Back in January last year, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey addressed questions about the possibility of extending the length of tweets - via a tweet in which he used a screenshot of text to expand his context.
January 5, 2016
Longer tweets have always been in discussion, with the 140 character limit seen by some as a restrictive factor, something that makes the tweet process more difficult and may keep new users away.
And now, with Twitter growth flatlining, they need to try new things.
Check this out:
Originally, our constraint was 160 (limit of a text) minus username. But we noticed @biz got 1 more than @jack. For fairness, we chose 140. Now texts are unlimited. Also, we realize that 140 isn't fair-there are differences between languages. We're testing the limits. Hello 280!- Biz Stone (@biz) September 26, 2017
That's a long tweet, right? As explained by Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, Twitter is now testing out a new 280 character limit with some users.
(Cue panic amongst Twitter traditionalists)
The reasons behind the test are varied - as explained by Twitter, one of the key considerations is how tweets are used in different regions:
"For example, 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."
Further than that, Twitter says that when people feel less restrained by the character limit, they tweet more often.
"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."
Definitely, Twitter needs more people tweeting - while they have seen consistent growth in daily active users over the past year, as noted, their overall user count has stagnated.
Could enabling more character inspire more people to tweet, more often?
It seems unlikely, but what is clear is that Twitter needs to take risks - and the fact that they're doing so now may suggest that their user count hasn't shifted much since last report.
What it will definitely do is it'll spark fierce debate amongst the Twitter community - something Twitter has acknowledged in their announcement:
"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."
Read as - "We know you're going to have many opinions, but give it a chance before firing up the #RIPTwitter hashtag".
The early positive news for Twitter is that Twitter stock jumped in response to news of the test, though it's too early to suggest it will have any meaningful impact on the platform.
Really, it seems like a moderate measure from Twitter. 240 character tweets are going to look chunky and annoying in timelines, but they'll normalize over time, and people will get used to the new limit, if that's what they go with. But it does also feel like it's counter to the spirit of what Twitter is, and the habitual behavior that the 140 character limit has instilled in us over time.
Sure, there are tweetstorms that go well over the current limit and need to be read across various tweets, but you could argue that they've become a feature, that users are now accustomed to consuming tweets in this way. As such, longer tweets likely aren't necessary.
But everything we put forward now is opinion - the true measure will be reflected in the data. While I hold some concerns about spammers and marketers spewing forth massive blocks of texts in my feed, if Twitter sees an uptick in usage and adoption because of the change, it's a good one.
And as noted, they need to try something - you can't simultaneously criticize the platform for both inaction and experimentation, whether you agree with it or not.