Twitter's move to take the 140 character limit from direct messaging shows it is seeking intimacy
Twitter's move to take the 140 character limit from direct messaging shows it is seeking intimacy
A view from Robb Smigielski

Twitter is on the front line of social media's intimacy issues

Twitter is overhauling its direct messaging functionality, but it's not the only one wanting to provide a way for users to get closer to one...

If you’re after a private and meaningful exchange of ideas with someone, a social media platform that broadcasts severally edited musings to the entire world is the probably the last place you’d go

Intimacy isn’t something you’d generally associate with Twitter. If you’re after a private and meaningful exchange of ideas with someone, a social media platform that broadcasts severally edited musings to the entire world is the probably the last place you’d go.

But, ironically for a company that has been built on openness, Twitter is now trying to inject some privacy into its very public sphere. It is doing this by dropping the 140-character limit on private messaging, enabling users to chat with each other directly with the freedom of an unlimited character count.

Private is as important as public

Rather than leave its direct messaging function to remain an untended add-on to the main public site, Twitter has lately come to the realization that personal private interactions are as important for people on social media as public ones.  The explosion of messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Snapchat no doubt helped hasten that realisation.

Twitter, which has been honing its private chat function for some time now, is not the only social network trying to reinvent itself as an intimate space. Facebook and Instagram have been working to make their worlds as conducive to private as they are to public exchanges. Instagram Direct, introduced by the platform two years ago, allows Instagrammers to share privately with smaller groups, while Facebook has been pouring investment into Facebook Messenger.

People are increasingly looking for their online interactions to mirror their lives offline and offer a sense of community with more intimate and personal connections

As social media has become integrated into our everyday lives, people are increasingly looking for their online interactions to mirror their lives offline and offer a sense of community with more intimate and personal connections. This has sparked the rise of niche social networks dedicated to like-minded communities which are smaller in number, such as Quora, Quibb, and Path.

Stranger danger

There is also an increasing awareness about the dangers of sharing information with strangers, with a Market Research Society report earlier this year stating that young people are going to greater lengths than ever before to protect their privacy online.

Twitter boss Jack Dorsey said last month that he wasn’t satisfied with the platform’s user growth. New active users were up only slightly on the first quarter of this year and most of that growth came from the social network's SMS fast followers - users who sign up for text alerts but don't require a Twitter account. "We've got unbelievable brand awareness, but people are not clear why they should use it themselves," he said. The promise of intimate, private and meaningful exchanges is a major part of the drive to get more people to become part of Twitter rather than just watching from the sidelines.