Since its launch in 2006, Twitter has been all about simplicity — so much so that it’s a source of derision among some, but nonetheless, it has turned Twitter into a highly valuable global brand.
However, while the company has been successful at introducing a number of changes, a seemingly innocuous recent tweak — line breaks — could be disastrous.
Twitter boasts more than 200 million users who send 400 million messages per day. And according to the Wall Street Journal, the company might now be worth more than $10 billion.
All the way, the company has focused on simplicity. At its very core, the medium is practically defined by its 140-character limit, which in turn has spawned countless abbreviations in compliance. But even newer additions have played to that theme, such as its mobile app Vine, which let users share videos with a max length of just six seconds. It sounds silly, but it has become a hit.
This is in stark comparison to Facebook‘s (NASDAQ:FB) approach, which has seen a number of significant (and confusing) redesigns and revamps … many of which have resulted in heavy user backlash.
Making changes or adding features to a system sure isn’t easy, especially as your user base expands. If done wrong, you could suffer mass defections, as was the case at Friendster and MySpace.
However, Twitter has become fairly active lately in adding new features and changing up the overall design. Perhaps part of this is to make itself more competitive with its rivals. Although, it could be because the company just has a lot of product managers who want to leave their own unique touch.
Whatever the reason, Twitter is ramping up the risk with the addition of line breaks, which still will kowtow to the 140-character limit, but will let users spread those characters over many more lines.
The problem: This change could undermine the very simplicity that draws people to Twitter. Instead of the fairly uniform feed users are accustomed to, Twitter is opening itself to more clutter, with the potential for tweets to look more like poems (in structure) than pithy messages. Moreover, it could interfere with tweets’ easy compatibility with the scrolling ticker graphics at the bottom of news and sports broadcasts, like ESPN’s BottomLine.
The line breaks also are touted as a clever way to provide more room for ads … but it would seem a more sensible approach would be to create a special ad unit instead.
Besides, traditional tweets actually have become a powerful way to get ad dollars anyway. That’s because people like to click Twitter links. In a way, a Twitter feed is really nothing more than a ton of Google-style (NASDAQ:GOOG) text ads that stream down a web page or mobile device.
It’s certainly working to some extent — according to eMarketer, Twitter is forecast to generate more than $800 million in revenues for this year.
While a few people might find ways to use line breaks creatively and responsibly, it’s easy to see how mass use could easily pull against Twitter’s roots.
And unfortunately, this move toward line breaks ultimately might be a sign that the company will offer more such features over time, which could further muck up the user experience.
If so, Twitter could be setting itself up for slower growth — or worse, painting itself as a vulnerable target for rivals who want a piece of the valuable social media market.
Tom Taulli runs the InvestorPlace blog IPO Playbook. He is also the author of “How to Create the Next Facebook” and “High-Profit IPO Strategies: Finding Breakout IPOs for Investors and Traders.”Follow him on Twitter at @ttaulli. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.