some users of a 280-character limit. My response was to hope it failed spectacularly and they stayed with the limit.

Unfortunately, that was not the case.

After what Twitter described as a successful trial, every user now has 280 characters to spread their message to the world. In the trial, only 1 per cent of users went over the original 140-character limit.

I am still not convinced – but then again I don’t make the decisions for Twitter. In the English language the average word length is 4.79 characters. Add a space between words and it means that users can now type about 48 words per Tweet. The big users of Twitter will be all over this and you will see evidence already of this occurring. Katy Perry; Justin Bieber and Barack Obama top the followers list (with 106M; 103M and 96M respectively) and I have already seen evidence of their extended Tweets – as much for novelty value as for necessity. (As a matter of interest, the highest Aussie on the list is Hugh Jackman with 11M followers.) The average length of an English Tweet is 34 characters so my only hope is that this length doesn’t drastically increase with the new limit. On the positive side, Twitter did entertain the idea of going to 10,000 characters but thankfully common-sense prevailed.

Keep an eye on those Tweets and see if you see evidence of doubling the verbosity of the Twitter masses.

App of the week this week is Bear. Supposedly everyone has one novel tucked away in the recesses of their brain somewhere and Bear is designed to help you drag that out. It helps you organise chapters and characters and put your story together one chapter or sentence at a time. Who knows, you might even be able to do it just 280 characters at a time!

Mathew Dickerson

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