Last week Twitter doubled the character limit on tweets, bringing the max length of a tweet to 280 characters.
Yippee! Has Twitter doubled the pleasure and doubled the fun of using Twitter?Results are still pending…
When Twitter started out in 2006, it based its character limit on the number of characters that could fit in an SMS: 160. Twitter allotted 20 characters for the username, leaving 140 for the tweet itself.
For some time now Twitter’s been playing with extending the length of tweets. In 2016 Twitter made @mentions (that are auto-added when replying), images, GIFs and videos not included in the 140 character count.
All that rich media wasn’t around when Twitter started. The new need to fit a video plus a poll plus say something about them within the 140 characters was cramping users’ style. That change was mostly welcomed by the Twitter world (as you can see in this Buffer post and comments).
In September 2017 they announced a beta test giving double the characters to tweeters using the Latin alphabet (like English, Spanish, French, etc.). Languages like Japanese and Korean cram a lot more meaning into fewer characters – only 0.4% of tweets from those language routinely hit the current character limit! – so they would stay with 140 characters.
From Beta to Better?
This month, November 2017, Twitter announced that the beta test had been very successful and they were planning on rolling the 280 character limit out worldwide
Far fewer tweets hit the character limit, indicating to Twitter that “people spent less time editing their Tweets in the composer. This shows that more space makes it easier for people to fit thoughts in a Tweet, so they could say what they want to say, and send Tweets faster than before.”
After an initial spike of tweets hitting the limit – as people experimented with “exactly how much CAN you write in a 280 character tweet?” – most tweeters settled back to their regular patterns of brevity. Only 5% of tweets went above 140 characters and only 2% went above 190 characters.
Losing the Benefits of Brevity
While it seems from the above stats that we’re not in danger of having our tweet streams overrun by super-long tweets, many long-time Twitter users are still mourning the move to 140 characters.
“Brevity’s been the soul of Twitter, for me,” said author William Gibson. “The 140-character limit has been a masterclass in concision and economy.”
If you’re trying to master Rule 13 (“Omit needless words!”) of the classic Elements of Style, being forced into conveying a complete thought in a 140 character limit is wonderful practice. Necessity breeds creativity and sensitivity to language. With the relaxation of the limit, conveying thoughts may, indeed, be easier, but refining thoughts may be harder.
Expanded tweets are here to stay. As we get used to the new standard, we’ll likely find some disappointing results — and some surprising benefits.
Image courtesy: Print Collection