How NOT to limit your tweets to 140 characters

Twitter, as you all know, imposes a strict limit of 140 characters on the length of any individual tweet. The original intent of this limitation was to ensure that most tweets would fit within the 160-character limitation on text messages, allowing Twitter to send alerts to users about new ‘@’ replies (now called mentions) without having to pay for a couple of texts per tweet.

It also, however, had a great secondary benefit—brevity became king and people were forced to rethink their lengthy missives and reduce them to bite-sized blasts of information. Now, I’m not saying a constant stream of “Just had a burrito. WOOO!” and “Now playing: “Sweet and Low” by Augustana” is a good thing, but for the most part, it resulted in a stream of useful information that was stripped to its basics and easily digestible.

But good things don’t last long, do they? As Twitter went from its intellectual, geeky niche to the vast and unruly mainstream, it became infested with all sorts of people, a vast majority of whom happen to speak like preschool toddlers. Thankfully, the Unfollow button makes it pretty easy to deal with the absolute worst of the pack.

However, there are also people who are quite intelligent and have insightful observations and wry humour to share but can never quite fit them within Twitter’s character limit. And when they cannot, they resort to one of three things, which I discuss below. Before I get to that, here’s an example of a message I wanted to post to Twitter yesterday, which I’ll be using to demonstrate the ways people get around the 140-character limit below:

I still do not understand why Google had to go and make a phone and piss off Apple. Together, they could have obliterated every other tech company on the planet. Now Apple will have to do it all by themselves.

1. Assassination of grammar: By far, the most widespread way to get around the character limitation is to completely forget all those English classes you took in primary school and omit random words from the sentence, shorten them based on ridiculous criteria (like the execution of all the vowels) and shoot punctuation in the head. What they forget is that those rules were put in place for one very important reason: they make your text readable. They also have the bonus side-effect of not making you seem like an ignorant buffoon. Here’s the tweet that results:

stl dont undrstnd y ggl make fon n piss apl.2gthr they cudv killd all tech co on planet now appl hav 2 do it all by thmslvs.lolol ;) #thoght

2. Breaking it up: Sometimes you just have to get a wordy message in and when Twitter shakes its head sardonically at you when you try to inch past the character limit, you just act like nothing happened and split your tweet into two (or more) parts and smugly say to yourself, “there you go; you can suck it, Twitter!” If you do it very occasionally, that is justified, but if you are doing it with any amount of regularity, might I suggest getting a Tumblr-powered blog instead?

Even if you do decide to go the splitting route, I would like to suggest that instead of just taking a knife to the tweet and linking them with a “(contd)”, you make the two of them whole tweets in and of themselves, while making it clear that they are supposed to complement your previous tweet. You see, it’s very likely that only the second one of those tweets will be read by a lot of your followers and it would make no sense to them. Here’s an example of how you should do it:

I still do not understand why Google had to go and make a phone and piss off Apple.

Together with Google, they could have obliterated every other tech company on the planet. Now Apple will have to do it all by themselves.

3. TwitLonger: TwitLonger is a third-party service supported by a lot of Twitter clients that allows you to post a longer tweet as is. It automatically snips it to fit within the character limit and appends a small URL to it that takes you to the more verbose version of the tweet on the TwitLonger website.

This is admittedly the most elegant way to achieve this goal but, if people start using it frequently, it will turn Twitter from a convenient microblogging service to an annoying full-size text-only blogging tool that is inferior to every other blogging platform available. In other words, it would defeat the purpose and eliminate the charm of Twitter. And we wouldn’t want that, now, would we? Yes, that’s what I thought.

If you do have to use it in a pinch though, I once again advise you to exercise caution. It’s very underwhelming to click on a link at the end of a tweet only to find out that there were only a couple of extra words behind it. On the rare occasions you do use TwitLonger, at least make sure your tweet is long enough to merit it. I’m not talking page-length essays here but at least something that goes beyond 140-and-a-half characters (like my example above).

So, that’s all there is to it, right? Let’s head on home.

Hah, you wish! I may be all for conciseness on Twitter but when it comes to blog posts, oh man, bigger is better! So here’s my final tip:

4. Forget all of the above and put in some goddamned effort: Like the Blaise Pascal quote in one of my previous posts said, it is way more difficult to summarise your thoughts than to let them all flow uninterrupted. The real Twitter users, the ones who use it in the way it was intended, the thinking people, don’t bother with toddler-speak, several-part-tweets or TwitLonger because they can go the extra mile and make their tweets shorter just because they have a good grasp over the English Language. And I aspire to be like them, which is why this is what I actually posted:

Why’d Google have to go and piss off Apple? Together, they could’ve obliterated every other tech company. Now Apple’ll have to do it alone.

Not only did I manage to bring it within the character limit without doing away with any crucial part of my original idea or by resorting to one of the three methods outlined above, I actually had a character to spare. I hope you’ll choose to go the fourth route as well; it lets you exercise those creative juices just a bit and makes your tweets more readable at the end of the day. And if there’s one thing I think we can all agree on, it’s that a more readable timeline will be best for all parties involved.

-Aayush

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 — 12 notes
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  1. aayush posted this