Monday, December 17, 2012

How to Squeeze More Than 140 Characters Into A Tweet

How to squeeze more than 140 characters into a tweet with indexable text.

Last Friday, I half jokingly sent out a tweet demonstrating how to squeeze more than 140 characters into a tweet.

Basically, I tweeted that it was possible to take a screen shot of text longer than 140 characters which could then be attached to a tweet as an image.

I say half jokingly because, even though it works, it's a bit of a hack. It wasn't until Dave Winer – who actually didn't support this technique – retweeted me that I saw a surprising interest in it. The interest probably wasn't so much the solution as it was the part that was a joke. One person called it "twaxing" (tweeting + faxing). And Dave half-joked, "the web cries" for me. But I noticed, over the weekend, that a number of people have started adopting this technique.

It's handy that Twitter now, organically, hosts images on their servers which means that a link to an image in a tweet is much less likely to break when compared to hosting an image with a third party.

A couple people pointed out the obvious shortcomings to the twax technique which was that an image of text isn't indexable (searchable). That got me thinking… what if a twax was indexable? Would there be any benefit for those times when you needed, say, 400 or 500 characters in a tweet? Perhaps.

Searchable Solutions
My initial twax search solution was to embed the tweet's meta-data in the text of the tweet but that is too ugly, inelegant, and incomplete.

After some more thought, I realized a very workable solution: embed the tweet's meta-data as a QR code inside the tweet. Any third party server could simply scan the image and decode the QR code while any human could read the text.

Technically speaking, this will work. But, would anyone use it and how would it work?

I can easily see a mobile app or Twitter web feature that would notify you once you exceeded 140 characters while continuing to let you type. When you clicked the Tweet button, to publish your tweet, the tweet would contain the first 140 characters of the tweet while the entire tweet's text would be displayed in the image, followed by a QR code of the tweet's text and meta-data.

The nice thing about this technique is that a single QR code can encode thousands of characters of text. Plus, the tweet text and its image with the QR code could stand alone without network connectivity.

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