In major policy shift, Twitter is experimenting with 280-character tweets

27 Sep 2017

Image: Muratart/Shutterstock

Yes, it’s true. It’s not fake news. Twitter is trialling longer tweets in the hope that users will tweet a lot more.

A tiny selection of Twitter users will be part of a global test that will double the character limit on their tweets from 140 to 280.

That’s right. If you see a counter circle at the bottom of your tweets on the Twitter app, it means you have been chosen to tweet longer messages.

‘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’

Research by Twitter found that 9pc of users tweeting in English reach the full 140-character limit, suggesting that, in most cases, their tweets have been edited just to fit. This is compared with 0.4pc of Japanese users.

“When I tweet in English, I quickly run into the 140-character limit and have to edit my tweet down so it fits,” explained Aliza Rosen, product manager at Twitter.

“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 [my colleague] Iku (Ihara) 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.

“We want every person around the world to easily express themselves on Twitter, so we’re doing something new: we’re going to try out a longer limit, 280 characters, in languages impacted by cramming (which is all except Japanese, Chinese and Korean),” Rosen explained.

Is Twitter away with the birds for expanding its character limit?

Twitter is experimenting with 280-character tweets

Infographic: Twitter

Twitter simply believes that without a tight 140-character limit, people may tweet a lot more.

Ikuhiro Ihara, senior software engineer at Twitter, said that most Japanese tweets are 15 characters compared with 34 in English.

“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. 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.”

Twitter said that it will trial an evenly representative but small segment of users before (and if) it decides to offer 280 characters to everyone.

“Twitter is about brevity,” said Rosen.

“It’s what makes it such a great way to see what’s happening. Tweets get right to the point with the information or thoughts that matter. That is something we will never change.

“We understand since many of you have been tweeting for years, there may be an emotional attachment to 140 characters – we felt it, too. But we tried this, saw the power of what it will do, and fell in love with this new, still brief, constraint. We are excited to share this today, and we will keep you posted about what we see and what comes next.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years