Pros and Cons of Twitter’s 140-Character Limit, Part 1

This past week, my Twitter feed has been filling up with opposing tweets on the appropriate character limit for Twitter. Some feel the current 140-character limit could be increased while others vehemently oppose that change.

So, let’s rack up the pros and cons. Today, I’ll list some pros of the current system. On Monday, I’ll list the cons.

Twitter Works, As Is

There’s nothing actually wrong with Twitter the way it is. In fact, whether or not Twitter is part of a tech bubble, the site has been wildly successful. In June, the site was “averaging 190 million visitors per month and generating 65 million tweets a day,” reported TechCrunch.

“As far as I’m concerned, the 140-character limit is one of the most brilliant things Twitter has ever done — and might even explain why it is still around,” wrote Mathew Ingram in his post aptly titled, “Why changing Twitter’s 140-character limit is a dumb idea.”

Earlier this month, the company was valued at $8 billion, according to our sister site, All Twitter. “The $8 billion valuation is about 40 times Twitter’s anticipated 2011 revenue of between $150 and $200 million from ad sales,” wrote Laura Dugan, co-editor of All Twitter.

That’s not too shabby for a company that’s less than seven years old.

It’s Meant To Be A Broadcast Medium

The Twitter system was specifically designed for short messages. At the time Twitter was created, text messages could only handle 160 characters, according to Farhad Manjoo of Slate. Subtract 20 characters for a username, and you’re left with the end number of 140. 

“Twitter was never intended as a conversation hub,” wrote Lance Ulanoff in PC Magazine. “Yes, it’s for sharing, some engagement, but is, necessarily, a broadcast and share medium.”

As the high volume of users show, the limited message length has been anything but a turn off.

“Twitter has a 140 character limit because it’s a text optimized broadcast platform … that rocks!” tweeted @UniqueVisitor.


Less Fail Whales

We’ve all had those “fail whale” moments — we desperately wanted to share something but Twitter wasn’t working.  Even with the 140-character limit, Twitter seems to crash a fair amount.

But the site would probably be less responsive if message length was doubled or unlimited, according to Anurodh Pokharel, a computer scientist in Boston who develops chat software for the iPhone. The character limits help Twitter scan and process every message sent, he said.

Think about all the hashtags, keywords, etc. used in tweets. The more of those that go through the system, the more problematic things get and the more likely the site would be to fail.

“Twitter might be less responsive more often if it has to process more data for the same number of messages,” Pokharel said. “It’s not a big issue if there are a few messages or a few million, but, in theory, it could be a problem when you talk about billions of unlimited size messages a day.”

Did I miss something? Add it below in the comments section or send me a tweet @elanazak.

Once again, on Monday, I’ll post some cons to complement this list.