In response to my previous piece about Twitter, Joseph suggested that the 140 character limit forces writers to terse. I'm not so sure. I think the more common response has been a tendency toward annoying abbreviations, elliptical writing, and small subjects.
This did, however, get me thinking about the possibility of other reasons for the character limit, and I was forced to admit there are a few.
For starters, there's speed. The short length encourages writers to wrap up their thoughts and get them out the door. I am sure there are those out there who labor over each tweet as if composing a haiku, but for most of us very little time elapses between when a thought hits and when the tweet button is hit.
That speed leads to a number of other traits which are desirable for the platform. It more or less guarantees a healthy flow of traffic. You can find a rapidly flowing stream of tweets on almost any subject imaginable.
Compared with blogs, the brevity of tweets can make exchanges feel more like conversations than debates. This gives Twitter a distinct and inviting feel.
Perhaps most importantly, that speed also allows Twitter to be the most up-to-date of news media. When it comes to getting detailed, real time information during a big, complicated crisis, Twitter is exceptionally good, in large part because the users are constrained to produce short, fast bursts of information.
I still think that the Harrison Bergeron effect – setting up an artificially equal playing field for mobile and nonmobile users – is the most important aspect in the success of Twitter, But there's certainly more to the story.