The Power Of Limitations (And The Beauty Of Twitter)

Twitter needs to tread very carefully, at this moment in time.

It was innocuous enough. At first, Twitter announced that links and added “stuff” would no longer count to their 140 character limitation. This made sense. Often, people would want to share a link, and it would take up the whole tweet (those not familiar with bitly and other link shortening/management services… plus, let’s face it… those added steps were no joy. Now, Twitter has announced that it will stop counting usernames in replies towards their 140 character limit. Seems to make sense, but something is not sitting right as more and more of these announcements unfold.

What Twitter is… what Twitter should not become.

If the ultimate plan is that Twitter’s 140 character limitation is for the core words that a user is writing, that seems fair and appropriate. If this is a step in the same direction as their direct messages (which have no character limitations), I would caution the powers that be over at Twitter HQ to not lose their soul. In a day and age when messaging apps are now bigger than social networks and chatbots are starting to take hold, the attraction for Twitter might be to concede, pivot or whatever it is that they’re calling these big changes in Silicon Valley these days, and to make it a full-blown messaging app-like product. That would be sad. The world (probably) doesn’t need another messaging app.

There’s still something special about those 140 characters.

There is no doubt that Twitter is facing many challenges — from product development to customer retention/acquisition to living up to their currently bloated Wall Street valuation. With that, there is still so much charm in trying to be (somewhat) engaging with that limitation of 140 characters. More is not always better. Having infinite possibilities doesn’t always bring the right execution. Countless articles, business books and blog posts have been written about the power of limitations and simplicity. Often, the best ideas happen when they are confined by time, space and opportunity. Most entrepreneurs know this… they live it daily. The struggle is real.

Twitter’s back is to the wall.

Sometimes, this is exactly what a brand needs: for it’s back to be against the wall. Sometimes having all of the runway in front of you makes things slow down. Twitter needs to push. No doubt about it. It has a lot of work to do (you can read more about that here: Let Twitter Tweet (And Be)). If there is one thing they should not consider, it would be the continued expansion beyond the 140 character limit. This is the soul of Twitter. There is a charm in its limitation. There is a beauty in that simplicity. It means so much more (and that can’t be expressed in only 140 characters).

I hope they don’t forget that. Are you with me?

Mitch Joel is President of Mirum — a global digital marketing agency operating in close to 20 countries. His first book, Six Pixels of Separation, named after his successful blog and podcast is a business and marketing bestseller. His second book, CTRL ALT Delete, was named one of the best business books of 2013 by Amazon. Learn more at: www.mitchjoel.com.

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