Are “expanded Tweets” an acceptance of defeat? Is this a pivot or evolution?

Today, Twitter released their latest update to their service, which introduced their newest feature – Expanded Tweets. What does it mean when a company that has steadfastly held onto one core primary product principle (say that 10 times fast) suddenly accepts a change to that principle?

For years, since Twitter first launched, there has been much discussion about the 140 character limit. Whether right or wrong, regardless of how users actually used Twitter, they held fast to a simple core belief – that the service is best when it enforces this strict limit, which impacts how users behave. This was, in fact, what made them especially distinct in the market. And since then, we all know about their explosive growth in users and anemic growth in revenue.

Fast forward to today. On the one hand, you could look at the news as a tacit acceptance that their business model was flawed and could never work, therefore requiring the removal of the 140 character limit to introduce real revenue opportunities. On the other hand, you could say that this is just a natural evolution of a product offering new features, no different than Facebook adding Events.

The problem with the later argument is that Facebook’s core product principle was that it’s a place for real people to connect with each other, reflecting their offline social structures and making communication even easier. Twitter, on the other hand, had a much simpler principle – let people broadcast 140 character messages to anyone and anyone, without any need to qualify relationships or otherwise. Which leads me to ask, if Twitter had introduced Expanded Tweets as part of the initial product offering, would it have hindered its acceptance?

That old cliche – hindsight is 20/20 – certainly applies, but this feels less like a product maturing and more like something they should have gotten right a long time ago. It certainly is a welcome update, especially for content providers eager for ways to engage with their audience.