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BW Businessworld

The World Sticks With 140 Characters

To many early Twitter users, the news that the micro-blogging service plans to stick with its 140-character limit for posts is a relief

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Twitter's problems with getting new and active users has been so acute that the company has constantly been trying to introduce new features to draw in users and keep advertisers happy as well - all with the aim of placating investors. None of it has, unfortunately, helped very much.

While Twitter has, from time to time, been able to throw in features to simplify the service for new users, I believe it's in the nature of the product to be a "stream of consciousness" which early users are always going to be much more comfortable with.

Anyone just joining Twitter will inevitably be taken aback at the stream of unreleased posts and be unable to understand where the context is to be found - a context which is sometimes quite nonexistent.

Twitter's efforts to attract new users have included specially boosting major events like elections, cricket and football matches, celebrities etc. No doubt these measures have helped. So, unfortunately, will have the deplorable habit of buying followers, which politicians and perhaps others are apt to do, under pressure as they are to prove their influence with hard numbers. Twitter has also worked on helping users discover content and join trending topics so that the context is much easier to spot.

But none of it has been enough and the company has been considering, for a long time, removing the 140-character limit for posts. Some welcomed the idea. It may have also helped 'newbies' understand full-length comments. But it would have taken away, in one stroke, what is unique about Twitter. Facebook, for example, has a much larger limit and long conversations are possible for groups of contacts. For Twitter to remain a "stream" long posts would have just tested everyone's patience. The style of 140-character posts and the special language of Twitter would have been in danger of quickly dying out, alienating the most active long-time users and making Twitter another Facebook clone.

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