On Tuesday afternoon, Twitter — a social network born out of the conceit of 140-character brevity — announced it would expand its character limit to 280 characters for all users, in nearly all languages (except Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, which already allow users to say more using fewer characters).
For some hardcore power users and Twitter purists, the news is almost certain to cause outrage. In late September, Twitter announced it was testing 280 characters with select accounts, and devoted users across the service complained loudly that the decision fundamentally changed the constraints that made the social network so unique.
Twitter argues that the change is an improvement to the service. The company said that its monthlong test with 280 characters showed that "people who had more room to Tweet received more engagement (Likes, Retweets, @mentions), got more followers, and spent more time on Twitter."
Moreover, the network argues the new limit will not fundamentally alter the service. During its trial run the company said that "only 5% of Tweets sent were longer than 140 characters, and only 2% were over 190 characters," which would suggest that people want more room to tweet but not that much more. "We saw when people needed to use more than 140 characters, they Tweeted more easily and more often. But importantly, people Tweeted below 140 most of the time and the brevity of Twitter remained," the company wrote in a blog post on Tuesday afternoon.
Twitter's initial 140-character limit traces back to its earliest days, when tweets were sent primarily via SMS text messaging, which had a 160-character limit. Since then, the character constraint has defined the social network, winning over those who feel that the small limit forced better writing and a new brand of creativity (not unlike the six-second social network Vine, which Twitter shut down just over a year ago).
Twitter assures its readers that 280 characters will give its users room to be even more creative. More importantly, the company argues, loosening the constraint will allow more users "to fit thoughts in a Tweet, so they could say what they want to say, and send Tweets faster than before."
Critics — especially those who feel the platform has become more toxic as a result of its decadelong failure to curb harassment — have already expressed frustration during the testing period over a move aimed at boosting engagement figures rather than fixing more troubling flaws in the platform.
Others have suggested that — with the social network facing a number of issues, including a congressional investigation into its connections with foreign interference in the 2016 election — offering users more characters is cosmetic and a distraction. But Twitter argues that the decision is based on direct feedback from its users: "It wasn’t easy enough to Tweet!" the company said in a statement.
Regardless, the debate appears to be over. 280 is coming for us all, including @realDonaldTrump and — on the bright side — this guy:
Charlie Warzel is a senior writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Warzel reports on and writes about the intersection of tech and culture.
Contact Charlie Warzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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