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People are taking comedic advantage of Twitter's new 280 character limit

Twitter has occupied a small node of dark inky fifth in the craters of online engagement. It is a dark crystal where those inside see a world entirely fractured from within its mirrors, and those outside can scarcely imagine what goes on within. The site notoriously has trouble attracting new users, because the short character limit seems to define the medium in terms of a particular mode of human malaise, ranging from cynicism, low-brow comedy so self-referential that it masquerades as genius satire, bad faith political disagreements, and then big viral posts of questionable or solid comedic value, depending on the day or hour.

The website is a kind of roiling tide with the contents of a shipwrecked vessel sloshed about in its might. You may find shit or shinola, depending on the instant and minute, and often the shinola is created in self-conscious criticism of the shit. Building a Twitter following is a fascinating case study in how social media branding really works - appeal to an infected wound in somebody's mind, and feed them information that helps them sink deeper into that wound.

Now, the site is trying to warp itself around in an effort to appeal to...a new audience? It's not entirely clear. Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter, announced the trial in a tweet using the new 280 character limit, which is double the typical 140 characters permitted:

Immediately, effective users of the site began creating Twitter comedy in the style of the new system, with its longer character limit.

The 280 character limit has been criticized as reflecting an inability for Twitter to understand its own user base. After all, people use Twitter for a wide variety of extremely minimal and cheap information, opinions or 'takes'. Nobody is really on Twitter looking for essays, or posts that look fat like paragraphs, like one would find on Tumblr or Facebook.

In other countries the character limit may work differently, but in English, it feels and looks bulky and over-the-top. Still, journalists and political actors use Twitter constantly, and it's a wonder why our discourse is so screwed, when a site that uses 140 characters at a time is used for a highly compressed and aimless political discourse where no progress can possibly occur between diametrically opposed factions.

It's the endless ideological war, or, totally ironic comedy like the following tweets, that constitute much of Twitter:

Twitter is a lot funnier than most of the internet, when you find the right circles. And yet, as Marshall McLuhan famously said, "The medium is the message". The concept of a website that works in small bites, designed to pull in a torrent of agreement and determine the worth of a thought based on analytics and engagements, is sure to push not the best but the most satisfying nihilistic or self-perpetuating content on the web.

The website is not built for nuance, and it's bizarre that Jack is trying to make the site become something that it clearly does not wish to become. There is no compromise between extremely fast, extremely cheap information and a half-step toward desiring longer-form content. It just shows a lack of identity.

In other social media horror news, check out this piece about a startup that wants you to be able to text and tweet using only your thoughts.