Expanded tweets are quietly revolutionizing the Twitter we all love but find so frustrating in light of its 140-characters-per-tweet limit. Relief seems to be on the way for Twitter users have long wanted the site to offer the opportunity to write longer.
On June 13, Twitter set off a flurry of excitement by posting an announcement on its blog called Experience More With Longer Tweets, which introduces a special type of tweet that will allow for a limited number of longer tweets, replete with photos and more.
The dream many of us wordier posters have long held of a Twitter that lets us post more than a pile of L33T-speak with a Bit.ly link may still be a ways off, as the social media network is only bringing its expanded tweets to certain partner websites for now.
But the decision to allow even a limited number of users to include more than 140 characters -- and even multimedia -- in a tweet is revolutionary in and of itself.
Twitter's 140-character limit may seem entirely arbitrary, but it is actually based in the fact that SMS text messages on many phones -- and nearly all older ones -- are limited to that number. When Twitter was created, its designers wanted to make it easy for people to text their tweets onto the page, an early way to make social networking a mobile pursuit.
Now that 140-character limit is turning out to be something of a relic. Many smartphones today allow their owners to text much longer messages to each other, and Twitter can seem to many of us to be stubbornly clinging to the past.
And now it appears that Twitter is embracing the longer form that Slate's Farhad Manjoo has advocated in his writings over the past year or so.
Almost a year ago, I proposed that Twitter double its character limit from 140 to 280, Manjoo wrote Friday. The microblogging site long ago outgrew its original purpose as a platform for simple status updates. Now people use Twitter for news, jokes, conversations, and ferocious arguments -- and 140 characters is too cramped for all of these things.
Here's how the new expanded tweets will work, according to Twitter's online announcement.
Starting today, you can discover more interactive experiences inside any Tweet on twitter.com and mobile.twitter.com. When you expand Tweets containing links to partner websites, you can now see content previews, view images, play videos and more, the site wrote on its blog.
You've probably expanded Tweets before to play videos from YouTube or see photos from Instagram. Now, a diverse and growing group of new partners like the The Wall Street Journal, Breaking News, and TIME also deliver rich content inside Tweets containing a link to those websites.
These and other sites will now have the opportunity to allow users to view photos, extended article extracts and more, all within the Twitter interface, opening a new world of opportunities for the Twitterverse.
When you expand a Tweet linking to a news article by The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle or Der Spiegel Online, you can see a preview with the headline, the introduction and sometimes the Twitter accounts of the publisher and writer, according to Twitter's blog. You can continue to read the article, follow these accounts, and reply, favorite or retweet the Tweet.
Not only will the new tweet paradigm allow users to get more information per tweet read, it may also help some of these establlshed, and endangered, old media sources increase their readership, and get a leg up over less-established outlets.
I think expanded tweets are a great development for Twitter, a way to add depth to the service while still clinging to its hyperabridged roots. In truth, expanded tweets have been around for a while -- if you include a picture or a video as part of a Twitter message, then your followers can click to see it. This continued tweet expansion was inevitable, Manjoo wrote.
And he sees this as just the start of something big: the long-heralded arrival of a Twitter 2.0, in which we can do more than just spout short little snippets to everyone around the globe.
As expanded tweets roll out to all users on all devices, we'll find that posts which pack 410 characters worth of information will make the network a deeper, more coherent source of news and conversation, Manjoo said.
It's a new kind of Twitter revolution.