Twitter is experimenting with a new feature that will make it easier to have a conversation on the cacophonous social network. The feature allows users to retweet something as a Card — the miniature widgets that house link previews, videos, and images — and add their own comment without having to contend with its 140-character limit. (The idea of retweeting something and adding something meaningful to it was previously unthinkable because of that accursed limit.)
Some users haven’t accepted the change, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad idea — Twitter had the same problem when it introduced the teal line that makes conversations easier to read in the relative chaos of its chronologically backwards timeline. If anything it helps to think of this feature as an extension of that conversation market, as it encourages people to share their own opinion alongside someone else’s, allowing them to participate in a global conversation.
But the most exciting thing about this feature doesn’t have anything to do with retweeting: it’s about the idea of Twitter allowing more users to put content in Cards without having to waste some of their precious characters on a link. Imagine being able to share a news story with your own commentary without having to worry about making everything fit in one tweet. Instead of sharing an abridged version of a nuanced argument, Twitter could facilitate real discussions.
That might encourage people to share more things to Twitter, which could always use a bump in user engagement, though I won’t harangue the company for its lackluster user growth here. Part of the reason I don’t share more things on Twitter is the fear that something will be lost on the service if an argument spans multiple tweets, and having even a little more space to make those arguments would make it easier to feel content with making them on the service.
It would also have the side effect of making Twitter feel more like Facebook, where a link to outside content is shown separately from the poster’s comments on whatever they’ve shared. Considering its recent efforts to make its service more like the quintessential social network, from its redesigned profile pages to its renewed emphasis on images, Twitter might welcome that side effect. As I’ve argued in the past, there’s nothing wrong with emulating Facebook:
Taken together, these recent announcements showcase a Twitter willing to move beyond its simple, what-you-see-is-what-you-get roots in order to create a more approachable service. It just so happens that the new design also shows that Facebook’s decisions with its users’ profile pages were right — people want to view media-heavy profiles that show someone’s best stories instead of barren timelines that are less like a profile and more like a stream of consciousness.
And let’s admit it: anything that helps avoid the error message that appears whenever you try to tweet something substantial, forcing you to remove vowels and replace words with numbers and symbols, is going to be a welcome change for anyone who tries to use the service. Twitter gave us the 140-character limit and now it’s slowly taking it away — now we just have to wait for the damned thing to be expanded or removed completely so we can stp tlkng lk ths 4 spc.
[illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]