One of Twitter’s biggest differentiators in the world of social media is its 140-character limit. But in a recent blog post, Twitter’s Product Manager Aliza Rosen and Senior Software Engineer Ikuhiro Ihara revealed that it was going to start testing a 280-character limit instead.
In spite of many users criticising and poking fun at the decision, Twitter’s reason for the change is a logical one, as Rosen explains:
“When I (Aliza) Tweet in English, I quickly run into the 140-character limit and have to edit my Tweet down so it fits. Sometimes, I have to remove a word that conveys an important meaning or emotion, or I don’t send my Tweet at all.
“But when Iku Tweets in Japanese, he doesn’t have the same problem. He finishes sharing his thought and still has room to spare. This is because in languages like Japanese, Korean, and Chinese you can convey about double the amount of information in one character as you can in many other languages, like English, Spanish, Portuguese, or French.”
This expanded character limit is only being rolled out to a small test group of people to begin with. So, here’s what else you need to know about the possibility of 280-character tweets.
The arbitrary choice of 140 characters
Back when Twitter first began, most mobile users were trying to keep their SMS texts under 160 characters. This is one of the main reasons why Twitter created a short-form social network in the first place.
Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, revealed this decision in a tweet about the expanded character limit:
“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!”
When you consider the fact character limits are no longer a problem with SMS, and that most people utilise alternative messenger apps like WhatsApp as well, there is a clear argument in favour of Twitter’s experiment.
Delving deep into the data
Another line of reasoning is that Twitter wants to create a level playing field, as languages like Japanese, Chinese, and Korean aren’t adversely affected by its current character limit.
“We see that a small percent of Tweets sent in Japanese have 140 characters (only 0.4%). But in English, a much higher percentage of Tweets have 140 characters (9%),” Rosen continues.
“Most Japanese Tweets are 15 characters while most English Tweets are 34. 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”
Rosen is also quick to point out that in markets where people don’t have to cram their thoughts into 140 characters, more people tend to tweet. Therefore, it could simply be that Twitter wants more users, more activity, and more advertising revenue.
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