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Twitter's New Threaded Feature Is the Latest Subtle Effort to Undermine the Character Limit

By Evan Niu, CFA - Updated Dec 13, 2017 at 1:03PM

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Threaded tweets, while a welcome improvement, are still ultimately an overcomplicated solution for a self-inflicted problem.

Brevity.

That's been Twitter's (TWTR 0.73%) primary defense of its character limit over the years, even though the potential exists that removing the character limit could broaden the appeal of the service, which could in turn help Twitter's user metrics. Users have been able to come up with creative ways to bypass the character limit, including sharing an image of text and tweetstorms (threaded tweets). This latter practice has only grown in popularity, to the point where Twitter is now introducing a new official feature that makes it easier for users to compose threaded tweets.

The company is adding a new button that allows users to more easily create threaded tweets instead of having to manually thread tweets, which can sometimes lead to tweets being lost or hidden based on where each prong of the thread goes. The new thread feature makes it easier to consolidate all tweets so users don't miss anything. There will also be a "Show this thread" button to expand the entire thread.

Hand holding up a speech bubble with blue birds inside

Image source: Getty Images.

The latest in a string of product improvements

Twitter has been hard at work over the past two years improving its core service, which started with adopting an algorithmically curated timeline last year. More recently, Twitter has doubled its character limit to 280, which is already translating into positive indications for engagement. Slowly but surely, Twitter is finally making tangible steps toward making its service easier to use, after resisting criticisms for so long. The lack of user growth has been a dominant investor concern ever since Twitter went public in 2013, and it's worth noting that investors immediately embraced the expanded 280-character limit.

Between doubling the character limit and introducing the new threaded feature, this all begs the question: Why has Twitter staunchly defended its character limit for so long? Both changes explicitly undermine the original 140-character limit that was such a defining characteristic of Twitter in the early years. The implication is that Twitter does in fact want users sharing longer tweets and expressions, in which case why wouldn't it just remove the character limit completely? It turns out that there's an old technology, one that Facebook has adopted, that accomplishes the same task: the paragraph.

Disrupting the paragraph?

It's confounding why Twitter has fought so hard to keep its character limit. If the concern is cluttered timelines, Twitter could just collapse long tweets like Facebook does with long posts. With a click, the long post can be expanded for those that are interested, while remaining collapsed for those who aren't. This is an easy and obvious solution.

Sadly, it will never happen. Hardcore Twitter enthusiasts swear by the character limit as if it's the key to Twitter's soul, and the recent expansion to 280 sparked some initial backlash among power users. Threaded tweets, while a welcome improvement, are still ultimately an overcomplicated solution for a self-inflicted problem.

Evan Niu, CFA owns shares of FB. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends FB and Twitter. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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