Why changing Twitter’s 140-character limit is a dumb idea - Mathew Ingram ⇢
Mathew Ingram refutes the growing chorus of early-adopter types (or former friendfeed types, like Scoble) who are taken with the shiny new Google Plus, and now think of Twitter as stale beer. In particular, Mathew smacks down Farhad Manjoo’s suggestion that Twitter should double the number of characters in Tweets to 280:
The point the Slate writer [Manjoo] misses (or hints at, and then discards) is that if it did this, it wouldn’t be Twitter any more. As far as I’m concerned, the 140-character limit is one of the most brilliant things Twitter has ever done — and might even explain why it is still around, let alone worth a reported $8 billion or so. Not only did that limit feel comfortable to many users who were familiar with text messaging, but it restricted what people could post, so that Twitter didn’t become a massive time-sink of 1,000-word missives and rambling nonsense, the way so many blogs are.
I’m not the only one who has noticed that on Google+, things often stray more towards the rambling-nonsense end of the spectrum than they do on Twitter. Does Twitter encourage a “sound bite” kind of culture, as Manjoo argues — or what Alexis Madrigal describes as a “call-and-response” approach, rather than real conversation? Perhaps. But a long and rambling post followed by hundreds of comments on Google+ isn’t really much of a conversation either, when it comes right down to it.
In the long run, it’s good that Google+ is providing some competition for Twitter. Maybe the ability for users to share comments with different “Circles” of friends and followers on Google’s network has Twitter thinking about how it can make better use of groups and other features. That’s a good thing. But throwing out some of the core aspects of what make Twitter useful, or cluttering it up with all kinds of other features of dubious merit doesn’t really make any sense at all. And I think Twitter knows that.
This is so similar to the Friendfeed-is-better argument of 3 years ago, it’s worth pulling some stuff from the archives, like this:
Stowe Boyd, Friendfeed And Twitter: Between A Rock And A Hardplace?
I believe Friendfeed is more attractive to those that want to have spontaneous comment-thread discussions somewhere outside of blogs, while Twitter is more divorced from the blogosphere and supports a more wide-open sort of cocktail party ambience, not some giant panel session from an endless conference. And the asymmetry of the blogosphere/conference model is continued in Friendfeed, where A-listers like Scoble and Rubel can accumulate a hundred comments on their pearls of wisdom, reposted in the Friendfeed context.
I don’t subscribe to the meme that ‘Friendfeed is better than Twitter’. Performance issues aside, Twitter provides a very different experience that Friendfeed, which I fooled with for a time, but which I have found to be like a conference with too many panel sessions and too many people. In Twitter I manage the human scale better, even with 10X the number of friends.
Regarding Scoble’s love of the shiny new things, most people will have forgotten Michael Arrington’s intervention when Scoble went sideways on Friendfeed, and suggested he was squandering his time inside of an app he couldn’t monetize, instead on writing on his blog, where he could:
Stowe Boyd, Arrington on Scoble, FriendFeed, And The Web Of Flow
I have said for years that traditional media — and Arrington has become mainstream media at this point, a Murdoch in the making — would war against the movement from pages to flow: they will say it is illegitimate, immoral, fattening, addictive, whatever.
Arrington’s points make sense relative to a certain perspective. In essence he is saying that time we spend engaging with others on the web has got to have a point, otherwise it’s just hanging out. And in the simplest terms, you should either be making money from becoming heavily invested (and well-known) on the web, or doing something else of great value.
Scoble maintains that his involvement with those in his various networks has great value, and that his more tangible work — his video series — has improved because of this involvement. But Arrington’s argument is stronger, at least to Arrington and other realists, since, implicitly, if Scoble went to work for a media outlet like TechCrunch and devoted his energies to media work that was more monetizable than the amorphous ‘following’ he has amassed in Flowland, he’d be worth millions. And he isn’t using his great hypothetical influence on the web to cure poverty, or end the genocide in Darfur, or overturn prop 8, either. He’s just fooling with tools.
But Scoble is some sort of idealist, maybe even a utopian, who sees the distant glimmerings of a new tomorrow, one that hasn’t been figured out yet. Arrington is right that Scoble can’t sell ads on his Friendfeed stream. Yet. So in very concrete terms, Scoble is losing serious bank while he is putzing around with all this social community chit-chat stuff.
And to a lesser extent, so are all of us that Twitter all day. Some a certain viewpoint, it’s like sitting on the porch and whittling.
But Robert is a early adopter, and not necessarily even the ablest promoter of the movement he is in.
The rise of flow and the new form of social connection that these flow applications engenders will slowly erode the edges of the more established, page-based Web 1.0 publishing models, like TechCrunch, Huffington Post, and whatever it is that the newspaper behemoths metamorphose into before finally shutting off their printing presses. Something new will emerge, out here, at the far fringes of Flowland. I believe it will recast the older forms of media, reshape them, like TV did to radio, and web 1.0 has done to print. But it’s going to take a long time, a decade or more, and a million baby steps to get there.
Scoble’s in love with the edge, and he doesn’t apparently want to monetize every waking second of his life. But is not an addiction: he’s blinded by the light, which is a whole different problem.
I think it’s inevitable that Scoble would go gaga over the social scene that emerges around him from Friendfeed or Google Plus. It’s a natural for an influencer with hundreds or thousands of acolytes, and I believe that Scoble and his most avid followers get something special out of that sort of interaction. But it is quite distinct from the nearly conversational, call-and-response, socially-scaled cocktail party that is Twitter.