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Twitter now lets you pack 280 characters into a single tweet

Image used with permission by copyright holder
Following a month of testing, Twitter killed off the 140-character limit that launched with the service more than 10 years ago. From now, your thoughts, opinions, and witticisms can run for up to 280 characters.

It’s a major step for the microblogging service but one it evidently feels confident about making after trying it out with a limited number of users throughout October.

Announcing the decision, Twitter product manager Aliza Rosen said the larger character limit retains “the speed and brevity that makes Twitter, Twitter,” though it has to be said, for many users it was the 140-character limit that made Twitter, Twitter.

Breaking down the stats, Rosen noted that in the first few days of testing, many people “tweeted the full 280 limit because it was new and novel,” but a short while later things settled down and the new limit was no longer the focus.

Interestingly, once behavior normalized, only five percent of tweets sent by the test group went beyond 140 characters, and only two percent of tweets went beyond 190 characters. This suggests either that Twitter users are hard-wired to post concise tweets or they don’t have the time or inclination to tap out longer ones. Or perhaps they just need time to warm to the longer limit.

Rosen said the stats suggest “your timeline reading experience should not substantially change,” though the company will certainly monitor usage data over the coming months to see how things develop.

Now that the character limit has been doubled for everyone, the company expects to see the novelty effect spike again before usage returns to normal.

Greater engagement

Importantly for Twitter, expanding the limit resulted in greater engagement for its test users (more likes, retweets, and mentions), and helped to increase the number of followers for many of them. If that kind of response filters through to its wider base, advertisers will be delighted … OK, we’re starting to get why Twitter made the change.

Those in the research group told the company that “a higher character limit made them feel more satisfied with how they expressed themselves on Twitter, their ability to find good content, and Twitter overall,” Rosen explained.

Twitter launched in 2006 with a 140-character limit for compatibility with SMS cellphone messaging, and it quickly became one of its defining characteristics. For a long time, photos, videos, GIFs, and polls counted toward the limit, but in 2016 Twitter gave people a few more characters to play with by excluding media from the character count.

One last point: Anyone using Twitter in Japanese, Chinese, or Korean is stuck with 140 characters “because cramming is not an issue in these languages.” Rosen said these languages “have always been able to say more with their tweets because of the density of their writing systems.”

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Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
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