The people who run Twitter must be pretty obnoxious when they order at Starbucks.

The detailed-oriented approach to tweaking the character limit rules-- announced this week--seems to suggest there are some latte-no-milk-light-shot-vanilla types on their leadership team. (I'm the one person they like to see in line. I order coffee black every time, no variances. I even pay with cash.) Starting soon, if you attach an image or video, it doesn't count toward the 140-character limit. And, if you tag users in a reply, it also doesn't count. That old trick of adding a period to the beginning of a username so that everyone can see your reply? No longer necessary, either.

This all seems like inside baseball to me, one of my favorite expressions that means it's so detailed and myopic that no one really cares except the people creating the new rule and a select group of fanboys. In journalism, if you write about something that's too "inside baseball" it means you are appealing to the superfans only. In the world of running major social media companies, it means you are a bit out of touch with what everyday folks care about in their day-to-day routine.

Here's my problem with the new rules. They don't matter. Changing the reply designations and tweaking the character limit rules will not raise user counts. I have a few friends who don't use Twitter, and once they find out about the rules, they will not suddenly sign up for an account to find out about all of the new features now available to them. They are going to shrug. And, mostly, they will go back to using Facebook and Reddit. If Twitter is OK appealing to only the techie elite, these changes make sense. If the goal is to expand on a global scale and become an indispensable tool woven deeply into the fabric of society, they will need to do more.

I'm hoping for big changes. The new Twitter should become a massive blogging platform. Maybe the character limits were interesting and differentiating at one time; now they seem quaint. Twitter could become a platform for people who have anything to say about any topic. If you think "I want to share my ideas with the world" you would publish them on Twitter. In full. A "tweet" would become a headline to the deeper Twitter post, one that is housed on the Twitter publishing platform, and exists in the Twitter ecosystem that even has offer an app store.

I can't remember the last time I even visited Twitter.com, and that's a huge part of the problem. What was woven into the fabric of society was an innovative short messaging system--e.g., quick quips to the world that all take you Somewhere Else. That concept has stalled. If Twitter becomes a publishing platform, it would suddenly become a sticky site (ala Facebook or Pinterest) you visit because that's where the content resides, not because that's what you use to find the content. And, honestly, this is the right time for Twitter to make this kind of massive pivot.

Twitter has always struggled with what seems like a fringe side project--known as increasing revenue. A unique, powerful quip engine turns you into a public company with 300 million users. It means you added words to the dictionary, like tweet. Conversely, a massive publishing platform means you can grow well beyond 1B or 2B users and start serving more ads. It means you have created a reason to use the publishing platform for everyday folks with something to say (e.g., everyone in the world) and not just a select few who appreciate the character limit tweaks.

The old Twitter was meant to prove a company can do something brand new and highly important in terms of Internet innovation, akin to the OAuth protocol for better security or the ability to sync local files with a cloud storage service. There's a reason one of the people who invented OAuth now works at Uber. There's a reason Dropbox is turning itself into a platform for  team collaboration.

You have to evolve. Or, guess what happens?

Published on: May 25, 2016