Facebook Stole Twitter’s Best Feature and No One Noticed

By Justin Pot on June 12th, 2017

It’s the most famous number on the internet: 140. That’s how many characters you can use in a tweet, and it’s as core to Twitter’s brand as #hashtags, Trending Topics, and ignoring harassment victims.

You could argue that 140 characters is Twitter, and Facebook just stole it. Not directly, but they’re stealing the idea of this number, incentivizing users to keep posts to 130 characters. And most people didn’t even notice.

Facebook’s New 130-Character Posts

You can now post status messages with large text and color backgrounds on Facebook. Your timeline is already littered with these things, and if you’ve posted one there’s a good chance it got more likes than usual.

But these posts have to be short. The crack team of Internet Scientists here at How-To Geek decided to find out how long these posts can be. Here are our findings, in GIF form:

It’s not an exact clone of Twitter: there’s no countdown ticker in the corner, and you can still post things over 130 characters if you want to.

But give your Facebook post a color background, and more people will notice it as they scroll through their timelines, making them more likely to actually read the thing and hit the “Like” button. This gives you a much-needed dopamine hit, the sort of positive affirmation that is half the reason anyone even gets up anymore.

So yeah: Facebook is using color backgrounds to incentivize users to keep their posts brief. They want to be ever so slightly more like Twitter.

I can’t explain why Facebook is doing this: it’s like bringing a Nerf gun to a tank battle. They have yottabytes of information about how users interact with each other, and I have a couple screenshots and an animated GIF.

Having said that, it seems like Facebook only ever makes changes if they think it will encourage users to spend more time on Facebook. My guess: shorter posts keep people scrolling. Scroll more, and there’s a better chance you’ll find something you like. Find things you like and you’ll hang out on the site more, clicking ads and otherwise helping Facebook remain the ever growing, media ecosystem dominating juggernaut it aspires to always be.

Brevity Is The Soul of Wit

Twitter has changed a lot over the years, but the 140 character limit stays the same. And with good reason: keeping posts short is the main thing that separates Twitter from other social networks. While your uncle can rant all he wants on Facebook, Twitter users are forced to keep things brief. Sure, screenshots of text editors and threads work around this, but for the most part Twitter is about short posts.

This makes it relatively easy to catch up with an afternoon’s worth of tweets, assuming you’re not following too many people. And the artistic constraints of 140 characters forces people to be creative. People refine their thoughts, removing unnecessary words until everything fits, which occasionally results in magic.

Brevity is the soul of wit, and 140 character seems close to the sweet spot, at least so far as online posts are concerned. Facebook, after all these years, is apparently coming to the same conclusion—just with ten fewer characters.

Why 130? I don’t know. Maybe their research shows this is a better number; maybe they wanted to avoid being too blatant in copying Twitter. Whatever the reason, it shows that Facebook sees value in Twitter’s core product: concise posts defined by an arbitrary limitation. And they’ve managed to copy this feature out in the public eye, without many people even noticing.

There’s been a lot of headlines about Facebook “borrowing” ideas from Snapchat lately: they added a clone of Stories to Facebook Messenger after adding Stories to Instagram, for example. But it’s not just Snapchat Facebook is borrowing from.

Justin Pot is a staff writer for How-To Geek, and a technology enthusiast who lives in Hillsboro, Oregon. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, if you want. You don't have to.

  • Published 06/12/17
More Articles You Might Like