Twitter can keep its extra characters, I want to edit tweets

Geez, Twitter, have you not been listening?

Yesterday, in an unsolicited act of largess, Twitter doubled the number of tweet characters from 140 to 280 characters for unspecified number of Twitter users. The change was announced by Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey.

This is exactly what we don’t need. Forget brevity. I’ve spent a decade perfecting concise, 140-character tweets, even coining the term “Twoosh” (like a “swoosh”) when I hit exactly that number.

I have applauded Twitter changes that reduced the impact of including Twitter handles and media on the character count. 

Tweets are, overall, much richer than they were when SMS forced the 140-character limit (in total, SMS gave you 160 characters). Not only can we squeeze in multiple images, Twitter is home to endless streaming video content, which says far more than you ever could in 140 characters.

Even so, the rule of 140 character to accompany that media has remained. It’s the heart of what makes Twitter unique.

We have, of course, been begging for a critical tweet change for years: Editing tweets. We wanted it in 2010, and we want it today.

In June, President Donald Trump, not six months into his term, electrified Twitter with a bizarre non-sequitur tweet:

It started off fine, but ended with “covfefe.”

Trump eventually deleted the tweet (a problem in and of itself for a sitting president), but it was obvious what Trump, who has made numerous Twitter errors and deleted just as many, and virtually every other Twitter user needs. So certain was I that this was, finally, the time to get serious about editing tweets, I wrote about it. Sadly, Jack Dorsey didn’t read my post.

I’m not naive. I get how much editable tweets could change the platform, which some see as the social media of record. To allow editing is to, potentially, let people alter historical record, and I tried in my post to offer some ideas for managing the changes including an audit trail that anyone could view by clicking on the time stamp. Right now, though, our only choice is to delete tweets.

Not long ago, I posted a, for me, wildly popular tweet that included an embarrassing typo. With almost 1,000 likes, I couldn’t delete it. Every fresh share was like a little thorn digging into my side. I winced at my horrible typing skills and wished, yet again, for the ability to edit tweets.

Instead, we got 280 characters, a change intended to simplify the service to those intimidated by a 140-character limit. I know it’s just a test, but these things have a way of sticking. With few exceptions, most of Twitter’s platform experiments have become part of the product.

The 280-character tweets is 140 more opportunities to make a mistake. At least with 140 characters, we spend considerable time crafting each word. Most people spend more time on that dozen or so words than we do on paragraphs we write in emails. 

Having 280 characters means we will spend twice as much time editing and polishing our tweets. We’ll be tweeting less and making more mistakes. 

Granted, no one has to tweet in 280 characters. I’ve posted thousands of tweets with fewer than 140 characters and, yes, have been occasionally frustrated at the constraint. On the other hand, I always appreciate how Twitter forces me to follow one of my core writing rules taught to me by my first editor, the late Monte Temple: Omit needless words.

The 280-character tweets will be full of needless words as people get lazy, sloppy and Twitter transforms from its original micro-blog format into a bloated beast of endless nattering. 

We needed editable tweets, we got more to edit and no new tools to manage our social media prose. Thanks for too much of something, Jack.

WATCH: The ‘Hurricane Shark’ is a Twitter sensation

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