Doubling Down on Twitter?

Down below, my very smart colleague Paul Waldman entertains the idea of increasing Twitter's character limit, riffing off a recent piece on the same by Slate's Farhad Manjoo. Sidestepping the linguistic specifics of the tweet capacity question, I have to ask, if there was enough demand for that sort of thing, wouldn't that be called something like TwoEightyer, or Chatterer, or, more to the point, something other than "Twitter"?

Not necessarily, of course, and it's worth thinking about why. Back in the days of yore, when the Internet was made of string and tin cans, the web was organized around the idea of interoperability. That meant that we weren't left to beg, say, the good folks at Hotmail to let us embed photos in our email messages. The Internet's early builders collectively decided on a standard. Email programs could compete because they were able to offer different features, like the many gigs of storage offered by Gmail that quickly made the practice of deleting emails atavistic. That competition prompted innovation, which has prompted competition. If, today, some clever developers figure out a way to make it so that my email client accurately interprets when I'm buckling down on work, rather than goofing off, and thus knows not to bother me with alerts, there would be little cost to me to migrate to that new program. If I happen to own and use my own domain name for my email address, you good people of the Internet wouldn't even have to know I'd chosen to make the switch. Social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ are sticky, in part, because they're not designed to play well with other tools. So we're left to call on a for-profit company to adapt to our needs, pretty please.

That's not Twitter's fault, I don't think. They got into the status update field early, have been relatively open about how they work, have embraced user-generated tweaks (thus, the hashtag's 'official' role now), and have been smart about how they handle user privacy. Other competitors -- Identi.ca, Jaiku, Pownce -- have tried and failed to catch on at a Twitter-like scale. I don't know if it's even necessarily a real problem. Twitter's pretty neat. I, certainly, spend too much of my time paying attention to it. But it's still striking that the point that the Internet has evolved to is one where we're having debates about what amount of speech we might petition a private company to grant us.

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