Friday, 8 June 2012


It's interesting how technology, as well as having the potential to propel us into the future, has the equal ability to bind us to the past. The need for 'backward compatibility' - either in technology itself or the people using it - often prevents us making those let's-just-scrap-it-and-start-again leaps forward (any Windows users over the last two decades will be painfully aware of this). It's not always a problem, of course, as with the most immediately obvious example: the layout of the buttons I'm striking right now. Mind-blowingly the QWERTY layout was first devised in 1870 (to prevent type-writers from jamming); and it'll be with us as long as we're still using our fingers for the job, because, well, it actually works pretty good.  But sometimes the throwbacks aren’t so agreeable...

The origins of my current bugbear are back in 1985, which seems quite recent to some of us, but then let me remind those same people that Shakin' Stevens had the UK Christmas Number One that year; and even if he was aware of mobile phones at the time he certainly wasn't informed by text message, because they hadn't been invented yet. But this was the year that some bright spark first decided to add a short text messaging feature to the mobile telephony standard.  And, to cut a long story short, eventually the boffins figured out how they could squeeze a whopping 160 characters (7-bit for the geeks) down the control channel usually used for setting up voice calls. SMS was born.

Now, I would never have expected that over a quarter of a century (and no more Shakin' Stevens No. 1s) later my creativity would still being constrained by that 1985 limitation. Not when I am texting - oh no, seamless linking of multiple SMS messages did away with that years ago.  No, it's Twitter, I'm talking about.  And because space has to be reserved for the username when sending out tweets as texts, the limit is even lower: 140 characters!  That's 12.5% fewer than the bolted-on-at-the-last-minute 80's mobile texting technology.

Yeah, yeah, I get it.  Micro-blogging.  And yeah, yeah, I get it, many people around the world still use SMS to access Twitter.  But, to be honest, tough.  It's too late - the bird has flown.  Few people accommodate those users now anyway - they are oblivious to them.  A huge proportion of tweeters now circumvent the 140 character limit by just posting links to blogs (of the non-micro variety), which kinda defeats the point, and which people with non-smartphones can't access anyway.

So it's time to admit it. 140 characters just isn't enough. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting to remove the limit altogether, because I do buy into the concept. I just think the number was never right in the first place. So, let's bite the bullet and double it.  Simple.  Retweet #twitter280 if you agree and let's get it trending ... because length does matter!

[PS: apologies to all those third-party developers of Twitter-related apps who've used statically allocated arrays - but, well, that's just bad practice.]