It's official. We're going to 280. Now Twitter users – from first-day users to President Donald Trump – will have twice the room to share their thoughts.
Twitter on Tuesday confirmed that it is doubling its iconic character count for good, after a month or so of tests trying out longer tweets.
While many Twitter users reacted with horror to the tests, Twitter said in a blog post that the higher limit made people more likely to tweet, left fewer than 1 percent of users hungry for more room and increased “engagement” – its umbrella term for likes, replies and retweets.
(For those having trouble visualizing the difference, the second paragraph of this article has 140 characters; the third has 280.)
Twitter originally hit on the 140-character limit as a nod to the character limits placed on early text messages, when it was founded in 2007. SMS messages had a 160-character limit, and Twitter wanted users to be able to post messages via phone, with enough room for a username. It became a hallmark of the service – an encouragement to craft short, sweet messages and contribute to the free-flow of conversation that became Twitter's main feature.
But as Twitter expanded its ambitions to become more of an online town square, it became an important place to discuss complex ideas.
The company said in September that it was testing a new upper limit because languages such as English couldn't pack as much information into 140-characters as other languages, such as Chinese, Japanese or Korean, which use can use characters that denote whole words. (These languages will retain the 140-character limit, Twitter said.)
Before the tests – which were limited to a few users, but easy to participate in thanks to third-party tools – roughly 9 percent of tweets ran right up against the 140-character limit. During the 280-character tests, that number fell significantly, according to a graph of English-only tweets provided by Twitter.
It shouldn't be a surprise that even a company built on language limitations has relaxed them, said Deborah Tannen, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University.
“The tendency to start small and expand has been a relentless pattern with all of these apps and platforms,” she said, citing expanding ambitions at Facebook and others. Snapchat, she noted, was much faster to move away from its defining feature – ephemeral messaging.