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Twitter's 10,000-Character Limit Bump Makes Business Sense

Epic tweets could arrive before the end of April, according to a report. Users are not happy about the prospect so far, but it makes business sense.
8 New Year's Resolutions For Enterprise Developers
8 New Year's Resolutions For Enterprise Developers
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Twitter is reportedly preparing to raise the number of characters allowed in a tweet from 140 to 10,000. But the company may be planning more of an interface change than a text field expansion.

According to Re/Code, Twitter intends to launch its extended tweet format during the first quarter of 2016. The tech publication initially reported in September last year that Twitter was building a new product that would allow users to share tweets that are longer than the company's 140-character limit.

Twitter declined to comment. But CEO Jack Dorsey on Tuesday addressed the report indirectly through a Twitter post that consists of a screenshot of text, which has become a common way to sidestep the service's 140 character limit.

"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," Dorsey wrote. "Instead, what if that text ... was actually text? Text that could be searched. Text that could be highlighted. That's more utility and power."

Text would also be more valuable to Twitter as an advertising platform. While it's possible to extract text from images, doing so is more computationally intensive than text parsing. Images also require more storage. By providing a framework to post lengthy passages of text, Twitter can reduce its costs and enhance its ability to understand what its users are talking about. In turn, it will be able to deliver more relevant ads.

What's more, hosting long-form content would allow Twitter to become a news publishing platform and to offer a service similar to Facebook Instant Articles. Presently, tweets often serve to take readers to other websites. By keeping users focused on its website rather than sending them elsewhere, Twitter may be able to generate more revenue.

However, Dorsey's post suggests the traditional 140-character tweet won't go away. Lauding the format's speed and brevity, he notes, "We will never lose that feeling."

That suggests expanded tweets, if deployed, may actually be stored as two distinct but linked elements, the first 140 characters and any remainder. Twitter could thus preserve the ability to scan its tweet stream, while allowing users to expand long-form tweets at their discretion.

[Read Twitter Asks Developers for Forgiveness.]

Among the more than 300,000 tweets associated with the #Twitter10k hashtag by noon PT on Wednesday, many expressed dissatisfaction. A common sentiment is that super-sized tweets will turn Twitter into Facebook. While Twitter users may find this undesirable, the company's management presumably wouldn't mind being seeing Twitter become as popular and profitable as Facebook.

Twitter needs all the revenue growth it can get. Its stock price remains below its IPO debut last year. Whether or not epic tweets become a reality, Twitter needs ways to generate more revenue.

In keeping with that aspiration, Twitter on Tuesday introduced a new ad product called conversational ads, which invite viewers to engage with brands. The ads, which appear in the tweet stream, include "call to action buttons with customizable hashtags that encourage consumer engagement." The ads are "conversational" because retweets are answered with a suitably brief thank-you message from the advertiser.

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