During Twitter's (NYSE:TWTR) second-quarter earnings call, then-interim CEO Jack Dorsey told analysts, "We continue to show a questioning of our fundamentals in order to make the product easier and more accessible to more people."
One example of those fundamentals is the reverse-chronological timeline, which is being questioned with features like While You Were Away and Moments. But those features were created under Dorsey's predecessor, Dick Costolo.
Another fundamental feature of Twitter is its 140-character Tweet limit. But Dorsey says Twitter might be better without such a strict limit, so people can get more out of Twitter. The company is reportedly looking at a 10,000-character limit. The move shows Dorsey's willingness to change everything about Twitter in order to grow users and maximize engagement.
Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) expanded the limit of its status update to over 60,000 characters years ago. (FYI: It would take the average person about 1 hour to read 60,000 characters.) Nobody is complaining that Facebook status updates are too long or ruining their News Feed. But the 140-character limit of Twitter is so ingrained as part of the product, that even the hint of expanding it has caused serious backlash from core users.
Meanwhile, every time Facebook or Twitter makes an update that even slightly emulates a feature in the competitor's product, people complain. But it's only natural that the two converge to some degree as both social networks look to grow users and increase engagement.
Neither company can afford to worry about annoying their core users as Wall Street demands growth. Twitter has seen its user growth come to a near-standstill over the past few quarters, and it's rapidly rolling out new features in an effort to attract a wider audience. While revenue growth remains strong, Wall Street has its doubts that it can continue, as exemplified by the low price-to-sales ratio Twitter stock trades at compared to Facebook and other competitors.
What can 10,000 characters do?
So, how would increasing the character limit to 10,000 improve the likelihood of drawing in new users and improving engagement among its existing user base?
For one, it would ease people on board that may be intimidated by a character limit or otherwise not understand why brevity is important on Twitter. Twitter has been tweaking its on-boarding process for over a year now. While it's done a good job making it easier for users to discover content, it hasn't done much to improve the likelihood of users creating content.
Second, longer content produces more active engagement. Facebook is bringing longer content to its platform through Instant Articles -- full-length articles from publishers that live inside Facebook. A 10,000-character limit would open the door for Twitter to host similar content. (This article, for example, is only about 4,000 characters.) Publishers and journalists are already spending their time on Twitter, so management has a good opportunity to bring more content on board with a larger character limit.
Longer tweets also provide Twitter more data to analyze. @Jack's (Dorsey's) response to the complaints about the rumored limit increase was presented in the form of an image -- a screenshot of text. These kinds of images are quite common on Twitter, and Dorsey points out that the product would be more valuable if users could search the words that are in those images. At the same time, Twitter would get much more data to analyze about its users and could use that to target advertisements.
On that note, longer-format tweets provide another opportunity for Twitter to show more ads. Twitter has started testing showing ads to its logged-out audience, and the long-format tweet presents a big opportunity for Twitter to monetize that audience based on the context of the tweet.
Increasing the character limit would change a fundamental characteristic of Twitter, but it wouldn't change management's mission: "To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers." If anything, it would improve upon it.
Adam Levy has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Facebook and Twitter. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
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