— Twitter (@twitter) May 24, 2016
Twitter’s user growth has stalled out, so they’ve been trying to make some changes to their service to make it more user-friendly for newcomers. The latest post on the company’s blog describes a list of new updates geared towards making the service more accessible. One of the main helpful changes that will get rolled out shortly involves a change to the character limit. No, Twitter won’t be changing its character count from 140 characters to 10,000 characters, as had been rumored months ago. The 140-character limit will stay in place, but it’ll no longer include links as part of the character count.
That’ll make tweeting a link to something much easier, since you’ll have a little more space to explain what it is. This change also means that even a link to an image or video, or an embedded image or video, also won’t count towards that 140-character limit. Lastly, and weirdest of all, that character limit will no longer apply to usernames.
That last part sounds good, until you think about the consequences, which are that you could end up stuck in a reply-all conversation with tons of people on Twitter. Before now, the lack of space was a motivator for people to wrap up any conversation involving many users at once. Now, it’ll be a lot easier to continue to spam multiple users who might not want to continue to be in the reply chain.
Speaking of replies, Twitter has also decided to change one of the more confusing aspects of the service: the fact that when you put someone’s handle at the very beginning of a tweet, only people who follow both of you can see that tweet. This leads to new users tweeting stuff like, “@TheMarySue is awesome” without realizing that they didn’t share that with their entire timeline as intended. Longtime Twitter users know that they would need to structure that tweet as, “.@TheMarySue is awesome” in order for their entire timeline to see it. But that’s not something that’s made clear to users when they first start out on Twitter, and it’s definitely confusing.
Twitter’s post on the update explains that “new Tweets that begin with a username will reach all your followers.” This change will only apply to “new tweets,” not to tweets that are made in direct reply to someone else. This has been a point of confusion for many people who seem to think that all replies will now appear in everyone’s timelines, but that’s not the case; Twitter’s official blog makes it clear that this change only applies to new tweets.
The last big change: you can now retweet yourself! Twitter suggests this as an option for people who do want everyone to see their replies to other people; instead of putting a period before the @, you can just retweet the reply onto your own timeline. Twitter also says that you can now “quote tweet” yourself, but that was already available to do, so I’m not sure why they’re listing that as a new change.
It may seem odd that Twitter is only now implementing such basic changes after ten years of existence, especially since these seem like changes that should have happened years ago, if ever. However, in the past couple of years, the service has struggled with gaining new users, and their earnings statements haven’t been looking good, so they probably feel a lot of pressure to change something, anything. Twitter has also attempted to implement better tools for reporting harassment, which is Twitter’s most notorious usability issue. Today’s changes mark yet another attempt on their part to repair their reputation as a service that is unfriendly to its users in any number of ways.
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