Moving to 280 – Removing a Valuable Discipline?

So Twitter is trialling 280 character tweets.

According to Biz Stone, Twitter’s founder, “science and study showed us phonetic languages want and need ~280. Not everyone will use this amount”. This could be true, but because the science and study can’t be explained in 140 characters (or 280, for that matter) it feels a bit vague. (It would interesting to see the science and study though – they could tweet a link to it.)

Give people the extra characters and mostly they will use them, because it’s easier and because they can. The beauty of Twitter was in the 140 character limit – it is a real skill to be able to condense your meaning into that amount, and still have it understood as you intended. It is even more skilful to to do it with humour and personality. Brevity, as the great man said, is the soul of wit.

The discipline that Twitter imposed was a great pointer for all good communication. Plain language, short, to the point and, if at all possible, personal. Simplify your messages so they are brief and instantly comprehensible. Take time (but not too much) to eliminate ambiguity.

Twitter’s character limit forced the identification of superfluous words – vital if you’re writing a media release, an all-staff communication, a script, a position statement, a key message document, the list goes on – and encouraged creative use of vocabulary (another key skill for the communicator).

In fact, when approached with a brief by a client or an internal customer, a good starting point would be to distil the essence of the communication into an 140-character sentence (or sentences). Get that right and everything builds from there.

Twitter’s provision of extra characters encourages less thought, which, given the standard of some of the ‘thought’ on the medium already, is a bad thing.

In the wider world of communication generally, a similar lack of boundary and discipline leads to four-page media releases, eight-hundred-word staff emails, confused journalists, disengaged employees, words for words’ sake and the wanton use of adjectives like ‘fantastic’ and ‘fun’.

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