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malevolent design weblog

This blog is now defunct, but you can find more stuff over at my personal site

Why Twitter Really Works

There are various reasons why Twitter has grown and continues to be popular, but one seems to be often overlooked.

When the 140-character limit is discussed, it’s almost always from the writing side: how it forces users to be succinct, suits trivial chat, etc. And it’s sometimes seen as a vestigial annoyance from the days of SMS, with the lack of such a limitation touted as an advantage for other platforms.

But it’s actually on the reading side that the enforced brevity has a huge positive impact. By keeping updates short, Twitter allows a user to follow at least a hundred or so active accounts without it becoming too burdensome, spreading the social net wider, giving a better overview of activity, allowing consumption in tiny chunks, and making it harder for a small minority to flood activity streams. I suppose you could say that Twitter offers broad insight by forcing everyone to be shallow.

(I don’t think I could follow hundreds of people actively using Google+; if even just a dozen or so regularly posted long updates it would unbalance the whole stream and make it feel awkward, especially on a mobile device.)


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