Shortly after assuming his role as CEO for Twitter, Elon Musk announced that tweets for paying subscribers would no longer have the famous length limit. Later, another announcement stated that Blue subscribers could now edit their tweets after posting.
To me, this signals a deep misunderstanding of what sets Twitter apart in the media landscape and its rise to cultural iconic status – the fact that constraints are features.
Editing posts or increasing their length (originally set due to text message length restrictions) are trivial from a technical standpoint nowadays. But it’s these constraints that give Twitter its distinct character. The fact that some of them were originally born out of a technical necessity is kismet.
These constraints have produced endless memorable moments – misspellings that remain etched in time like the infamous “covfefe” tweet, people desperately trying to compress their tweets to fit within the characters limit, story threads that can span on for hundreds of posts, branching at each message, or the whole ecosystem of automated and manual vanity accounts that do everything from colorizing pictures to rating your dog.
It’s all in good fun, sometimes with a dark undertone, much like the human condition. My point is, restrictions shape the platform and give it a different sense of authenticity than a perfectly featured creation.
That’s why many have recently been gravitating towards platforms with deliberate constraints. We’ve had everything from Vine, limiting the length of clips that could be posted, to Snapchat, which introduced ephemeral messaging to the masses. Recently we’ve had another batch of even more restricting apps, like BeReal which limits users to a single post at a designated daily time. As of this writing, BeReal ranks as the 13th most popular social media app on iOS.
I frequently use Slowly, a pen pal app that emulates the heyday of letter writing by making the digital letters take time to deliver, based on the geographical distance between the sender and recipient. I love this restriction because the consequence of it is taking away the constant stress we feel from having to be constantly available on social media. Sending a letter on Slowly means taking a break, focusing on other things and waiting in anticipation for a response from your pen pal across the world.
Occasionally I’ll read the reviews for Slowly on the app store and see people rating it poorly because they can’t understand why letters wouldn’t be delivered immediately. I guess you either get it or you don’t.
I see huge potential in platforms with thoughtfully chosen constraints in the future. How about a Twitter-like site where only valid haikus are allowed to be posted? Or a social media platform where you can only communicate using hand drawn images? Maybe these ideas won’t become the next unicorn startup, but they’d certainly provide a meaningful distraction to the dull platforms we use today, which now include Twitter.
Header / social image generated by DALL-E.
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