On September 26, 2017, a Tuesday which marked a turning point in the history of Twitter, the social media platform announced a character limit increase from 140 characters to 280 characters for a few randomly selected Twitter users. The new character limit may be made available to all Twitter users depending on the success of this test run.
The decision to make the change was stimulated by the observation that different languages require the use of different numbers of characters to form expressive thoughts. Twitter noticed that while a tweet in Japanese is on average 15 characters long, the average length of Tweets in all languages is 68 characters, with 9% of all English Tweets reaching 140 characters compared to 0.4% Japanese tweets that hit the limit. The company, from this research, realized that almost all languages except for Japanese, Chinese and Korean struggle with the existing character constraint. This 140-character limit, according to the Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, is an arbitrary number based on the 160-character limit in SMS. Expanding this limit to 280 characters would mean making the process of tweeting less frustrating for most users, while maintaining the concept of brevity that Twitter is famous for.
In the last couple of years, Twitter has relaxed the restrictions on its 140-character limit by ceasing to count usernames, photos and retweets towards the character limit. However, this is the first time that Twitter has gone so far as to directly increase the available characters to make more room for longer thoughts. In 2016, Twitter seriously considered increasing the character limit to 10,000, allowing users to compose multi-paragraph tweets. This was met by a quick disapproval from users before Dorsey decided to preserve the 140 characters, a Twitter trademark.
In the Tweet announcing the change, Dorsey stated that cramming one’s thoughts into 140 characters “…has been a real problem people have when trying to tweet.” Twitter is aware that an overnight doubling of character limit may not sit well with its users who have been tweeting for over a decade using 140 characters. But the company hopes that the change, while resolving the problem of crammed expression, will allow for the crisp bursts of communication instrumental in broadcasting breaking news.
Although only a single-digit percentage of users are able to Tweet using 280 characters or less for the first few weeks, Twitter hopes to make this feature available broadly later. Even then, it is not guaranteed that 280 characters will be available to everyone eventually. When asked if the new limit is something Donald Trump, probably one of the most influential Twitter users, will be able to enjoy during the trial run, Dorsey said that these users are randomly selected and the Commander in Chief may or may not be one of them.