I was discussing the phenomenon of when different platforms has an arbitrary limit (140 signs in a tweet or 7 second video on Vine), that the end users embrace in a way that ends up shaping the platform.

Does any of you know a word or expression describing this?

closed as off-topic by JJJ, Roger Sinasohn, bookmanu, jimm101, Davo Sep 24 '18 at 12:02

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  • 2
    Are you asking for the word constraint? – Jim Sep 20 '18 at 17:06
  • Well a constraint is more specific than what i've come up with - but i don't feel it's quite specific enough. – Lars Sep 20 '18 at 17:44
  • 2
    Well there's the quip, "It's not a [bug/constraint/defect...] it's a feature" – Jim Sep 20 '18 at 17:52

It's not a perfect fit, but you might consider creative limitation (or, as an alternative, creative constraint).

To use your own words, you could say a platform-defining creative limitation to make the term (more or less) fit your specific use case.

According to a (very short) stub article on Wikipedia:

Creative limitation is the concept of how purposely limiting oneself can actually drive creativity. At a 2013 TED conference, artist Phil Hansen made several remarks concerning the value of limitations, among them that "We need to first be limited in order to become limitless,” and “If you treat the problems as possibilities, life will start to dance with you in the most amazing ways.”

Creative limitation can also be thought of as way to achieve a novel effect or goal that is not otherwise possible using conventional, readily accessible, methods. Igor Stravinsky used what he called creative limitation with time signatures, by restricting himself from using any, in his composition 'The Rite of Spring' as well as in alternate aspects of his other musical works.

(A related term is constrained writing, where specific literary forms are used to channel creativity - most obviously in poetry, through rhyme schemes or metrical patterns, for example.)

There's no end of pop-psychology/business fluff pieces out there on this concept - Silicon Valley types are very keen on the idea of creative limitation.

Here is one example from an article called "The Psychology of Limitations: How and Why Constraints Can Make You More Creative":

When now-Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer was at Google, she was a big believer in creative limitations when it came to development, often capping prototyping time for a new feature. “We often can get a sense of just how good a new concept is if we only prototype for a single day or week,” she said. “In the case of the Toolbar beta, several key features (custom buttons, shared bookmarks) were tried out in under a week. In fact, during the brainstorming phase, we came up with about five times as many ‘key features.’ Most were discarded after a week of prototyping. Since only 1 in every 5 to 10 ideas works out, the strategy of limiting the time we have to prove that an idea works allows us to try out more ideas, increasing our odds of success.”

The two terms, creative constraint and creative limitation, at times seem to be used interchangeably. I believe the terminology is, in fact, not quite as set or established as the Wikipedia article on creative limitation might seem to imply. For instance, a Forbes article on the same topic uses neither creative limitation nor creative constraint, referring only to "limitations and constraints" in the context of driving creativity.

Somewhat unfortunately for creative limitation as a term, it can legitimately be used to mean something entirely different - the limitation of someone's creative capacity and, by inference, that someone's lack of creativity - so there is a real possibility of being misunderstood by someone who is not familiar with the concept, unless the context is clear.

This ambiguity also makes the Ngrams for creative limitation next to useless in determining when the phrase emerged... if, indeed, it has definitively emerged. The concept is out there but neither creative limitation nor creative constraint seems to have fully attached to it.


You are looking for a word that describes the platform's "arbitrary limit"

It sounds like you feel this limitation Shapes or Restricts the useful exchange of opinions. Perhaps closing down the discussion before all views could have been seen.

If this is not what you seek then you question needs a clarifying example.

  • 1
    We're looking for definitive answers backed up with authoritative references. Can you add some links to demonstrate why your answer is the correct one? – Roger Sinasohn Sep 20 '18 at 18:43

Software vendors often market two or more versions of a product, with different levels of capability, for different prices.  Often these multiple versions are actually identical software files.  Everybody gets the same program, containing all the features, but it disables the advanced features for users who have not paid for the most expensive license option.  (Another trick is to offer the full functionality for a limited period of time, such as 30 days, and then drop to the limited level of capability.)  This limitation in capability is known as crippling the software, resulting in crippled software, or crippleware:


    Crippleware has been defined in realms of both software and hardware.  In software, crippleware means that “vital features of the program such as printing or the ability to save files are disabled until the user purchases a registration key”.  While crippleware allows consumers to see the software before they buy, they are unable to test its complete functionality because of the disabled functions. ...


    Crippleware is a software program or hardware device with limited functionality and services that is released by its developer or vendor.  Crippleware is a technique employed by software and hardware vendors to give prospective buyers/users a sneak peak [sic] or test drive of new software or hardware without providing the full version.  In the case of software, crippleware is generally provided for free; users must then buy the full software package to enjoy all the features available. ...


    Crippleware is any software program that cannot be fully utilized until the user registers or, in the case of shareware, purchases the program.  There are a number of ways in which the functionality of a program can be limited in such a way that the user can try the program but cannot take full advantage of its features until registration has been completed or payment has been made.

While this is an idiomatic usage, it is consistent with a dictionary definition of cripple:

American Heritage Dictionary:

    To disable, damage, or impair the functioning of:  a strike that crippled the factory.

Collins English Dictionary:

    To cripple a machine, organization, or system means to damage it severely or prevent it from working properly.

Macmillan Dictionary:

    to damage something severely, or to prevent it from working properly  The war had crippled the country’s economy.

Beware that the word “cripple” can be used as a noun to refer to a handicapped person, but this usage is regarded as offensive.

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