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From our Depsters November 15, 2017

Why Twitter expanded to 280 characters


On November 7th Twitter introduced an expansion of its character limit to 280. Doubling the iconic 140 characters, although expected, caused quite a ripple across the social media landscape.

As always, some people welcomed this shift with open arms and confetti cannons, whereas others shook their heads in disbelief. As a 140 character fan, this change wasn’t necessarily on my top 10 list. Having said that, I understand the reasoning behind expanding the character count and the potential benefits.

Twitter’s character limit originated from the concept of mobile-messaging; long messages would end up sliced and diced into numerous SMSs, often delayed or even lost. No surprise, we favoured short texts to avoid confusion and hassle. As the system was meant to be used on mobile devices, the tweet count got based on 160-characters, the standard length of SMS, to minimise such issues. Leaving 20 characters for a sender’s username, the 140-character limit was introduced to the world.

Times changed. A simple text-based message grew more and more sophisticated. A train of thought broke into tweetstorms scattered across multiple messages; we came across tweet canoes, with many participants inserting themselves into a single chat. We started pumping more and more information and thoughts into these 140 characters, adding gifs, images, and videos.

As conversations evolved, so did Twitter. 2015 saw a change the 140-character restriction for DMs.

Fast forward to 2016, Twitter ditched the character limit for photos, quoted messages, and links.

Then in March 2017 the platform stopped counting @username towards our 140 characters in a reply.

replies update

Finally, the November announcement was the latest instalment in the evolution of tweets.

Would this change affect Twitter’s compactness? Twitter has been known for its economy of language. We’ve learned to appreciate how Twitter’s constraints urge us be concise, precise, innovative in how we express our ideas. Nevertheless, it would be unwise to deny the restrictions with which the 140-character structure presented users.

With languages such as German or English where cramming was an issue, the 280 character expansion aims to make our tweeting easier, and even quicker. So, if you want to state your opinion about a pumpernickel bread recipe (25 characters) or to share some ideas about Weihnachtsspielzeug und Spiele für Kinder (41 characters) with friends, 140 characters might be rather challenging.

more characters

Overall, I think it is a good change. Tweeting would often require time for editing so you could fit your message within the required limit. In some cases, users were likely to scrap tweets altogether when unable to shorten their wording. More space means less time spent on rewriting to hit the required limit. Hopefully, it is one of many positive updates Twitter has in store for us in the near future.

Are you wondering how to use Twitter’s new 280 character limit for shaping better messages? We can help you with that! Get in touch with us to talk about your social media strategy for 2018.

Questions? We're here to help!


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