140 Characters (Or Leave)

It’s drummed into all of us the first day we sign up to Twitter – tell us what you are doing, what’s happening, what you are thinking, where you are going, what content you want to spread or anything else.

All Twitter asks is that you share that message in 140 characters. Or less.

So, tell me: why do so many completely ignore this and use some crappy external service to try and write more?

Extending the size of a tweet can be done in various ways. Twitlonger, Deck.ly, Twerbose, Tinypaste, Twitblogs, and so on. All basically the same, all a really bad idea. Every one of these makes the reader click away to finish reading a message that has, by any measure, made Twitter into something else, and drastically missed the point.

Twitlonger’s own slogan sums it up perfectly: for when you talk too much for Twitter.

When you talk too much for Twitter, leave and go someplace else. If you want to write a message longer than 140 characters, start a blog. Publish on Facebook. Become a journalist. Send an email.

Sure (and where possible), go ahead and link to these pieces of content, but understand there’s a huge difference between using Twitter to connect people to the bigger story, and using Twitter to write the bigger story. Why try and make it something different? Are your words really that majestic?

Attempting to extend a tweet beyond 140 characters is like filling up a notebook and then continuing your story on the desk. And I can’t be the only person who’s noticed that the quality of message is inevitably and exponentially diluted by how many extra characters the writer simply had to use.

And consider this: if you can’t get your message across in one tweet, are you sure Twitter is the ideal medium? Twitter excels at many things, notably the rapid-exchange of nuggets of information. It tends to fall on its face when used for long, drawn-out conversations (try email), publishing tomes of information (try a blog) or trying to get every-single-thing-you’re-thinking-about-right-now-into-one-frickin’-message (try therapy).

Learn to be concise. Practice, practice, practice. So long as you avoid the dreaded text speak, Twitter absolutely will make you a better writer. Less is more, and all that. Find one good word instead of five mediocre ones. It’s not that difficult – Twitter even tells you how many characters you have left.

“Prose is architecture and the Baroque age is over,” wrote Ernest Hemingway in Death In The Afternoon in 1932. Reading between the lines, it’s pretty obvious that he was talking about Twitter. Disagree? Great – I welcome your comments. But please: keep them brief.