What Are Twitter Line Breaks Good For?

You may not have noticed yet but Twitter added the ability to view line breaks yesterday. This change clearly hasn’t fully sunk in yet — at least, not to my Twitter stream (which is two-line business as usual this morning). But expect a few inflated tweets to start floating through your feed soon.

Adding the ability to view line breaks is a pretty subtle change on the surface — yet a few hard returns can spread 140 characters an awful long way:

twitter line breaks tweet

Twitter won’t let you tweet giant blocks of emptiness (I checked). But you should be able to space your tweet text over around 70 lines if you ration it one character per time (and want to be really irritating):

twitter line breaks

One of the huge advantages (in my view) of Twitter is the brevity of tweets, and the resulting density of Twitter streams. Twitter is now allowing the latter to break up. Which is a pretty big deal, in one sense. But hopefully won’t be as disruptive to Twitter users as it could be — ie if everyone you follow suddenly turned into a five-year-old child.

Why is Twitter adding line breaks? Officially the company hasn’t said much — beyond suggesting it will be “fun”:

twitter line breaks tweet

It’s possible Twitter is responding to advertisers hoping for more ways to make their promoted tweets stand out — ie by occupying more of your stream. But since anyone can pepper their tweets with extra padding it may not always be such a big differentiator.

tweet with line breaks

Line breaks are supported by the Twitter web client and Twitter’s official apps. But third party clients are likely to need time to catch up. (You can imagine some will tout lack of support as a feature.)

Searching for #linebreaks on Twitter brings up a mix of views on the new feature (with some obvious grumbles). And a few innovative uses — such as linebreak chess:

twitter linebreak chess

The most immediate beneficiary of Twitter’s spaced out largess are micropoets (and tweeters of haiku, senryu and gogyohka):

twitter haiku

I can see two main Twitters emerging post-line breaks (assuming Twitter doesn’t get cold feet and spike the feature). One version where users interested in using Twitter as an information service carry on tweeting their standard two-lines’ worth of wisdom while gleaning lots of useful knowledge from what is a quasi-RSS feed reader.

And another Twitter, where the kids hang out, swapping song lyrics and tweeting emoji-style graphics at each other — spread out over as many lines as possible like so much digital graffiti.

In other words:

tweet line breaks

Or MySpace redux.