One of the things that bothers me about Twitter is the endless wrapping of links in tweets in their own url shortener. Many people will say there is the benefit of making sure only “safe” links are enabled, but mostly it is a data gathering activity. Sadly, even t.co links get wrapped in new t.co links which makes the whole thing a bit silly. However, the problem is not that links get wrapped and shortened, even as annoying as it is, the problem is that it is needed at all.
MG Siegler had a short post about a week ago regarding the issue with link shortening. In that post, he highlights a tweet from Sean Parker:
The need for link shortening is idiotic,@jack — links should be meta-data attachments to each tweet, not part of 140 char limit
Yep, another person bitching about links and the 140 character limit. However, this is Sean Parker who should be listened to, and his point is quite valid. A few days ago, Colin Walker talked about the problem, and reminded us of annotations:
We were granted a quick peek at the potential for client app developers to add metadata via “Twannotations” but then it all went quiet, why? We have the staple of location data attached to tweets but this seems to be about as far as Twitter has gone.
Functionality has instead been included via the website (auto-detecting certain image and video services to include items in the media pane)…
Why has some functionality been built into the website and not the metadata in the API? Much of what Twitter does seems to be constrained by the 140 character limit and their integration with SMS. That was interesting in the early days when smartphones and tablets barely existed. SMS was the main way to integrate with mobile phones. Now, we have various native apps for phones and tablets.
But the main tweet function has not changed. We never saw the implementation of annotations, but the API has a lot of information available. Why not break from the SMS origin and start providing a different interface for different devices? Oh, wait, they already have different clients for the different platforms and devices. So, why not split the functionality instead of going with the lowest common denominator?
Think of the differences that Twitter already provides. The iPhone has a different interface than the website. The iPad looks different than either of those interfaces, and Android phones are yet another interface. There is also a mobile optimized website if you are not using a native app. Lastly, there are the API calls that many third party developers use. Those APIs have a ton of information attached to a single tweet, not just the 140 character message.
So, why not make an official break from the SMS roots and start adding metadata to tweets. Otherwise, they are just restricting themselves unnecessarily. I understand that part of the power of Twitter is in its minimalism, but they refuse to grow the product because of those original constraints. I am not talking about changing the length of a tweet or even changing the ability to post from SMS. I am only talking about making media and links metadata or attachments to a tweet, just like they exist in the APIs. My concern is that they are not allowing themselves to grow due to some old implementation hassles.
What if they followed the same tenets as many other web applications and started deprecating old technology, lik IE6? Everyone applauded the move by various sites because trying to have a site look and act OK in IE6 was almost as difficult as re-implementing the entire site. So is it time for Twitter to cut the SMS cord?