I have one business orthodoxy. That orthodoxy is to not have ANY business orthodoxies. Business is not a religion. Business is not about faith. By definition, I believe all business orthodoxies are stupid.
Twitter’s orthodoxy, since shortly after its birth, has been it’s 140 character limit. re/code recently reported that “Twitter Considering 10,000-Character Limit for Tweet”. This set off a tremendous angst among the Twitterati
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tried to address the anger by posting an ironic 1,000+ character tweet in the form of a photo. Reading through the massive number of comments to Jack’s tweet, the irony was not picked up on.
To appreciate the stupidity of business orthodoxies, start with understanding where the orthodoxy derived from. As Jack wrote in the tweet referenced above, the 140 character limit resulted from the 160 character limit of an SMS message. So where did the 160 character limit come from?
Well back in 1985, when the SMS standards were being set, there were bandwidth limitations. So initially, the limit was just 128 characters. With a little tweaking and narrowing the number of possible letters, numbers and symbols that the could be accepted, they were able to add another 32 characters. Many thought the 160 cap was too limiting. So Twitters orthodoxy is based on technical limits from 1985. That’s just stupid.
Now, we all know that Twitter is struggling to grow active users. It’s impossible to know what the impact of increasing the 140 character limit would be, but it’s informative to look at Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, which is banned in China. Weibo comically copied Twitter’s 140 character limit. But China does not have an alphabet. Instead, it uses a logographic system for its written language. In logographic systems, symbols represent the words themselves. So Weibo’s 140 character limit is able to express the same amount of information as a 500–600 character limit on Twitter. It turns out, with this greater ability to express onself, Weibo users are almost twice as active as Twitter users. While we can’t know the impact of the 140 character limit on Twitter, what we can know with almost certainty, is that it does NOT optimize the experience. 140 is just a random number that has become an orthodoxy. How moronic.
What about the user backlash if Twitter expands the limit? Guess what. Users do not know what they want. Henry Ford famously said “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” I love this headline from TechCrunch in 2006 “Facebook Users Revolt, Facebook Replies”. That was the reaction to the introduction of the News Feed, undoubtedly the greatest innovation in social media. Facebook users didn’t know what the NewsFeed was, they just knew it was a change, and users HATE change.
Google had an orthodoxy once. During the ascent of of the original pay-per-click search engine, GoTo.com (later named Overture), Google said it “would have nothing to do with any system that mixed organic search results with ads.” Google eventually dropped that orthodoxy, and things worked out pretty well.
Even the U.S. Constitution is not an orthodxy. It changes and evolves. As Jefferson wrote “I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors”.
Twitter should follow my one orthodoxy, and drop it’s 140 character orthodoxy too. Like all other business orthodoxies, its just silly.