Twitter Needs Trusted Links

Twitter’s insistence on a 140-character limit for tweets has always been slightly controversial and many think that it should be dropped altogether.

I don’t subscribe to this philosophy. I like having a limit and I firmly believe it’s one of the main reasons why Twitter has been such a success. It’s increasingly a mobile world and the thought of having to manage potentially thousands of words on a per update basis on your handset just sounds horrible. We’d all be forced to follow just a handful of people to cope.

That said, while no limits on statuses would likely be a disaster, Facebook allows us 420 characters in our updates and I don’t see the world falling apart because of that. So while I’m familiar with and fairly happy with 140 I wouldn’t object to a little more. But I do think there needs to be a ceiling. And I never want to see anything but text in my stream.

Because of the status limitation and how Twitter works you aren’t exposed to things in which you have no interest. You actually have to click on a link to make something happen, which means you always have a choice. But less space means a need for URL shorteners which, while convenient (and in some cases, great for stats), have plenty of issues of their own. They’re ugly. There are way too many providers (and new ones arriving all the time). And unless you take additional measures there’s always a risk that you might end up being sent somewhere awful.

On Twitter, we’re all used to typing in the @ symbol when we want to craft a message for another person’s attention. It’s become completely normal. What I’d like to see is a way for us to easily share links in this manner, perhaps modelled on the parentheses-based system used on Reddit.

So, for example, this:

When written like this:

Would become this:

Reddit’s system is fairly basic but I’m sure something simpler could be created by Twitter. It’s important to remember that Twitter has a varied userbase, many of whom won’t be familiar with HTML or other kinds of markup text. A link system would need to be super-easy and completely user-friendly. (Ideally, it should come with an edit window, too, because we all make mistakes.) It also needs to work cross-platform, much like the @ symbol does now, which is why I think it needs to be implemented via keystrokes, and not clicks. And they might like to follow Wikipedia’s lead and add a little icon next to each external link so everything is clear and above board.

After that, it’s all gravy. When a reader rolls their mouse over the link, they will see exactly where it is going. The poster gets more free space within their tweet. Internally, Twitter would provide analytics for all of these links which the submitter could access.

There are at least four major advantages here:

  1. All URLs could be trusted
  2. It eliminates the need for URL shortening, because
  3. You won’t waste tweet space on a URL
  4. Twitter would be able to provide a first-rate analytics package (the pro version of which could be charged to businesses and heavy users)

I’m not particularly interested in more characters, but I really want a better way to parse external links on Twitter. And if this system means we can now trust those links, that’s better for everybody.