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Twitter: Doubling the Character Limit Will Not Change Our Identity

Twitter: Doubling the Character Limit Will Not Change Our Identity

Thursday, 16 November, 2017 - 06:15
Twitter Head of Sales for MENA Head of Sales for MENA. Asharq Al-Awsat Ar.

Last week, Twitter finally granted its users their request and increased the character limit from 140 to 280. This move comes as part of a series of steps the company has been taking to attract more users worldwide. The company beat analysts' expectations for earnings per share in its third quarter before the opening bell, and surpassed revenue estimates. This comes after a period of stagnation in share growth.

The MENA region is vital for the continuation of growth. Twitter became aware of this two years ago, and felt it was necessary to have a physical presence there. From the regional office in Dubai, Benjamen Ampen,Head of Sales for MENA Head of Sales, revealed the company’s plans to expand in the Arab world. Ampen, who spoke to Asharq Al Awsat over the phone, expressed his utmost optimism; Twitter’s future is bright.

He noted that Saudi Arabia is the region’s locomotive and is among Twitter’s top ten markets, worldwide. Ampen also expressed the company’s intent to cater for all of the MENA countries, and expand. In such a youthful demographic, Twitter will thrive, Ampen insisted.

Congratulations on increasing the character limit to 280. Twitter underwent an experiment and the results led to this decision. Can you tell me more?

I’d like to say it is indeed a positive step, especially in the MENA region where most tweets created are in Arabic. Arabic amongst other languages like English, French and Portuguese are concerned about this change. What we have been doing for the past month is running a test on users. Seeing how having access to 280 characters affects their twitter behaviour. What we realised is that users tweeting in one of the languages mentioned were often hitting the limit of 140 characters. In English it was 9% and in Arabic it was 5.4%.

What that means is that we had a significant portion of our users that were trying to express themselves, but were not able to do so. When they hit the 140 word limit, they would either get frustrated and abandon the tweet or spend more time on how to create it rather than flexibly expressing. This new feature made the frustration disappear and that is really exciting for us.

The feature has just gone into effect. What is the feedback so far from tech experts and from users on the platform?

It’s really early, but the result of last month’s experiment was the reason we went through with this amended feature. It is really positive. Something really important to us was making sure it was not hindering the very nature of Twitter that is speed.

Something important to mention here is that when we did this test, we noticed that only 5 percent of the tweets were longer than 140 characters, and only 2 percent were  longer than 190. So in reality, Twitter’s character is not changing, it has just made life easier when it is necessary.

An article published by a tech expert in a British newspaper said: “plenty of people have pointed out that they would prefer twitter to be focusing on other things; better policing of harassment and harassers, an edit function, addressing white nationalists, addressing the use of bots and sock pocket accounts to sway the political process, addressing the growing use of the platform as a replacement for more considered diplomatic channels”. How would you respond to that?

I am happy you mentioned all of this, because within this statement lies a set of our key priorities. When you are talking about views, combating extremism on the platform, these have come even before we launched this new change. Early this year, we have been talking about the focus on the views and the changes we have been announcing in terms of combating spam and extremist or racist content.

Over the past year and a half, we have been suppressing hundreds of thousands of tweets and accounts linked to terrorism. I cannot comment on this article specifically, but what we are sure of is that the announcement made last night was to improve the user’s product. It comes after things that are a priority like combating abuse and behaviour that doesn’t expect the rules of the platform.

Past reports have illustrated that Twitter has reached a point of stagnation in growth, and is not yielding earnings, but the latest report has noted that things have taken a turn. Is twitter finally getting back on track?

Two weeks ago we announced our earnings. The summary was that it was a good quarter for us. Growth was broad based and from different areas. We have witnessed more user engagement for example. In fact, this is the fourth quarter in a row we record and increase in daily active users. In terms of growth; this quarter was 14% percent.We have 330 million active users on the platform. When  it comes to revenue, now we have a revenue of 590 million. We are showing the result of the improvements Twitter is witnessing. We are now focusing on video too. We are definitely on the right track.

Let us talk about MENA users. Gulf mainly, has it been witnessing further growth? and how are you trying to attract users from regions other than Gulf?

MENA is a very important region for Twitter. This is a region that is growing in terms of users and revenue. This is a region where we have a country, Saudi Arabia, that is really the locomotive of the region. Saudi on its own is among our top ten markets globally. The reason behind that is that you have a population that is young, equipped and when you go back to what the essence of Twitter is, it is about what is happening. Like an echoing of a game between Al Hilal and Al Nasr in Saudi, or when Sheikh Mohammad is announcing the reshuffling of his cabinet on Twitter. This is a region that is really rich in terms of events, population, and an interest to share. And on the business side, we have very good representation of clients from the international brands to the local partners we are working with like “al mosafer” and “kareem” and plenty others. That makes it very useful on the users side and on the revenue side.

What is the next step and challenge you have for the MENA region?

We opened the MENA headquarters in Dubai only two years ago. In two years, we made sure to focus our efforts on Saudi and the UAE as the drivers for the region’s market. However, the region is wider; we have to spend time in Egypt in the countries of the Levant, in North Africa. We need to understand the audiences in each country, and the existing and potential users to provide to them the best platform possible. Each country of the region is special. 

For some social users, Facebook is seen as the tool to keep in touch with friends and family, Instagram is to share and browse moments presented in pictures. What is Twitter’s brand and core essence?

Twitter is what is happening and what people are talking about. We talk about a platform that is used to keep in touch with who you went to school with, Twitter is the people you wish you had been to school with.

You go to Twitter based on your interests. It can be official words, as we world leaders on Twitter, but it can also be your words and your thoughts. It’s for everyone.

You joined the Twitter family 5 years ago. Back then, did you expect that Twitter would replace press conferences, and would be a tool for President Donald Trump to lead the agenda of the most powerful country in the world?

I have never been more excited about the future of our company as I am today. We have a really clear focus on what we are going to do next. The team is exceptional. I think that we have managed to build a real business. It will be difficult to imagine a world without Twitter. It is just testament to the work the team has been doing. Twitter is about connecting people, among them are world leaders. More than 82% of world leaders are on Twitter today.

It is a great deal to verify a Twitter account, and has certainly helped me in my career, but members of the Twitter family do not get blue ticks. Why is that so?

That is a rule that we have. When it comes to verification we have a clear process and we made it public last year for everyone through a form. But as for users from the twitter family, we want to make sure that it is separate from operations and business we do in each country. 

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