Twitter’s doubled character limit: What’s the long and short of it?
“BREVITY IS THE SOUL OF WIT” was ostensibly the heart and soul of Twitter from its inception, but the company seems to be moving away from that with Tuesday’s announcement that the micro-blogging platform would now accommodate 280 characters per post, double its signature 140 characters.
According to a company blog post, the move was prompted by a desire to remove the constraints on people who tweet, which internal research said was the strict character count.
This is a small change, but a big move for us. 140 was an arbitrary choice based on the 160 character SMS limit. Proud of how thoughtful the team has been in solving a real problem people have when trying to tweet. And at the same time maintaining our brevity, speed, and essence! https://t.co/TuHj51MsTu
— jack (@jack) September 26, 2017
“Our research shows us that the character limit is a major cause of frustration for people Tweeting in English, but it is not for those Tweeting in Japanese,” the blog said.
“Also, in all markets, when people don’t have to cram their thoughts into 140 characters and actually have some to spare, we see more people Tweeting – which is awesome!”
The blog pointed out that they saw an exponential increase in tweeting when users were able to express themselves within the limit. They compared the frequency of Korean, Japanese, Chinese and English language speakers, against the rate at which people used Twitter.
“We want every person around the world to easily express themselves on Twitter,” the blog post read.
The move is significant for the company whose user base isn’t growing at the pace of other social media networks, and tends to attract users from word-centric occupations (the site is frequently cited as a favored tool for journalists).
The decision to expand their word count follows on the heels of the company’s introduction of short video and GIF integration capabilities. The company had tried before to expand word counts by eliminating URLs, GIFs and photos from its word count.
The 280-character limit is a terrible idea. The whole beauty of Twitter is that it forces you to express your ideas concisely (1/47)
— James Poniewozik (@poniewozik) September 26, 2017
280 characters is a totally different form. The constraint is half the fun and most of the art.
— Hari Kunzru (@harikunzru) September 26, 2017
For brands and marketers, it’ll be interesting to see if the new constraint will add to their capabilities.
One might argue that the limitations forced companies to get much more creative with their work rather than selling, selling, selling – on the other hand, so many companies are moving to video formats anyway, and Twitter isn’t precisely the best medium for that. Many marketers are moving to photo and video-heavy platforms, which also tend to have growing, young user bases.
Simon Kearney, CEO of content marketing company Click2View in Singapore, told Tech Wire Asia that he sees the move as a largely positive thing for Twitter, as the platform has to evolve with its audience.
“I’d say it’s probably a good thing for Twitter at this stage,” he said in an email interview.
“The original limitations on content that Twitter, and other platforms like Instagram, placed on their content were very important for making them who they are. Basically creating a format.”
“However formats need to evolve with their audiences – we’ve seen Instagram do this successfully with canvas size, video duration, stories. It’s probably long overdue for Twitter to do the same.”
The feature is being trialled in a group of select users across the world, so whether or not this change is going to be available to all is still uncertain. Exactly who gets access is another unanswered question.
“I for one will be excited to see how it changes the nature of communication on the platform, and to see what Donald Trump does with those extra 140 characters,” Kearney said.
Twitter has frequently been criticized for its inability to lure new, younger users, thus putting the company’s future in question. In 2015, founder Jack Dorsey returned to the company’s helm to help sort out its funding and future, but it remains to be seen if by expanding the character count, Twitter will be able to stave off its decline.
The backlash online has already been fierce. Long-time users complained that Twitter was removing a constraint that had bred a lot of creativity, while others pointed out the fact that the service was rolling out a feature that didn’t address actual issues, such as reporting offensive posts or behaviour.
literally my only talent was being able to think of tweets exactly 140 characters long. i don't know if I will be able to alter this to 280.
— christine teigen (@chrissyteigen) September 26, 2017
twitter: what do you guys want
everyone: get rid of the nazis and fix the report system
twitter: did I hear 280 characters
— ?Goth Ms. Gristle⚰ (@spookperson) September 26, 2017
“We understand since many of you have been tweeting for years, there may be an emotional attachment to 140 characters – we felt it, too,” the company said in the blog post, likely sensing the inevitable anger from its community.
“But we tried this, saw the power of what it will do, and fell in love with this new, still brief, constraint.”
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