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Twitter Has 140 Problems, and a Character Count Is One

By Rick Munarriz - Sep 30, 2015 at 6:00AM

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The social-media giant is trying to stretch a tweet's length.

Twitter (TWTR -3.84%) is finally realizing the limitation of setting limitations. The out-of-favor company behind the social-media juggernaut is considering the relaxation of keeping posts at 140 characters or less, according to tech blog Re/code.

The 140 Plus initiative is exploring ways to expand on the current character restriction, something that many believe has held Twitter back in light of more open-ended social-media platforms.

Private messages are no longer tethered to the character cap -- a move that was initiated in June -- but public tweets continue to get truncated once they hit the magic mark.

How long should a tweet be? That's going to be a thorny question, and one that could take Twitter to a new level of success or relegate it to the trash heap of discarded social-media and broadcasting sites that were once trendy. If the limitation is nixed completely, it could lead to an unpleasant viewer experience, since it will take longer to scroll through a feed. Forcing users to click on extended tweets -- something that is already happening as a result of third-party posting apps -- would eat into the simplicity of Twitter. In short, there is no right answer.

Some of the things reportedly being considered by Twitter's 140 Plus team include eliminating links and user handles from the character count, offering up a flat yet modest increase of 10 characters or so, or revamping the entire publishing platform for a richer open-ended experience. Again, there is no right answer.

Twitter can certainly use the boost. The stock has shed nearly two-thirds of its value since peaking shortly after its IPO in late 2013. It's holding up well on the surface. It has handily beaten Wall Street's profit targets in each of the past three quarters, and year-over-year top-line growth has been strong -- up 61% in its latest quarter.

Twitter is getting better at monetizing its traffic, but the market's concerned about usage growth and engagement. There was an average of 316 million active monthly users in its latest quarter. That's a big number, but it's just 15% ahead of where it was a year earlier. Twitter stopped posting its growth in timeline views this year, but it was trending ugly when it was suspended late last year.

No one can say that it isn't trying to think outside of the 140-character tweet box. It has Vine and more recently Periscope to grab a piece of the clip culture market. It's been introducing new ways for marketers to stand out including "Buy now" buttons and auto-play video ads. All it needs now is to get its user base growth accelerating again. Relaxing its most restrictive feature might do that, but that's only true if Twitter doesn't lose its charm in the process. 

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