SAN FRANCISCO – Twitter appears ready to loosen its decade-old restriction on the length of messages in a bid to make its service more appealing to a wider audience accustomed to the greater freedom offered by Facebook and other forums.
CEO and co-founder Jack Dorsey telegraphed Twitter’s intentions in a tweet posted Tuesday after the technology news site Re/Code reported the company is exploring increasing its limits on text from 140 characters to as many as 10,000.
Dorsey didn’t directly address the Re/Code report that cited unnamed people, but he made it clear that Twitter isn’t wedded to the 140-character limit. He illustrated his point by posting a screenshot of a text consisting of 1,325 characters.
If Twitter were to allow tweets to span 10,000 characters, it could produce 1,700-word dissertations, based on the size of Dorsey’s extended post.
San Francisco-based Twitter Inc. declined to comment on its plans.
In his message, Dorsey wrote that Twitter has already noticed that many of its roughly 300 million users already have been including screenshots of lengthy texts in their tweets. He indicated Twitter is examining ways to give people more room to express themselves without polluting the service with gasbags.
Imposing some restraint “inspires creativity and brevity. And a sense of speed. We will never lose that feeling,” Dorsey pledged.
At the same time, Dorsey said Twitter isn’t “going to be shy about building more utility and power into Twitter for people. As long as it’s consistent with what people want to do, we’re going to explore it.”
Analysts said Dorsey is probably trying to avoid a backlash among long-time Twitter users who consider the 140-character tweeting limit sacred. At the same time, he needs to respond to company shareholders pining for a bigger audience that would generate more advertising revenue.
More revenue eventually could help Twitter turn a profit for the first time in its history.
Twitter can’t afford “to become stagnant, they need to get bigger if they want to build a more relevant advertising platform,” said Topeka Capital Markets analyst Blake Harper.
After a long streak of robust growth that turned it into one of the Internet’s hottest companies, Twitter’s growth has slowed dramatically during the past year-and-half to leave it scrambling to catch up with social networking leader Facebook and its 1.5 billion users.
Twitter’s malaise resulted in the departure of Dick Costolo as the company’s CEO last July and ushered in the return of Dorsey, who had been ousted as the company’s leader in 2008.
The pressure has been building on Dorsey to take drastic measures to accelerate user growth as Twitter’s stock has sunk further below its November 2013 initial public offering price of $26. The shares shed 64 cents Tuesday to close at $21.92, a decline of nearly 40 per cent from where they stood from when Dorsey became CEO last summer.
Dorsey helped invent Twitter in 2006 and imposed a 140-character limit on messages so the service would be easy to use on cellphones that had 160-character limits on texts at that time.
Those texting limits on phones faded away several years ago as the advent of smartphones enabled people to use other Internet messaging services, making Twitter’s restrictions look increasingly antiquated.
Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter believes an increased limit on tweets would be a “good, baby step” to attracting more users to Twitter and believes it could be done without alienating the service’s current audience. One way to make an increased limit less obnoxious would be to only show a limited amount of text in users’ feeds and then leave it to each individual to click on a button to see more.
“Twitter is an afterthought in social media right now,” Pachter said. “They need to do something to drive more usage of the service. If people start using the service more frequently, other users will come join in, too.”