Last week, Chinese Twitter-like social network Weibo announced that starting today, January 28, it will begin a month-long trial of offering VIP users the option to publish up to 2,000 characters per post. Weibo plans to roll out the new feature to all 500 million users by February 28. The current character limit is 140.
This announcement comes hot on the heels of news that Twitter will increase its character limit from 140 to 10,000.
Weibo’s character limit increase won’t visually affect user timelines too much—since posts will show only the first 140 characters—but that’s partly the problem.
More room for content will certainly help with storytelling. However, Weibo’s main problem has less to do with text and more to do with visual experience, which is key for social media at the moment. Instagram and Tumblr led the way for visual dominant platforms in the west. In China, WeChat improved upon its Tencent predecessor QQ Messenger by offering users a more media rich experience and is currently the number one social network in China. Next generation networks like Snapchat, Meerkat and Periscope skew even purer visual, by featuring ephemeral video.
According to Weibo’s own data, only 10 percent of original posts surpass the current character limit. Furthermore, since the beginning, users have employed the basic solution of posting screenshots to circumvent the character limit. Despite this reality, a Weibo spokesperson told the South China Morning Post via email that increasing character limit will “offer greater choice and a better user experience”—a statement that seems misguided at best.
While Weibo has seen a user decline in recent years, it remains the second most popular social network in China and the platform of choice for PR due to its open, viral nature. Furthermore, no indigenous Instagram or Tumblr alternative has succeeded in capturing a large audience. Weibo is better positioned than any other player to make the leap to a visual driven platform by tweaking its interface (pair down features, enhance visuals) or creating a new platform and migrating users.