Twitter is apparently set to remove character counts for images and links. Will that change all that much in how social media works?
Random thoughts is, as the name implies, random. Also, I’m thinking out loud on the page, so this could be structurally messy.
Twitter is, according to reports you can find pretty much anywhere you’d care to name on the web, set to remove counting for web links and inset images. That’s pretty much the story in full; an unnamed “source” has indicated it could happen within the next fortnight, and predictably the Internet gone slightly crazy, with some welcoming the move, while others see it as the beginning of the end.
Calm down, people. Until Twitter itself says it, it ain’t necessarily so, but at the same time, Twitter’s own position online isn’t some secure thing anyway. Trends in online media come and go with regularity; I could namecheck anything from MySpace to Netscape to Push Content (remember Push content? Hah! You’re old, like me) as examples of Internet trends that were massive in their time, but that sit as little more than quaint examples of what was, once upon a time.
What do I think? The concept of not counting URLs makes a hell of a lot of sense, simply because there’s an awful lot of linking already going on in tweets. It would put the wind up the existing URL shortener business, I guess, but it’s probably a net positive. Images are another factor, though. It’s not that removing counting against the 140 character limit would break Twitter, but it would encourage even longer Twitter streams, as people use images to extend the reach of individual tweets.
Yes, I’m totally guilty of that one myself for Fat Duck content, as well as articles written elsewhere on the Web. A character limit, though, means that I’m less inclined to do so for regular content.
Ultimately, Twitter is, like competitor Facebook, selling a product to advertisers, and that product is you and me. It’s an old tale of not getting free lunches, and it can do with its service what it likes over time. Twitter now isn’t what it was when it launched, and in five years if it’s still even relevant then, it will be something else again. Nothing really sits still in social media.
Social Media: Transformation and authenticity
Thinking about Twitter also reminded me of a conversation I had with a work colleague the other day about the transformative power of social media. He was rather more gung ho about it than I am — and dissension is no bad thing amongst adults per se — talking up how it allows people to have thoughts and concepts and share themselves online.
This, I think is true, but only to an extent.
That extent is how open and public any given user of social media, whether you’re talking Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or any other service actually is.
People share all kinds of things online as a matter of course these days, and that’s clearly a matter of how comfortable you are having your life online for potentially anyone to peer at. This is a topic that I’ve written about before in the context of my kids, or in the context of online privacy in relation to big corporations, for example, because I have a very particular view there.
What occurred to me post-conversation is that there’s also the question of authenticity and self editing, because while I’m widely across social media (blatant plug: You can follow me on Twitter here, yada yada etc) I self edit a lot in terms of what I put up on social media. Everyone does, at least to some extent.
What that builds, however, is only a partially honest picture of who we are.
If you read my Twitter feed, you’d realise that I rather like sarcastic humour, that I’m somewhat left-leaning in my politics, that I think Australia’s stance on refugee issues is a massive stain on our character, and that I write intermittent, slightly funny things about what I’m listening to or looking at, often in the service of terrible puns. I can be stubborn, I can sub-tweet, I can rant and rave.
Those are all aspects of my character, of course. I’m not a 100% constructed persona, but at the same time, it’s not my entire character. I’m probably not that sharp in real life face to face conversation. Actually, all too often I’m downright awkward or shy in real life.
Equally, for every tweet I do put out, there’s probably a dozen that occur to me that I reject myself. I’ve got a reasonably dark sense of humour (an upbringing of Python and Mayall is probably to blame there), and I’ll often think of something around a headline or story that’s darkly funny, but horribly inappropriate. Most of the time, though, those gags stay in my head, and I get on with my day.
(OK, sometimes I do post them anyway. I’m only human).
People who know me in real life are more aware of who I fully am, especially those who are close to me. I treasure those friendships — there’s not that many of them, but again, sometimes shy and all that — and they’re the folks I’m significantly more open with.
Twitter Alex is, in tl;dr fashion, not quite the complete Alex.