Stay Gold, Twitter. Why the 140 Character Limit Must Remain.

In S.E. Hinton’s classic, The Outsiders, the dying Johnny Cade speaks the words, “Stay Gold” to his friend Ponyboy Curtis.  He’s trying to tell him to keep his special spark, his interest in literature and poetry, that separates him from everyone else they know.  In the larger scheme of things, its a reference to a Robert Frost poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay”, that the two read together while hiding out.  The poem itself talks about the end of innocence and inevitable changes that happen with time.

Stay Gold, Ponyboy

This week, Recode reported that Twitter is considering expanding Tweets to handle major essay lengths (10,000 words).  Jack Dorsey of Twitter chimed in to the ongoing dialogue on the topic with a history of the character limit on the service, but basically affirming the experiment.

I’m here to ask Twitter to reconsider and here are my main reasons:

  1. The 140 character limit makes Twitter unique.  Do we really want to see Twitter conform to a Facebook standard? Heck no.
  2. We don’t need another blog engine.  10,000 words is white paper length. To me, this suggests that Twitter is trying to expand its scope to allow people to compose blogs and other long-form prose. This means competing with Medium, Facebook, WordPress and many more.  It’s already an overcrowded market.
  3. Twitter is about news and happenings in real-time.  The new moments feature works because it’s built on top of that notion.  The ad products work because they’re built on top of that concept as well.  Let’s look for ways to focus on that.

All of that said, I see tons of ways that Twitter can be improved by loosening the rules to make the 140 character rule far less encumbering.  I would recommend starting by seeing what other items in the Tweet payload could be removed from the actual 140-character message limit. For example, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Don’t include @usernames in the 140 character limit
  2. Don’t include hashtags
  3. Don’t include links
  4. Don’t include images
  5. Don’t include videos

I’ve had a long relationship with Twitter as an early user who took a while to fall in love with the service. Now that I have, it’s become an integral part of my business and personal life.  I’d like to see it forget following Facebook and staying true to its roots.

Stay gold, Twitter.

Stay Gold, Twitter
Stay Gold, Twitter

Thanks to the incredible David Meerman Scott for speaking out against this change quickly!

Also published on Medium.