I’ve just uploaded my first photo enabled Tweet. You can see it here if you like: https://twitter.com/julianstodd/status/77657166902870016. It’s not very exciting, just a picture of my ‘office’ as i write about Twitter, but it represents a fundamental shift in what a Tweet means.
Twitter is a micro blogging site, where you can post ‘tweets’ of up to 140 characters. You can follow people, to be informed in a news feed when they have tweeted, and you can collect followers yourself, who will likewise be informed when you post something. And that’s it. The beauty of Twitter is in it’s simplicity. 140 characters a time, but 65 million Tweets a day, and growing fast.
You’ve been able to include links to photos for some time, using one of a a variety of third party photo up loaders, and also to video, and this has been a popular process, but now the photo tools are embedded within the technology. As of the first June, 2011, photos are part of the central tweeting functions.
This is a small change, but an important one. The foundation of Twitter was it’s simplicity. There was an elegance in the format; 140 characters and that’s your lot. A picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words, so from an information perspective, Twitter has just enhanced it’s ability to convey information, but it’s done so at the cost of it’s native elegance. Why not just increase the maximum length of each tweet to 160 characters? Or to 1,400?
Take Haiku. It’s a well known simple form of japanese poetry. It is similar to (old) Twitter in that it has a structured format for it’s posts. The first line is five syllables, the second seven syllables and the third one is five syllables again. There is no variation. The point of haiku is to work within the simple structure. If you have eight syllables, it might be a good poem, but it’s not haiku.
So to change Twitter so that each tweet has more than 140 characters would be to make it not ‘twitter’. A tweet is, by definition, just 140 characters. But now it includes pictures.
At one level, this is a matter of new philosophy. Twitter is not an aesthetic or poetic venture. Historically (such history as an internet company can have), it’s a micro blogging site. It takes the concept of ‘broadcast’ and makes it easier to attain. It takes the pain out of blogging by giving structure to posts, as well as an infrastructure for distribution. But, like it or not, it’s also become defined by the 140 character limit. Change the details, and you change the thing. If you open up the idea that ‘tweeting’ can be about more than just 140 characters, then you open your market up to competition from people who think that they can come up with other, more innovative ideas.
of course, if you don’t innovate yourself, you run the risk that they will do that anyway! What if someone comes up with a great micro blogging service that lets you ‘tweet’ 145 characters, and post video, and host photo albums. Is that better than Twitter? Will Twitter just inevitably end up the way of the Hoover and become simply one brand that has donated it’s name to the generic field? Will i tweet with yfrog, twitpic, tweetdeck or one of the multitude of third party tools? As with any internet bubble, maybe the game is just to grow it and get rich quick. Maybe the aesthetics and philosophy are incidental, but it’s worth noting that a milestone has been passed. I’m sure that twitter is only on the early stages of its recognition as a tool that is influencing world affairs and politics on an unprecedented scale, but i’m equally sure that it’s challenges, as a unique business, are only just beginning.