The 140-character limit on tweets has been a fundamental feature of Twitter almost since its inception (although not quite, interestingly…) but it could soon be lifted, and dramatically so.
Following rumours that the character count could be raised substantially, from 140 to 10,000, CEO and co-founder of Twitter Jack Dorsey took to his own profile – simply @jack – to explain some of the thinking behind any move that might be made in that area.
Significantly, he did so using a relatively long text which, due to the current limit on character counts, had to be shared as an image capture attached to a much shorter text tweet.
(Jack actually chose not to type any plain text at all in his tweet, instead letting the image carry his entire message – and only the URL of the image file appeared as plain text in the tweet itself.)
He wrote: “We didn’t start Twitter with a 140-character restriction. We added that early on to fit into a single SMS message (160 characters). It’s become a beautiful constraint, and I love it!
“We’ve spent a lot of time observing what people are doing on Twitter, and we see them taking screenshots of text and tweeting it. Instead, what if that text… was actually text?”
This, he added, would allow text to be highlighted, searched, and so on – instead of being locked away in the form of an image file.
Although the possible move to a 10,000-character limit has met some resistance from long-term users, ironically triggering multiple-tweet complaints from some whose views required over 140 characters, it is in line with broader efforts to make images more transparent for the purposes of search.
For instance, web designers have long been able to add alt and title attributes to images on web pages, to give them a plain text description for visually impaired visitors, or simply for SEO purposes.
Schema.org continues to make multimedia and structured data even more accessible to the search engines; and a move to longer plain-text tweets, rather than embedded image captures of text, would likely help to keep Twitter accessible to search engines too, most notably its own internal search function.