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Those of us who regularly live tweet from conferences and other events received some welcome news last week.  Twitter announced they will be making changes to the platform that will enable us to get more into each tweet.  The full list of changes includes:

 

Replies: When replying to a Tweet, @names will no longer count toward the 140-character count. This will make having conversations on Twitter easier and more straightforward, no more penny-pinching your words to ensure they reach the whole group.
 
Media attachments: When you add attachments like photos, GIFs, videos, polls, or Quote Tweets, that media will no longer count as characters within your Tweet. More room for words!
 
Retweet and Quote Tweet yourself: We’ll be enabling the Retweet button on your own Tweets, so you can easily Retweet or Quote Tweet yourself when you want to share a new reflection or feel like a really good one went unnoticed.
 
Goodbye, .@: These changes will help simplify the rules around Tweets that start with a username. New Tweets that begin with a username will reach all your followers. (That means you’ll no longer have to use the “.@” convention, which people currently use to broadcast Tweets broadly.) If you want a reply to be seen by all your followers, you will be able to Retweet it to signal that you intend for it to be viewed more broadly.

 
SOURCE: Express Even More in 140 Characters – Twitter Blogs
 
There is no clear timeline for when these changes might come into effect, although Twitter assures us that the changes will be implemented over the next few months.
 

The Implications for Live Twitter Commentary

 
These changes relieve some of the existing tensions for those providing live Twitter commentaries at events, without substantially changing the practice of tweeting from an event.  Two of the changes in particularly have very clear and positive implications for live commentators:
 

Goodbye .@

 
The .@username convention has long been a problem when endeavouring to attribute comments to speakers using their Twitter handles, so I am delighted to see this go.

For those of you unfamiliar with this convention, allow me to explain…

Previously, tweets that began with “@username…” would only be seen by those who followed both you AND @username. Users came up with a work around involving the insertion of a full stop (thus losing a valuable character) in order to ensure that their tweet would be seen by all of their followers.  This meant that my standard format for live tweets would be:

.@speaker: An insightful comment by this speaker #eventhashtag

A bit clunky.

In the past, this restriction made sense from a conversational perspective, as it prevented followers from seeing a conversation unless they were able to see both sides – avoiding the uncomfortable mobile-phone-in-a-train-carriage experience for your followers.  However, the way that Twitter handles conversation threads has improved over time, and the Twitter website and most clients now have a ‘View Conversation’ option that allows your followers to see the exchanges in sequence.  As a result, this most recent change really just represents a natural evolution with Twitter the platform catching up with itself and its users.
 

Media Attachments

 
I am a big fan of the 140-character limit within Twitter.  The restriction forces those writing a live Twitter commentary to provide pithy statements and to prioritise the key points, making it a perfect medium for live commentary.  I am always concerned about suggestions that Twitter would remove this limit.  However, the compromise of making attached media (such as pictures, videos and polls) sit outside of the 140-character limit is really helpful.  This allows commentators to make use of other media to augment their tweets where appropriate, without eating into the space required to provide context for that media.  This is important, as tweets in a live commentary need to make sense outside of the flow of the commentary wherever possible to make them as self contained and therefore ‘retweetable’ as possible.
 

Future Changes

 
Twitter has assured users that there will be future changes, but these will not “compromis[e] the unique brevity and speed that make Twitter the best place for live commentary, connections, and conversations.”

From my perspective as someone who regularly delivers live commentaries, I would be keen to see changes that make it quicker and easier to capture what is happening and provide further detail.  This might include capturing audio clips (not just video clips) and including slides or document links/embeds as extra media.  It would also be useful to have some kind of ‘commentary mode’ that you can use to indicate to others that you are commentating on a given event, the with option for followers to mute you until you exit commentary mode if they are not interested in your event.

Twitter is focussed on making the platform easier and more appealing for new users.  Whilst these most recent changes do simplify the platform and remove historical oddities, I suspect there may be more interesting things to come if they really want to target new users rather than just those of us who have been living with Twitters eccentricities!

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