Twitter’s Contradiction

Twitter’s post mechanism allows each tweet to be composed of only 140 characters, a limitation originally imposed by mobile phone text limits that now comes to define what Twitter–and more widely, microblogging–is. Many present this limit in a positive light. They say that imposing a character limit on messages forces the writer to think longer about what it is they want to say, and to edit more vigorously, cutting the message down to its essential core.

But what about the stream itself? There is no limit to the number of tweets you can send, which makes the benefits of editing down individual tweets superfluous. What use is an edited message when the stream of messages itself is not edited? A diet is not made effective by cutting down individual portions, but then proceeding to gorge on thousands of them–and more important: encouraging the user to refine the message is useless if you’re not going to encourage them to also be more selective about what they’re going to post, otherwise the content stays the same, just packaged into smaller portions.

Published January 2011

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