Is Twitter making a big mistake?

Is Twitter making a big mistake?

Why Jack Dorsey must think long and hard about ditching his beautiful constraint.

Evidently, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is ready to remove what he himself describes as the "beautiful constraint" of Twitter: the 140 character limit.

But is that a good idea?

According to @jack what makes 140 characters so powerful is "it inspires creativity and brevity." We've always loved it for that, too, and wrote about it in our book on the creative potential of constraints. Would Twitter have taken off if it had allowed us to use 14,000 characters? No. One of the things that made it so irresistible was the struggle to find the perfect bon mot to capture the essence of an idea in a tweet.

Then we got the sometimes-serious sometimes-silly tirades that are tweet-storms in response to the constraint, and we loved that, too. Hashtags arose partly as a way to aggregate all the forced brevity into themes and patterns. They are a huge service to the user and another illustration of the fertility of the initial 140 character constraint.

Few leaders have the courage to play with the DNA of their brand experience in this way.

Now, Dorsey might be right that what makes Twitter great is the "fast, public, live conversational nature" of the stream, and not the 140 character constraint.

And as the CEO of a business struggling to add users at a rate that justifies its valuation he has to experiment. We applaud the boldness of his moves. Few leaders have the courage to play with the DNA of their brand experience in this way (though perhaps more should in a world where the demands of consumers and competitors are changing the rules daily on what it means to be competitive).

Whether a 10,000 character limit enhances or destroys Twitter remains to be seen. Social media users have a habit of reacting violently to change before quickly accepting those same changes as self-evident. Any purported "backlash" may quickly calm down if Twitter goes ahead.

What really matters is that Dorsey and his team understand where the new beautiful constraint is in a redesigned Twitter. Their future success requires a new wave of user-generated innovation to supplement their own efforts to increase the power and utility of the service, and one proven way to get that is to impose constraints. Removing all the friction and every pain point may just create a bland and characterless Twitter and speed its demise.

This article first appeared on inc.com on January 7th 2016.


Challenging ideas, something out of nothing, lover of progress. Mark Barden is a partner at eatbigfish and based in San Francisco.