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Twitter May Finally Be Ready to Abolish Its Arbitrary Character Limit

By Evan Niu, CFA - Sep 30, 2015 at 11:00AM

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It's about time for Twitter to get rid of the 140-character limit to potentially spur mainstream adoption.

Twitter (TWTR -5.55%) investors can now potentially breathe a collective sigh of relief. The social media company is working on a new product that allows users to share tweets that exceed the long-standing 140-character limit, according to Re/code. This all comes less than two months after Twitter ditched the 140-character limit in direct messages, which inevitably implied that perhaps it would do likewise in other ways.

The report says that Twitter has been debating such a change for years, as well as tweaking how characters are counted in the first place. Twitter could do things like excluding the username or links from the limit, which would help, for instance. It's also entirely possible that Twitter may never launch a long-form product, but investors can hope.

The market wants it
If it's any indication, shares gained 1.3% on the report on a day that the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite fell 0.6%, which suggests that the market is bullish on the idea of a long-form product. Almost from the day that Twitter went public, it immediately faced criticisms for stagnant user growth, in part because the core product does not offer an intuitive experience. This limits Twitter's adoption curve, and the company has tried hard to expand its appeal.

Twitter has also tried to justify and defend itself in numerous ways. It often discusses its "total audience" strategy, attempting to brush aside monthly active user, or MAU, metrics. Twitter even stopped reporting its average Timeline Views per MAU, which was an important engagement metric. Now the company is padding its MAU figures by including "SMS Fast Followers," which are users who access the service exclusively via SMS text messages. SMS Fast Followers are predominantly located in emerging markets and monetize at incredibly low levels.

Abolishing the arbitrary 140-character limit could potentially open up Twitter to a wider audience, which would help MAU growth.

Farewell, Fast Followers?
If Twitter were to revamp the core product itself by removing the 140-character limit (as opposed to launching a separate product), it might have to ditch those SMS Fast Followers (all 12 million of them) since tweets would no longer be able to be contained within a single text. Either that or potentially subject them to higher SMS usage fees if tweets are split into multiple texts.

More than likely, Twitter would find a solution to retain these users, but at the same time it shouldn't worry too much about them. Theoretically, if you had to pick between growing a user base of unprofitable users in emerging markets or growing a user base of profitable users in developed markets, which would you pick?

Case in point
After I suggested that Twitter should get rid of the 140-character limit, I actually had a brief conversation on Twitter with Liquid Newsroom about it. All the while, the irony of the short responses was not lost on me. I would have been more inclined to have a meaningful conversation if our responses weren't arbitrarily limited.

It's about time, Twitter.

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