Twitter

Doubts raised about Jack Dorsey’s leadership in wake of Twitter character count reports

By Tina Irgang

Twitter is reportedly planning to expand its famous 140-character limit to 10,000 characters. The news has some wondering whether new leadership at the company is going too far in reinventing Twitter’s essential premise.

According to tech news site Re/Code, which broke the news, the change in character count could come as soon as the end of this quarter. The final allowable count is not yet set in stone, Re/Code reports, but an expansion seems a given, considering the project is being referred to internally as “Beyond 140.”

The move to nix what is arguably Twitter’s defining feature may be an indicator of where the company is going under the leadership of CEO Jack Dorsey: “Mr. Dorsey has made clear to employees that as far as redesigning the product is concerned, no feature is sacred,” reports The New York Times. Dorsey, one of Twitter’s original co-founders, resumed the position of CEO in 2015 after being ousted some years earlier.

However, some experts fear the changes Dorsey is contemplating could spell further bad news for the already troubled social platform. For one, Twitter shares dropped 2.8 percent on the news, in what The Guardian describes as “a tailspin.”

Pressure from investors to widen Twitter’s appeal has been enormous as the platform’s growth has stalled — in fact, that’s how Dorsey ended up back in the driver’s seat in the first place. Yet, as a column at The Motley Fool puts it, there is a risk that “in seeking to broaden Twitter’s flexibility and appeal, Twitter’s new leadership will simultaneously erase what differentiates it from other social/blogging platforms.”

Calling the plan a “desperate Hail Mary move,” Forbes adds, “by abandoning the one thing that makes Twitter unique, it risks surrendering its relevance as well.”

In fact, some worry that Twitter is becoming too obsessed with matching its main rival: “I think part of the fundamental issue is their relentless fixation on how they compare to Facebook, and I think that’s in some ways a fatal posture,” The Guardian quotes one former Twitter executive. The executive goes on to say that “the product as it stands isn’t for everybody. Not everybody wants to use Twitter. Not everyone consumes news. The gap is between what management has set for itself and what’s realistic.”

In fact, Twitter has made several recent changes that users perceived as copying popular Facebook features, such as the switch from the “favorite” to a “like” button in 2015.

It’s not all bad news. For example, Re/Code’s story indicated that even if the character limit is changed, each user’s feed would likely still display 140 characters, with an option to expand. What’s more, as Forbes points out, the change would allow more flexible use of the platform for marketers interested in sharing their company’s thought leadership without paying for ads. At the same time, it would be easier for businesses to engage in customer service via Twitter.

Dorsey himself reacted to the backlash by defending the plan to expand character counts without confirming its existence: “We’ve spent a lot of time observing what people are doing on Twitter, and we see them taking screenshots of text and tweeting it,” Dorsey wrote on Twitter. “Instead, what if that text… was actually text? Text that could be searched. Text that could be highlighted.”

So what will the final plan look like? And will it be a boon for Twitter, or its undoing as a unique social platform? #waitandsee.

Tina Irgang is the production editor for SmartCEO. Contact her at tina@smartceo.com.