Social media anxiety often comes in the form of 140 characters. A new Twitter user stares at a blank box, struggling to be precise as his message countdown inches toward the zero mark. For experienced tweeters, there is a moment of satisfaction when you use up all of that blank space. It's like a triple word score in Scrabble, with extra points for using all your letters.
A book called 140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form teaches these special writing skills. Its author, Dom Sagolla, helped create Twitter. On his blog he explains that the character count was drawn from text messaging, where 160 characters is typically what you get. “We reserve 20 characters for people’s names, and the other 140 are all yours,” Sagolla writes.
This message limit is part of what makes Twitter alluring. It defines the service. In times of crisis, like the recent earthquake in Tokyo, it's easy to scan hundreds of messages for survivor stories. If you're waiting for a cab, it takes seconds to fire off a message to tell your friends you're running late. If you're following author and Twitter fan Margaret Atwood, you watch as she enchants her fans.
Ok so Twitterchat #agooderead is tonight, 7-9, re: The Blind Assassin, and I will pop in myself like some grisly ghost or deus ex machina :O -@margaretatwood
However, online brevity could soon be a thing of the past. Extension tools, such as TMI.me, and Twitter dashboards like TweetDeck tempt you to expand your tweets. No more stressing about negative counts. No more butchering the English language. No more shortening links. Instead, permission to ignore the limits, carry on, and in many cases, drag on. Is this cheating? Is this ignoring the one rule that pulled tweets into our hearts?
If you're a Twitter purist, the answer is yes. It's like butting in front when there's a line-up of 20 waiting patiently. Or, if you want an online example, it's like using a 10-year-old photo as your Lavalife dating picture. Or retweeting posts without acknowledgment. Sure, there are no official rules to prevent you from doing so, except for, well, digital pride.
While Twitter growth blossomed 75 per cent last year, we're likely to see more ways to circumvent the character limit. Some will be intrigued about what lies beyond the 140 characters, others will ignore the extended message altogether. Whatever happens to our favourite short messaging service, there is no doubt that it has changed the way some of us communicate. In respect to this possibly dying artform, each sentence in this post is a beautiful 140 characters or less.Report Typo/Error