Jack Dorsey recently announced plans to introduce 10,000 character limits on Twitter. There’s been a lot of opinions flying around about the merits and issues with this direction. The common consensus around the form the feature will likely take is the standard 140 character Tweet, linking to a 10,000 character text attachment. This will eliminate the need for text shots, which have become very common on Twitter, and allow for more searchable, accessible content on the platform.
This seems like a common sense thing for Twitter today. Maintain the pithy brevity of Tweets, but add new functionality that people are already trying to do. As a product decision, this makes a lot of sense for Twitter. It echoes the way Twitter has developed in the past. Retweets, @ mentions, and even their mascot have all come from community innovation that the company then embraced and integrated with the product. However, what is good for the company may not be in the best interest of the web.
An obvious use case of text attachments on Twitter will be to replace blogs for many people. The convenience of writing a post within Twitter itself, rather than setting up a site for self-publishing may prove irresistable. In addition, as Ben Thompson points out, some people would rather not click links if given the choice. All this adds up to a boon for Twitter, and a problem for the open web. Twitter has always been very friendly to the web. In fact, a major reason for Twitter’s hold over people’s attention is how many links to other places fill its timeline. This new feature, if it becomes a major source of publishing, has the potential to send Twitter down the same walled off path as Facebook.
I agree with Manton Reece:
…we can’t rewind the clock to the heyday of the blogosphere. But we can still do more.
If the open web loses to walled gardens, it will be its own fault. Blogging platforms have made large strides in customizability, ease of setup, and easy publishing. Although nothing competes with Twitter in ease of publishing, you can sign up for Wordpress or Squarespace and be posting in a matter of minutes. I think where many blogging platforms fall behind is their interoperability with social networks and places where people are. While it is relatively easy to post to a blog, syndicating that content to Twitter, Facebook, or Medium still requires additional configuration, which many users won’t do. I think it would be in blogging software’s interest to make these POSSE features a standard part of their core product. In order for the open web to not lose ground, ironically, they will need to play nicer with closed platforms than they are likely to receive in return.
Making it easier for anyone to post content is a net benefit, and I don’t think it should be avoided. However, if this happens within closed platforms, it may also leave parts of the open web a casualty. It will also burn many people who pour content into Twitter today only to realize it’s all gone if (when?) the company disappears 10 years from now. If this is to be avoided, the tools of the open web need to improve and become attractive enough for more people to embrace.