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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Twitter Is Great Because of Its Limitations

Posted by Paul Constant on Thu, Mar 27, 2014 at 10:29 AM

Yesterday, Twitter made some changes to its service. Ashley Feinberg wrote about them for Gizmodo:


Not only can a single tweet now hold multiple photos (each with up to 10 tagged friends), but none of that extra baggage takes away any of your precious characters.

I'm not crazy about Twitter's newfound love of photographs. I love Twitter for its words, its one-liners and brief observations that can change the way we look about a breaking story. But most of all, I love Twitter for its constraints. As I've been saying for years, Twitter was something akin to a new literary form in the way it constrained its writers, haiku-like, to 140-character chunks of text. And if you wanted to include a photograph with your text, you'd lose twenty characters of that 140. If you wanted to include a link and a photograph, as a lot of news organizations do in their tweets right now, you're down to 100 characters. So how do you relay important information, remain readable, and squeeze your voice into 100 characters? That's the challenge of Twitter, and it's made me a better editor over the years. My refusal to use text-speak—I'll occasionally put in an "&" in place of an "and," if I'm desperate—means that I have had to strip my thoughts down to their barest, most clear states.

But now that 20-character penalty is gone for photographs, and you don't have to use up any characters to tag another person in the photos, either. The constraints are slowly fading away. It's a relaxation of the rules of the game that makes the whole thing less fun to me. I'm not swearing off Twitter or declaring Twitter to be dead or anything like that, but I do forsee a change in the way people use the service. It's very likely going to become something like a real-time photo-sharing service, where the words take a back seat to the image. That's already happened with blogs, and with Facebook, and with pretty much every site that I've ever enjoyed. Words coax and argue and inspire. Images grab your attention. Images lead pageviews. Images sell shit. In this economy, images are always going to win.

There are still ways to counter these changes, of course. I can and will happily unfollow anyone who posts more photos than texts. I can shape my Twitter stream into whatever I like. But I can also see a point where, if Twitter is incautious, these changes completely sap the fun and creativity out of the service. I sincerely hope that doesn't happen.

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