Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Twitter: Don't Expand 140 Character Limit

A woman once called the newspaper to place a death notice after her husband died. The newspaper representative explained that their policy is to charge by each word. "Well in that case," she replied, "Just print 'Max Schwartz died.'" They man responded, “There is a six word minimum." She said, "Fine, print: 'Max Schwartz died. Cadillac for sale.'"

I love that joke. I love it not only for its levity, but also for its brevity. As a rabbi, I must tell you that the stereotype that rabbis are long-winded is true. After all, we have a lot we want to say and it's much more difficult to tell a long story than a short one. You've heard the famous quote that has been attributed to many different authors: “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”

Twitter's Jack Dorsey on 140 Characters

Over the years, I've become better at keeping it brief thanks to Twitter. Yes, the same social network that gets a bad rap because it's a time killer, a way to avoid the real world, a place for gossiping and complaining, bragging and boasting has made me a more concise writer. I've trained myself to condense my thoughts on a controversial article down to 140 characters or less for a tweet.

I'm grateful to Twitter for helping me say much in little space. But now, there's a rumor that Twitter is considering changing this limitation. Since co-founder Jack Dorsey has returned to the top job there, it's possible that he'll expand the 140-character limit for tweets. I certainly hope they don't go through with that. Twitter's 140-character limit is what the social network is known for. In The Wall Street Journal this morning, Gregg Opelka, writing in opposition of Twitter's potential change, quoted Robert Frost, who "once said of writing free-verse poetry, that would be like playing tennis with the net down."

Twitter's founders discovered an interesting and fun way for all of us keyboard commentators in the Internet age to give our opinions, share humor, offer up an interesting read and tell the world why our sports team is the best, albeit with one main limitation -- keep it under 140 characters. Personally, the fun of using Twitter since I started my account six-and-a-half years ago has been working and reworking my tweets to express what I want within the character limit. That restriction on how many characters I use in a tweet has forced me to write more concisely, use my words wisely and get creative with the English language.

Opleka offers the following advice to Dorsey and the folks at Twitter, cautioning them before making a drastic 'Jump the Shark' decision: "A 140-character tweet isn’t a prison. It’s your Big Mac, your Chipotle burrito. It’s what you sell. You already gave us all we need. Don’t give us what you think we want. In Twitterland, more is definitely less."

Here's my less than 140 character message to Twitter: Don't change! We've learned to express ourselves in less characters. Any more characters you give us & you'll lose Twitter's own character. (And that's with one character left to spare!)

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